'The Favorite Daughter' by Kaira Rouda, 'Amelia Westlake Was Never Here' Erin Gough, 'The Corleone Family Cookbook' Liliana Battle

Bookstr’s Three to Read This Week 5/23/19

What do a thriller about a perfect family, a high school rom-com critiquing sexism, and a criminally delicious cookbook have in common? Hopefully, one major thing: they’re all headed straight for your bookshelf. Summer is a time of excitement, adventure, and discovery—whether or not you have the luxury of a three-month break or a long weekend at the beach! Missing out on a good book would be criminal… though not more criminal than some of our protagonists! We’ve got a creepy thriller starring one controlling mother’s descent into mental instability, an LGBT+ romance filled with alternate identities and elaborate pranks, and a killer cookbook based on the recipes of one of cinema’s most famous crime families. These enormous stakes come with just as enormous rewards—the delicious payoff of reading this week’s selection.

Check out Bookstr’s Three to Read, the three books we’ve picked for you to read this week!




Book cover for Kaira Rouda's The Favorite Daughter featuring a woman under water



From the author of the page-turning domestic suspense Best Day Ever, comes another gripping novel of psychological suspense set in an upscale Southern California community, for fans of B.A. Paris and Shari Lapena.

The perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect lie.

Jane Harris lives in a sparkling home in an oceanfront gated community in Orange County. It’s a place that seems too beautiful to be touched by sadness. But exactly one year ago, Jane’s oldest daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident and Jane has been grief-stricken ever since. Lost in a haze of anti-depressants, she’s barely even left the house. Now that’s all about to change.

It’s time for Jane to reclaim her life and her family. Jane’s husband, David, has planned a memorial service for Mary and three days later, their youngest daughter, Betsy, graduates high school. Yet as Jane reemerges into the world, it’s clear her family has changed without her. Her husband has been working long days—and nights—at the office. Her daughter seems distant, even secretive. And her beloved Mary was always such a good girl—dutiful and loving. But does someone know more about Mary, and about her last day, than they’ve revealed?

The bonds between mothers and daughters, and husbands and wives should never be broken. But you never know how far someone will go to keep a family together…



Kaira Rouda, acclaimed author of Best Day Ever, has delivered again: Kirkus Reviews calls her protagonist “impossible to love but equally impossible to look away from,” a car crash of a human being whose keen insight into human behavior is punctuated by dark humor. A PopSugar Best Book of Spring and one of Oprah’s Buzziest Books for May, The Favorite Daughter is a truly outstanding psychological thriller, subverting the notion of a perfect family with complex character development. Everyone loves a protagonist whose character arc, if drawn out, looks so much like the slippery slope they ultimately find themselves at the bottom of. Rouda’s mastery of prose will entice readers to sympathize with Jane and her increasing distance from her family—before horrifying us with a selfishness and sick desire for control we’ll be startled (and delighted!) to have initially missed. Publisher’s Weekly‘s starred review says that “suspense fans will be amply rewarded,” that is, rewarded AND chilled to the bone. If it feels impossible to look away from this book once you’ve finished, check out Bookstr’s exclusive live interview with Kaira Rouda herself!


OUR Coffee Shop Read


'Amelia Westlake Was Never Here' by Erin Gough




A fiercely funny, queer romantic comedy about two girls who can’t stand each other, but join forces in a grand feminist plan to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school.

Harriet Price is the perfect student: smart, dutiful, over-achieving. Will Everhart is a troublemaker who’s never met an injustice she didn’t fight. When their swim coach’s inappropriate behavior is swept under the rug, the unlikely duo reluctantly team up to expose his misdeeds, pulling provocative pranks and creating the instantly legendary Amelia Westlake–an imaginary student who helps right the many wrongs of their privileged institution. But as tensions burn throughout their school–who is Amelia Westlake?–and between Harriet and Will, how long can they keep their secret? How far will they go to make a difference? And when will they realize they’re falling for each other?

Award-winning author Erin Gough’s Amelia Westlake Was Never Here is a funny, smart, and all-too-timely story of girls fighting back against power and privilege–and finding love while they’re at it.



