A Book Like Summer

The weather is warm, school is officially over, and the season of lounging in the backyard with a good book and a glass of lemonade is upon us. Summer is a great time for fun, flirty stories that make you feel as bright and happy as a day at the beach. Below you’ll find some of my favorites for 2017!

All cover photos courtesy Goodreads

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

I am 1) not big on contemporary romance and 2) eternally skeptical of books about fandom, but Geekerella charmed the (Star Wars-patterned) pants right off of me. Our heroine is a geeky, grouchy orphan named Elle who is trying to survive her last year stuck with a cold and controlling stepmother and two stepsisters who wandered out of Mean Girls. The one thing keeping Elle afloat is her love of Starfield — a cult TV show that calls back to all your faves — which is about to get a film reboot. To her horror, the lead role is given to Darien Freeman, the star of an uber-popular soap opera, aka the last person on Earth who should be allowed to play her beloved Federation Prince Carmindor — except that Darien is secretly a superfan who’s wanted this role his whole life, and no one can ever, ever know or his sexy romance star image will be destroyed.

This novel has a bit of everything — believable romance, wacky escapades, unlikely meetings, drama, and a punk rock lesbian fashion designer as the fairy godmother — but the part that makes it really shine is how much it deeply, genuinely understands what fandom means to people. If you have every really loved a piece of media and found community with other fans, you WILL cry ugly tears at least a few times while you read this. Bring tissues.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

There was some controversy when the (badly written) blurb for this title was initially released, and even after it was fixed, there was still a lot of vitriol floating around review sites. Ignore all of that and listen to your Auntie Tori: this book is for bisexual girls who don’t feel queer enough. It is my fave, my baby, my precious candle in the dark. Beyond that, it is everything that people love about Murphy’s writing all wrapped up in a very attractive cover. Do you want a coming-of-age drama about family, identity, privilege, and the South? Here you go.

The story follows the titular Ramona, a tall, gangly, blue-haired girl from the coastal South who lives in a trailer with her single dad and her adoring, recently pregnant sister. Ramona has always been attracted to girls, so she is very, very unsure of herself and where she stands when a (male) childhood friend moves back to town and her feelings for him become somewhat more than friendly. Cue all. The. Bi. Feelings. To make everything harder, Ramona finds out she’s really good at swimming — maybe good enough for college scholarships. But if she leaves, who will take care of her family? How can she choose between them and her future?

I cried a lot reading this one because it made me feel seen and validated, and even if you’re not bi or queer yourself, I’d recommend giving it a read for the raw, real emotions and relationships. Plus, the gorgeous Southern coast is so vividly alive that it feels like you’re really visiting.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Unlike literally every person I know, I have not read Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, — yes, I know, I’m getting to it, but there are so many galleys — so this was my first Albertalli book, and I adored it. This is the epitome of the cute, feel-good summer romance that will please even the most anti-romance of readers (like me) and will probably make them giggle a little, too.

The story follows Molly, who has had twenty-six unrequited crushes and zero boyfriends. Mostly because she has never, ever told a boy how she feels. Her twin sister, Cassie, desperately wants to help her nab a boyfriend who will make her as happy as Cassie’s new girlfriend makes her feel, but that isn’t going to be easy when Molly’s insecurities about her body and her own shyness keep getting in the way. Enter hipster Will and nerdy Reid. Suddenly, Molly has not one but two boys who seems to like her as much as she likes them, yet somehow that doesn’t make anything simpler…

Meanwhile, it’s summer of 2015 and her two moms are getting married right heckin’ now before anyone repeals anything. I thought I was going to die of how cute and happy their subplot was.

If you want body positivity, diverse characters, a YA story with a loving and understanding family, and love interests that aren’t another example of Why Straight Boys Are the Worst, this should be on your list.

Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan

You don’t have to be as big of a Beowulf nerd as I am to enjoy the heck out of this weird, wild comedy about family feuds, escalating prank wars, and artisanal pig farms, but you’ll enjoy the many punny names a lot more if you are.

Tom Grendel just wants the obnoxious parties next door to stop before they trigger his father’s PTSD any more than they already have, but he’s going to have to go through Rex and his beefy pal Wolf first. Which would be less awkward if Tom didn’t have a crush on Willow, Rex’s sister. Or if his increasingly dramatic pranks didn’t seem to make the party-goers more determined to be the loudest thing in the retirement community of Lake Heorot.

I laughed a lot while reading this one. The romance did not leave a lasting impression on me, but then again, the romance is really not the point of the novel. It’s a lot more about the complicated ties of family and community, the weight left behind by memories and grief, and why cranky old ladies whose tranquil neighborhoods have been disturbed by Kids Not Getting Off Their Lawns are the most terrifying creatures in North America.

The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

Finally, finally, it is here. The sequel to my absolute favorite science-fiction novel of 2016. Cas and Swift are back in action. This title puts the “adventure” in summer with high stakes, heated romance, and my favorite thing to think about at the beach: ravenous sea monsters.