When we imagine a high school romance, we envision that all-encompassing bubble of first love, impervious to the sharp edges of the world outside that one other person. But sometimes, those edges are pretty sharp. Gough juxtaposes a confrontational depiction of sexism with a fun opposites-attract romance for some light reading that packs a heavy punch.  Kirkus Reviews lauds the novel’s “skewering of sexism and institutional hypocrisy,” and the novel touches on issues of race, class, and ethics in a manner far more nuanced than most high-school romance novels… because most of these books never address such topics. Shortlisted for nearly a dozen respected Australian book awards, Amelia Westlake Was Never Here IS now here in the United States—and, yes, it’s unapologetically queer. With Pride Month coming up, a hilariously witty LGBT+ high school romance with thoughtful societal commentary is a read that’s just as fun as it is socially relevant. (That’s both extremely fun and extremely relevant.)





'The Corleone Family Cookbook' by Liliana Battle



Become part of the family and make recipes no one can refuse with the official Godfather cookbook!

The Godfather trilogy is widely recognized as one of the greatest movie series of all time. Now, you’ll finally be able to make your very own family–inspired meals with recipes for Mama Corleone’s famous pastas, sauces, meatballs, breads, and desserts. Immerse yourself in the classic story of the Italian immigrant family determined to keep their long-held traditions intact in the new world. Featuring 75 authentic Italian recipes for infamous dishes such as “the best in the city” veal Marsala, Clemenza’s Sunday sauce, and of course, “Leave the gun” cannoli.

Elevating the strong themes of loyalty, family, and tradition, The Godfather: Mama Corleone’s Family Cookbook sheds new light on the legendary trilogy. Including images and quotes from the films, this in-world cookbook is an absolute must-have for all fans of The Godfather – especially those with a taste for the finer foods in life.



Want to be a killer chef? Honor one of the greatest film trilogies of all time with The Godfather: The Corleone Family CookbookAnd the recipes are as excellent as the cinematic marvels—though cookbooks aren’t generally Bookstr’s territory, this one is delicious enough for us to make an exception. The criminally well-curated cookbook includes quotes from the Corleone family and copious references to the film (“this pasta shape is… hearty and thick, thick enough to strange a priest apparently”). Even if you somehow aren’t a fan of this iconic trilogy—which is a crime in and of itself—the recipes describe the historical context of the meal and offer humorous tips outside of your typical step-by-step cookbooks. Are these phenomenal Italian recipes to die for, perhaps? Well, you should be dying to get your hands on this book. And if you cook any of these meals, it’s a guarantee you’ll be dying to eat them.

Bookstr’s Three to Read This Week 5/15/19

Not sure what to read this week? We have a suggestion: something unlike anything you’ve read before. You may be grappling with finals or watching in agony as students prepare to do what you wish you could (not have to wake up early every damn day), but one thing’s for sure—you need a book as hot as the impending summer.

Our picks for this week are as unique as you are: a look into the unapologetically political and astoundingly insightful The Handmaid’s Tale, an ambition sci-fi read that peers five years into a more recognizable future, and a groundbreaking work of lesbian fantasy. (My fantasy? More lesbian rep on the best-seller list.) Grab a copy of these books and take a look… when you glance up disoriented several hours later, you’ll thank me.




'The Art and Making of the Handmaid's Tale'



Explore the world of Gilead with this behind-the-scenes look at the award–winning show The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale—the groundbreaking show produced by MGM Television and based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel—has drawn rave reviews and attention worldwide. Now, this comprehensive book details the process of bringing the story to the small screen with forty-five exclusive cast and crew interviews, backstage and set photography, concept art, costume design, and more.

Delve deep into the dystopia of Gilead as interviews with the show’s cast and creators provide insight into the inspiration behind the characters, settings, and themes, as well as its parallels to the real-world political climate. Showcasing striking visuals and insightful commentary, The Art and Making of The Handmaid’s Tale is the definitive exploration of one of television’s most critically acclaimed shows.



The popular TV series The Handmaid’s Tale will return for its third season on June 5, and the timing couldn’t be more poignant. This season includes pivotal scenes shot in Washington, D.C., further emphasizing the inherently political nature of the show and its source material. Currently, The Handmaid’s Tale is trending on Twitter—of course, there’s a historical precedent. The story trended directly after Donald Trump’s inaguration, coinciding with the historic Women’s March. Currently, the story is likely trending in part because of recent decisions in Alabama and Georgia on the subject of reproductive rights. The former state’s law is particularly stringent for reasons we won’t mention here, as they may be deeply upsetting. (Imagine how upsetting they are when they result in unwanted pregnancy.) The Art and Making of the Handmaid’s Tale captures the essence of these troubling times, featuring rich and thoughtful bonus content such as interviews with Margaret Atwood herself. Other exclusive interviews feature Elisabeth Moss (the actress who portrays Offred) and Warren Littlefield (executive producer)!




'Last Tango in Cyberspace' by Steven Kotler



Hard to say when the human species fractured exactly. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn is the first of his kind–an empathy tracker, an emotional soothsayer, with a felt sense for the future of the we. In simpler terms, he can spot cultural shifts and trends before they happen.

It’s a useful skill for a certain kind of company.

Arctic Pharmaceuticals is that kind of company. But when a routine em-tracking job leads to the discovery of a gruesome murder, Lion finds himself neck-deep in a world of eco-assassins, soul hackers and consciousness terrorists. But what the man really needs is a nap.

A unique blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional cyberpunk, Last Tango in Cyberspace explores hot topics like psychology, neuroscience, technology, as well as ecological and animal rights issues. The world created in Last Tango is based very closely on our world about five years from now, and all technology in the book either exists in labs or is rumored to exist. With its electrifying sentences, subtle humor, and an intriguing main character, readers are sure to find something that resonates with them in this groundbreaking cyberpunk science fiction thriller.



New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler is as ambitious and impressive as his latest novel: a multiple-time Pultizer Prize nominee whose work has been translated into over forty languages, Kotler offers journalistic insight into a surprising range of timely topics. Since Last Tango in Cyberspace peers only five years into the future, it’s a striking and uncanny exploration of the world we might inhabit, playing on real fears and questions that we have as people living in 2019. The novel discusses ecological and animal rights issues alongside more traditional sci-fi topics, the more familiar neuroscience and technology. Sci-fi fans will appreciate Kotler’s expert balance of references to the genre at large and unique new additions to the genre. Lion Zorn is a charismatic and nuanced protagonist, and readers are sure to appreciate him just as much as the novel’s conceptual striving.



OUR dark horse


'Ash' by Malinda Lo




In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.



Malinda Lo‘s Ash is our Dark Horse this week for no lack of accolades: the groundbreaking LGBT+ YA was a Lambda Award finalist and a Kirkus Best Young Adult Novel. Published in 2009, the ten-year-anniversary edition of this dark, lesbian Cinderella story is actually a re-release, printed due to the novel’s success and cultural significance as an earlier LGBT+ work. The special anniversary release is jam-packed with special features, including a foreward by iconic YA fantasy author Holly Black, a letter from Malinda Lo, exclusive Q&A, and more! If you missed out on this story a decade ago (possibly because you were a small child then), now’s your chance to get in on the (literal!) magic. Even in YA fiction, which has grown increasingly open to LGBT+ characters and stories, lesbians and queer women remain underrepresented. Not in this book! Despite its basis in fairy tale, the novel received an outpouring of praise from sources like Publishers Weekly and The New York Times, praising its originality and deliberate, beautiful language.




All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Made With PhotoCollage.


10 Life-Changing Works of Queer YA Genre Fiction

There’s long since been an intense and ongoing debate regarding whether or not adults should read YA. While it may be true that they aren’t the target audience, they ARE the audience: approximately 55% of YA readers are actually adults. This phenomenon is particularly understandable when viewing the numbers through an LGBT+ lens: even ten years ago, queer characters were difficult to find. It’s possible that many of us are returning to coming-of-age stories that represent our own comings-of-age. Of course, many of the initial LGBT+ books on the market were tales of personal tragedy, coming-out stories gone wrong and ceaseless emotional rejections. Genre fiction gives us all the possibilities that this world—and any others—have to offer.

I hope that these ten novels might change your life the way that they’ve changed mine. As readers and storytellers, the stories we most often search for are our own.