Set once more in the dangerous waters of the Neo-Pacific, we rejoin Cas and the pirate crew she has only recently decided to join as they stumble upon something far worse than enemy ships — a plague of rogue Reckoners, giant ship-eating monsters that are only meant to exist under the strict control of a trainer like Cas. As the seas turn deadly and a new ecological crisis looms, what can a ragtag crew of pirates do against the worst threat mankind’s genetic engineering has ever conceived?

Meanwhile, Cas and Swift struggle to get their act together. Get ready for a hideously delightful amount of hate sex while these nerds work out their issues from the first book, The Abyss Surrounds Us.

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

Speaking of sequels, if you want to take a break from the oppressive summer heat and take a trip to snowy Russia in the 1800s, it’s time to pick up the follow-up to Skye’s bestselling first novel, The Crown’s Game.

After the events of the first book, there is a lot to resolve. One of our main characters is presumed dead and the other has become literally shackled to the role of Imperial Enchanter. Revolution looms and threatens the future of our young tsar-to-be, Pasha. And, of course, magic is never as safe as it seems to be, especially with dark forces wandering the world and using it to their own ends.

The love triangle we know and love from the first book is back with a vengeance in the sequel even as loyalties shift and characters change. Just as passionate as ever, you’ll swoon and sigh as our three heroes deal with the consequences of their actions in The Crown’s Game and try to forge the best path forward, even if that path won’t let all of them survive.


It’s Queer, It’s Here, It Should Be on Your Bookshelf

I return from a brief hiatus! On my tumblr, someone asked for book recommendations for science-fiction/fantasy/adventure books featuring PoC and LGBT+ characters. Here’s what I came up with. All links are to Amazon, but please consider shopping at your local indie bookstore or checking them out at your library instead. It’s the best way to feed your community and your favorite author!

The Abyss Surrounds Us — A snarky Asian sea monster trainer is kidnapped by pirates, lesbians ensue, and somebody remembered that the world is mostly not white. Pacific Rim meets Water World meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

Archivist Wasp — A teenage girl hunts ghosts to glean secrets from the mythic sci-fi past, but then one of them starts talking back and suddenly it’s all gut-wrenching trips to the underworld to find long-lost war buddies.

Huntress — A prophecy sends two teenage girls from a dying world on a quest to the city of the Fairy Queen. Prophecies have a way of fucking with young love, though, and cute biracial lesbian couples are no exception.

The Raven Boys — Southern Gothic, Arthurian romances, and The Fast and the Furious had a really weird baby. Kind of gay, mostly white, humor and character-driven drama up to its eyeballs. One of my faves.

The Fifth Season — N.K. Jemisin is the best writer currently living and I will fight you. This is the start of her newest trilogy. I won’t lie, it’s a brutal read. It’s like Between the World & Me written as an apocalyptic revenge saga. Bonus points for trans characters, basically no white people, and polyamorous triads.

The Inheritance Trilogy — Same author as above. Three books for the price of one! Captive gods, political scheming, assassination, exiled princesses and blind artists collide in a decadent empire about to collapse under its own weight and hubris. Come for the plot, stay for the genderfluid god of darkness and sexiness. Sexy darkness. Mmmmm.

Sorcerer to the Crown — A Regency fantasy-drama of manners about the first black Sorcerer Royal, a biracial (Indian/white) girl who wants to establish magical education for women, a devious fairy court, dragon family drama, and a Malaysian witch who has no time for your colonialism. Delightful, decadent, humorous.

Wake of Vultures — A biracial, bisexual, genderqueer teenager accidentally kills a vampire and finds out the Wild West is a lot more wild than she expected. CW for anything you might expect a dfab black/Native kid at the edge of civilization to face.

Ancillary Justice — An artificial intelligence that once commanded a starship and legions of vessels wakes up trapped inside a human body, and she is PISSED. Notable for its exploration of race and gender, especially when it comes to pronouns.

The Last Unicorn — It’s not really gay or non-white, but not many people know it was a book before it was a cartoon, and the book is always better. Read this if you were a child of 80s fantasy flicks like Labyrinth and Lady Hawk.  If you look up “poignant” in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of the cover.

The Darkest Part of the Forest — On the surface it’s about a girl and her brother and the elf boy they’re both in love with who’s asleep in a glass coffin in the woods, but I think it’s really about the shackles of other people’s expectations and what you have to do to break free.

Carry On — It’s the gay Harry Potter fanfic you didn’t know you wanted. A chosen one returns for his last year at a magical school, but his obsessions with his missing arch-rival starts to turn to worry, and then maybe to something more. The author isn’t great about race in her other books, but this one came out ok.

Uprooted — Not gay, though surprisingly non-white for something set in fantasy Poland. A peasant girl is unexpectedly plucked from her village by her liege lord, the sorcerer known as the Dragon, just as a corrupt forest begins to devour the kingdom and its inhabitants alive. It’s like a much more grown-up Howl’s Moving Castle or Dealing with Dragons.

Every Heart a Doorway –This one doesn’t come out until April 5th, but I highly recommend you pre-order it. It’s about a boarding school for children who came back from fantasy worlds and cannot go back. It has a plethora of LGBT characters (openly asexual heroine! trans boys! lesbians!) but the part that really hooked me was the unpacking of their emotions and trauma. If you want deep characters, but with snark and humor, this is your book.