1. Grasshopper Jungle


Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith



Grasshopper Jungle is the best story you’ll ever read about a horde of horny mutant grasshoppers laying siege to rural Iowa. While it may be the only book you ever read on the topic, the book is most surprising in its deep sincerity. There’s no trace of irony or artifice; our main character records the history of the end of the world in all its minute, human details. There’s the chain-smoking, and the rooftop loitering, and the way that ordinary words like kayak or dynamo can take on larger significance in that specific language we share with the people who are closest to us. The smallest details of Ealing, IA become important because Austin thinks they are. They matter because they matter to him.

Bisexual protagonist Austin knows just about everything except for the fact that he’s bisexual—that there’s a reason he feels torn between his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend, Robby Brees. But it feels like the end of the world… and, really, Austin isn’t so far off. Grasshopper Jungle is the unselfconscious story of understanding ourselves by understanding the things that connect us—and the significance in every one.


2. The LadY’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy


'The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy'



Strong female characters don’t have to be badasses… but, if they are, all the more fun for us. Felicity Montague is determined to become a doctor, and she’s not going to let anything get in the way—especially not a suitor from Edinburgh ready to offer his hand in marriage. When a mysterious, wealthy woman offers to pay her way to meet a German doctor who might be able to help her, Felicity is quick to accept… even if there are some terms and conditions. Cue scheming across Europe, perilous quests, and a powerful look at internalized misogyny.

This novel also places its protagonist on the aro-ace spectrum, an underrepresented demographic within the already-limited selection of LGBT+ representation. While not all aromantic people are asexual, and not all asexual people are also aromantic, Felicity is both—but these labels have very little to do with the amount of love in her life. In a world in which many YA novels are propelled forwards by forbidden love and mutual pining, Mackenzi Lee’s novel expresses a rare but strikingly true sentiment: that romantic and platonic love are not different levels, one deeper and more meaningful than the other. Instead, they’re simply different experiences—and that romance and love sometimes, but don’t have to, coincide.

(Oh, and her aromanticism / asexuality is NEVER scoffed at or shown as the cause of her isolation. The ‘A’ does not stand for “Attack & Delegitimize Others’ Experiences.”)


3. We Are the Ants


We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson


This is not a book about aliens. Instead, it’s a book about finding hope in what might seem to be an indifferent universe. We’ve all been stricken with deep-seated existential terror, the fear of facing an uncaring and meaningless world. We Are the Ants explores how we seek out that meaning… and how we often manage to find it.

Really, it’s NOT a book about aliens. True, the aliens did abduct Henry Denton when he was thirteen years old. And they did give him 144 days to decide whether or not to push a big, red button that determines whether or not the world is going to end. He doesn’t know how it’ll go. He doesn’t know if it will go; everyone seems to think he’s crazy, and there isn’t an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Fending off the emotional impact of his ex-boyfriend’s suicide, his mother’s underemployment, and his grandmother’s ever-impending dementia, Henry feels certain that the world isn’t important enough to save.

When he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a mysterious past, he starts to wonder if it is. We Are the Ants is an ambitious, introspective story of a hope-starved person who finds himself questioning whether or not anything matters… and, if it does, how much.


4. The Rest of Us Just Live Here


The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness


Something highly suspect always seems to be going on in sleepy small towns—usually, it’s infidelity and family secrets that tend to involve infidelity. In this case, it’s the string of mysterious deaths and the glowing blue lights that accompany them. Before that, it was the vampires; before that, it was the ghosts and the immortals. There are certain types of people that these dramatic stories happen to: “indie kids,” the sorts of teenagers who would never notice a thing as mundane as prom and are frequently named things like Satchel, Finn, or Other Finn.

While dramatic (often hyperbolic) events take place in the background, our protagonists’ lives rarely intersect with the campy, Buffy-the-Vampire hellscape that is the town’s most defining feature. Mike is far more concerned about his alcoholic father, his politician mother, and his ever-worsening OCD to consider the blue lights too much. That is, until he becomes the last one to see Indie Kid Finn alive. But even then, It’s not that he’s removed from the main storyline—his own life is the main storyline; the events that affect his family and friends are important for that very reason. This is not a story of finding meaning in the little things. It’s about realizing that those ‘little things’ ARE the most meaningful.

The LGBT+ rep is here, even if it’s not a significant part of the plot. And Ness includes a healthy and rarely-discussed degree of fluidity within a person’s sexuality: Mike experiments with his gay best friend, Jared, but ultimately feels he is straight. Relationships that we think might happen sometimes do and sometimes don’t; people are not always interested in the partners we expect.


5. The dream Thieves


'The Dream Thieves' by Maggie Stiefvater


I hesitate to say that anything has ‘saved my life,’ a phrase that feels trite, exaggerated, as if we ever need to justify our emotions that are so often the one thing we all have in common. But this is not a synonym for good—or even really f*cking good. It’s a synonym for nothing. This book saved my life.

The sequel in an astonishingly immersive series, The Dream Thieves is the first of the books to introduce queerness into the story. That’s queer as in LGBT+, not queer as strange; Stiefvater’s world abounds with strangeness that needs no introduction. It’s everywhere. The novel is ostensibly a search for a wish-granting dead Welsh king in rural Virginia, which is about as literal as it is existential. As Stiefvater herself is quick to point out, the back jacket of the book can rarely say anything along the lines of a gaggle of teens with awful coping mechanisms search for home and find dead people; sometimes, they search for dead people and find home. 

In this sequel, street-racing, hard-drinking asshole (who’s secretly less of an asshole than one may think) faces off against antagonist Joseph Kavinsky, a street-racing, pill-popping asshole (who’s secretly much, much more of an asshole than anyone could guess). But this rivalry isn’t JUST about fast cars and parties where rich boys hurl Molotov cocktails—even if it’s about that, too. It’s about the danger that can befall those of us who deeply hates ourselves… and the power we gain when we learn not to.

Buy this book or borrow it, but I won’t let you touch my beloved signed copy.




Six of Crows


Sometimes, we want a fantasy book about queer characters that has almost nothing to do with their sexualities. When LGBT+ stories first made their entrance into the YA market, most of them were tales of tragedy—because, particularly in the LGBT+ community, tragedies are bound to happen. But the lives of queer people aren’t necessarily marked by pain and ceaseless bigotry. Sometimes, they’re marked by magical gang wars, political conspiracies, and international heists. Kaz Brekker is the so-called “bastard of the Barrel,” a criminal prodigy who has one shot to get his ultimate revenge. But it’s just that… a chance. And given the misfits he’s brought on board to get the job done, the impossibility of what he’s signed up for is growing more and more apparent.

Many of us want books in which queer people are a part of the narrative but our suffering isn’t. We don’t always need the reminder that all manner of bad things, from health issues to hate crimes, are more likely to happen to people like us. Sometimes it’s great to have a fun romp when sexuality-related-angst and judgment aren’t the central focus. Now, if you want to know whether or not TRAGEDY is a part of Leigh Bardugo’s universe… it definitely is. It’s just not the kind you’ve already had too much of.

(If queer people are underrepresented in fiction, queer people of color are DEFINITELY underrepresented. Fortunately, this duology isn’t a part of that problem.)


7. Carry On



Read all the fan-fiction you want—most of our childhood favorites will never be overtly queer, no matter what J.K. Rowling says on Twitter. It’s easy to dismiss the gay Twilight Tumblr accounts as the typical fetishization of fandom, but the enthusiasm for turning all characters gay comes from a place of sincerity: many of our childhood stories do not feature heroes like ourselves. No matter how many groundbreaking new works of YA genre fiction hit the market, there will always have been that absence in our own upbringings. No matter how many qualities we had in common with our childhood heroes (bravery! strength! intelligence!), we knew there were some ways in which they would never be like us.

Many have accused Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, code name ‘gay Harry Potter’ of being derivative. Of course it’s derivative: it follows Chosen One Simon Snow, whose sulky roommate from an elite magical family might just be plotting to kill him. Simon doesn’t have the greatest control over his seemingly limitless magical powers, or, it seems, his life. Though he’s always been told that The Humdrum is responsible for the dark things that have befallen the magical universe, it seems there may be more to the story… and there may be more to his roommate’s obsession than hatred. But just because the work draws inspiration from Harry Potter doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same. It allows LGBT+ readers to see ourselves fully in the characters and reclaim our most beloved childhood narratives.


8. The Disasters


'The Disasters' by MK England


Looking for more LGBT+ genre fiction fun? The Disasters is a lighthearted romp around the galaxy, far more cheerful than Leigh Bardugo’s often-grim universe. That’s not to say a lot of bad things don’t happen in The Disasters: four misfits are the only witnesses to a devastating incident of intergalactic terrorism larger and more horrible than any crime before it. Only these four Academy washouts know what truly happened—but, given that they’re the prime suspects, that information will only be helpful if they’re able to survive long enough to share what they know with the world. The novel is another great example of queer characters’ whose sexualities aren’t significant parts of their storylines—while we definitely know that our disaster bisexual protagonist Nax Hall has the hots for more than one of his compatriots, that’s more of a him problem than a plot problem.

The basis for queer author M. K. England’s fictional world is African and Middle Eastern culture, meaning that The Disasters is yet another example of queer PoC characters… ones whose lives are marked by adventure rather than rampant homophobia and personal tragedy.


9. The Last 8


'The Last 8' by Laura Pohl


It’s rare for an apocalyptic YA novel to skip the romance, even if some romantic subplots take up a few dozen pages instead of a few hundred. Given that our protagonist is an aromantic, bisexual Latina, the romance here is sparse, but the action certainly isn’t. In so many apocalypse scenarios, we’re left wondering how these characters escaped with hardly any psychological trauma—at least, no psychological trauma that can’t be demonstrated through sexy brooding. Clover Martinez may be among the Last Teenagers, one of a few survivors of an alien attack that consumed all life on Earth, but surviving isn’t always her priority. Since losing her beloved grandparents, she’s dealt with intense suicidal ideation that contradicts her equally intense desire to change her grim circumstances.

(Oh, and it’s not just the protagonist; nearly every single character is LGBT+.)


10. The Shadowhunters Universe


'City of Bones,' 'City of Ashes,' and 'City of Glass,' books 1-3 in the six book Mortal Instruments series


If you’re ever experiencing a shortage of YA genre fiction, look no further than Cassandra Clare’s expansive Shadowhunters universe: it’ll take you months to finish every book. Clare has completed three series with another forthcoming, and spinoffs such as Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy and The Bane Chronicles fill in all the gaps in storytelling. If you find yourself needing more, there’s a film adaptation and a Freeform TV series to keep you sated.

While many of the characters in Clare’s books are straight, she was among the first authors to include LGBT+ characters among her casts of protagonists, even back in 2007 when this was a far more controversial move. She’s spoken at length about how publishers wanted her to cut gay Shadowhunter Alec from the series… and the bigotry she assumed was behind their requests. Clare has since included lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and asexual characters throughout her sprawling world. Her characters may have widely varying identities, but they’ve all got a few things in common: they’re astonishingly hot, unusually witty, and are prone to unfortunate twists of fate.


Unfortunately, I can’t read every book in the known universe. While the above books have been life-changing for me as a queer aspiring novelist, there are so many more on my TBR that could mean to you what the above books have meant to me. Here are just a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading next, a list that features a broad spectrum of LGBT+ characters of diverse identities and backgrounds.

Honorable mentions:

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Ash by Malinda Lo

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynne Herman

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire




All In-text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Via Tuts Design Plus.



These 5 Novels About Gender Will Change the Way You Think

The way in which we think about, discuss, and perceive gender is one of the most important and ongoing revolutions in our society today, and we’re all currently living in a significant historical period. Naturally, this shift in public consciousness is reflected in the art that is being produced. (And what’s more revolutionary than art?) So, without further ado, here are five powerful novels that will change the way you think about gender and the world in which we’re living.


1. The Book of Flora by Meg Elison


The Book of Flora against gold background
Image Via Amazon

Set in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, the final installment in Elison’s Road to Nowhere trilogy has delighted even the harshest of critics. Publishers Weekly notes in their starred review that The Book of Flora “widens its scope from reproductive rights to gender binaries and the consequences of stories.” Locus Magazine agrees, stating that “what sets the Road to Nowhere trilogy apart from other literary pandemics is how Elison centers her story around reproductive rights, gender identity, and sexuality.” And (though we’d never spoil!) its ending is one for the ages. Booklist says “its shocking conclusion will leave readers reeling and rethinking what they know about gender identity and trauma.”

In the Bookstr office, we were awed by The Book of Flora, a feminist dystopia unlike any other we’ve read. You can see our reaction here! It makes the top of our list because of how Elison explores themes of feminism, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, women’s rights, and the commodification and governmental control of women’s bodies over the course of the novel. Through the lens of expertly crafted dystopia, and a brilliant protagonist in Flora, Meg Elison showcases her incredible talent, and this book is proof of that.

In this Philip K. Dick Award–winning series, one woman’s unknowable destiny depends on a bold new step in human evolution.

In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.

Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.

When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.

2. The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara


'The House of Impossible Beauties' by Joseph Cassara
Image Via Amazon


Named a Recommended Book of 2018 by Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal, The Millions, Southern Living,  Bustle, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Nylon, Mashable, Library Journal and Thrillist, and dubbed “vividly imagined” by The New York Times Book Review, Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beauties became an instant classic of its genre when published last year. Exploring the life of a transgender teenager (based on Angie Xtravaganza) who falls in love and creates a space for themselves, the novel inspired one NYT reviewer to gush about how “you are… struck by the Xtravaganza’s strength and determination, by their vibrant spirits and humor, by their creativity, by their sensitivity to beauty and their capacity to give and receive love.” And while multiple reviews praise the novel’s vibrancy and vigor, Nami Mun, author of Miles From Nowhereobserves that “underneath the grime and glitter, The House of Impossible Beauties is quietly about necessity and defiance, about love and death, about characters who ache to be alive and seen in a world that mirrors back nothing but rejection and violence.”


It’s 1980 in New York City, and nowhere is the city’s glamour and energy better reflected than in the burgeoning Harlem ball scene, where seventeen-year-old Angel first comes into her own. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must bear the responsibility of tending to their house alone.

As mother of the house, Angel recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life. The Xtravaganzas must learn to navigate sex work, addiction, and persistent abuse, leaning on each other as bulwarks against a world that resists them. All are ambitious, resilient, and determined to control their own fates, even as they hurtle toward devastating consequences.

Told in a voice that brims with wit, rage, tenderness, and fierce yearning, The House of Impossible Beauties is a tragic story of love, family, and the dynamism of the human spirit.


3. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg


Image Via Amazon



Winner of the American Library Association Gay & Lesbian Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award, this novel, first published in 1993, was a groundbreaking work of gender exploration. Set in the often repressive 1950s, the novel follows Jess, whose parents have sent her to a psychiatric institution after catching her trying on her father’s clothes. Publishers Weekly called it “compelling,” while Book Riot dubbed it “a classic novel that explores butch identity and the blurred lines between masculine and feminine.” Alison Bechdel says, “Stone Butch Blues has probably touched your life even if you haven’t read it yet,” while the Village Voice credits Feinberg with giving ‘the word ‘transgender’ legs.” Perhaps it’s time to use yours (legs, that is) to head to your local bookstore and grab a copy of a novel that will forever change your perception.

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgender existence.

Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue–collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence.

Leslie Feinberg is also the author of Trans LiberationTrans Gender Warriors and Transgender Liberation, and is a noted activist and speaker on transgender issues.




Image Via Goodreads


Winner of the 2016 Tiptree Award, longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and recipient of the Stonewall Book Award Honor, as well as a Kirkus Best Book of 2016, and a Booklist Editor’s Choice McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours “explores gender with magical realism and carefully researched cultural markers.” Booklist notes that McLemore’s sophomore novel “mixes fairy-tale ingredients with the elegance of a love story, with all of it rooted in a deeply real sense of humanity” while Publishers Weekly says, “readers interested in gender identity and the pull of family and history will find this to be an engrossing exploration of these and other powerful themes.”


McLemore delivers a second stunning and utterly romantic novel, again tinged with magic.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Atmospheric, dynamic, and packed with gorgeous prose, When the Moon was Ours is another winner from this talented author.


5. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor




In their starred review, Kirkus called Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl “groundbreaking, shape—and genre—shifting work from a daring writer; a fresh novel that elevates questions of sexual identity and intimacy,” while The New Yorker notes that Lawlor’s novel “explor[es] the malleability of gender and desire.” Dubbed by Foreword in their starred review as “…a hilarious, original, gender-fluid novel replete with 1990s cachet, sex, and queer identity,” Paul… is hailed as “a new benchmark for gender-nonconforming literature.”


It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flâneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco–a journey through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.

Andrea Lawlor’s debut novel offers a speculative history of early ’90s identity politics during the heyday of ACT UP and Queer Nation. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a riotous, razor-sharp bildungsroman whose hero/ine wends his way through a world gutted by loss, pulsing with music, and opening into an array of intimacy and connections.

It’s Space Day! Check Out These 5 Stellar YA Sci-Fi Reads

Whether or not you believe we’ve actually set foot on the moon (honestly, my preferred conspiracy theories are of the death-faking variety), it’s easy to see that our desire to reach for the stars is so fundamentally human. This insatiable curiosity for the universe is perhaps the same need that drives us to create art, to tell stories. The least explored frontiers aren’t always further and further away—they can exist within the remotest places in our own bodies and hearts, things we’ve thought and felt but have never been able to express. There’s nothing quite like reading that one searing line in your favorite new novel just to realize that someone finally understands—and that now, so do you.

Today, we celebrate Space Day. An annual holiday celebrated the first Friday of May, it exists to honor the achievements of space exploration and encourage young people to enter careers in science and engineering. (We’re guessing ‘Get Paid a Liveable Salary Day’ didn’t have quite the same ring to it.) But jokes aside, these five YA novels share the same purpose: to capture our collective wonder, which, when put to task, is a pretty powerful thing.

Grab one of these books, lie back, space out, & enjoy.


1. The Disasters by M. K. England

'The Disasters' by MK England

Queer characters?? And a queer author?? Everyone needs to give The Disasters some serious love. M.K. England offers readers a fun, fast-paced romp around the galaxy with an extremely entertaining (and diverse) cast of characters. England’s interplanetary colonies were extremely well-realized; clearly, England went beyond futuristic moon bases that look like the inside of an Apple store and neon Star Wars lasers. All of the colonies seem rich and grounded with culture, and when have you last read a YA where the basis for the fictional world was African / Middle Eastern culture? (That is, besides Children of Blood and Bone) An extremely endearing tale of a misfit cast of characters. Also, who doesn’t love a disaster bisexual protagonist?


Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

2. We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

You’d think that once you introduce the aliens, the book can’t get any weirder. Wrong. This book is unlike anything you’ve ever read, the aliens more a vehicle through which to explore complex family bonds, relationship abuse, struggles with sexuality, and the general existential bullshit of the universe. It’s rare that a book about someone who really isn’t all that interesting in living will make you want to live, but we did say this book was weird—that’s weird as a synonym for uniquely moving.


From the author of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.


3. The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

'The Last 8' by Laura Pohl

When was the last time you read a novel with an aromantic, bisexual protagonist? Given that WordPress is telling me to correct the spelling of ‘aromantic’ (probably to aromatic or, more ironically, a romantic), I’m gonna guess NEVER. This #OwnVoices novel is a wild ride of plot twists and nonstop danger, and, as a bonus, it includes a responsible and nuanced handling of mental health issues. It’s a unique tale of friendship and sacrifice… one not weighed down by a forced romance that seems to mistakenly believe it’s more important than the world getting saved.


A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave 

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.


4. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness


Let’s dive into this powerful classic YA with one of its most iconic quotes: “we are the choices we make.” Maybe you should make the choice to head down to your local bookstore and grab this for yourself. Winner of the Guardian Award, the novel has left a lasting impact: pop-culture superstars Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland set to star in a film adaptation scheduled to hit theaters in March 2020. With its raw, unfiltered voice, it’s sure to stay on your mind for a long time to come… and on your bookshelf for even longer.


Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.


5. Cinder by Marissa Meyer


book cover


You may never have wanted to read a novel about a cyborg Cinderella living in a futuristic city while getting into sci-fi shenanigans all vaguely reminiscent of childhood staple Sailor Moon… but that’s probably only because you didn’t know that novel was available. This breakout hit launched Meyer’s career, and she’s since published eleven others books that are just as unique as they are uniquely compelling. You’d think novels based loosely on fairy tales would have to be at least somewhat derivative; that’s only because you haven’t read this one.


A forbidden romance.

A deadly plague.

Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .

CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.

This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.





All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Via SteemIt.