The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Volunteer librarian Martha is kind of a doormat. She says yes to everyone's demands so often, they've grown used to taking advantage of her. She thought staying busy doing things for others was what brings her joy, but starts to realize that's not sustainable and actually, it's a huge burden. A mysterious book with her late grandmother's name listed as the author, and Martha's own childhood stories within, arrives on her doorstep. Finding the answers to the questions this book raises starts to change everything. Definitely a book for book lovers, The Library of Lost and Found is kind of like a mid-life coming of age story. It speaks to the power of stories, especially of fiction. It's a cozy…

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And So We Die, Having First Slept by Jennifer Spiegel

Wow. I need to say yes to self-published titles more often. And So We Die, Having First Slept is an incredible novel. Heavy, brutal, raw, and heart-wrenching, yes, but also philosophical and, somehow, beautiful. The writing style is absolutely stunning, and unique (I especially love Spiegel's clever use of exclamation points). This novel takes you through an intimate journey of one incredibly difficult marriage, the individual and joint lives of two characters who are trying so very hard, even as they're failing. I found this book just as compelling and rich as Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch or Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, except those two books left me feeling conflicted: I appreciated them deeply, but for some reason I had this…

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She’s My Dad by Jonathan S. Williams

Because it's a memoir, I feel bad that I didn't really enjoy She's My Dad. I'm just not sure who this is book for? Jonathan's reaction is so deeply entrenched in evangelical Christianity, I wonder how many readers (whether cis or trans) outside of that world would find this helpful. I struggled with how outdated the terminology and attitudes seemed. I wouldn't want to read this as a trans person, and certainly not as a nonbinary person (the narrative was very hung up on the gender binary). And I can't imagine giving it to a cis person trying to understand how a trans loved one feels, because again, it felt outdated, and it wasn't cohesive or far-reaching enough. There was…

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Not Everyone Is Special by Josh Denslow

Josh Denslow's short story collection Not Everyone Is Special didn't start off on the best foot with me. There were a number of moments that were ableist, fat shaming, and casually racist in that covert "joking" kind of way. BUT it seemed like, more often than not, the characters had moments of clarity about their flaws and learned from them. I enjoyed all of the stories, but they got better and better as the collection went on. I'm very glad I kept reading. Some are speculative fiction, others are slice of life. "Extra Ticket" was my favorite by far (have tissues handy). Denslow has a knack for diving deep into people's emotions and thought processes. The characters aren't always relatable,…

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Real Queer America by Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen's book Real Queer America is an inspiring, optimistic, heartfelt letter to fellow queer folks living in red states in the United States. But it's also incredibly informative (and gently corrective) to cishet liberals living in blue states. You know, the people who tend to look down from their high horse, putting us on their personal "no travel" lists, making assumptions about what life is like in conservative areas of the country. Allen's book offers a more realistic perspective on queer life in Red State America than the media prefers to show (and for that matter, a more honest perspective on life in blue and swing states, too). She shows us how these places and the people in them are…

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Just Sit by Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz

I wanted to love this book. I'm a believer in the power of meditation, and the fun, colorful, magazine-like layout of Just Sit is pleasing to the eye, easy to navigate, and motivating. After the first two chapters, though, I was already frustrated. Exaggerated health claims came across infomercial-like at best, ableist at worst. There are no notes/citations to back up any of the claims in this book. If you're going to make huge claims with phrases like "studies show", you need to cite that and give readers a way to look into those studies further, to find out how they were conducted, what the sample size was, etc. Because there are plenty of junk "studies" out there. (See Ben…

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The Curiosities by Susan Gloss

It took me a while to warm up to Susan Gloss's The Curiosities. There are five alternating perspectives in this novel, and I needed to get my bearings. Once I got to know each character, though, I had trouble putting the book down. I think it's tricky to manage so many different voices, but it's handled well here. I did feel like I got to know some of them better than others, but I wasn't left feeling like anyone had been left behind. That said, Nell, Annie, and Betsy really stood out the most for me. Annie is a second-wave feminist, and her cissexism does come through a couple times—most notably in a "every eligible citizen with a vagina needs to vote"…

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Parkland by Dave Cullen

Obviously Parkland has its tough reading moments. But the focus is much less on the actual shooting itself, and more on the surviving kids finding hope and resilience, working through their grief, and most of all, organizing to effect change. Readers are with these kids as they experience how dirty (and partisan) politics is and how frustrating media spin can be. But we're also with them as they connect with, learn from, and try to help boost the voices of groups like the Peace Warriors and BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere) of Chicago. In his engaging narrative style, Cullen shows us teens with a deep sense of injustice who are capable of so much more than many adults give…

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A Dog Called Jack by Ivy Pembroke

Ivy Pembroke's A Dog Called Jack was full of delightful surprises. When I requested it on NetGalley, I was looking for a cozy, comforting read. And it was, but I didn't expect all the depth this book delivered. This novel achieves a wonderful balance between giving readers a relaxing read and giving its characters realistic—often tough—situations to deal with. It's heartfelt without being trite, sweet without feeling saccharine. And the humor is gentle; you find yourself chuckling momentarily, but it never breaks the flow. Christmas Street's residents are surprisingly diverse. They are a variety of ages, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and stages in life. I love that this actually mirrors my own little cul-de-sac. I loved watching 8-year-old son Teddy break through the crotchety…

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The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

"It all begins with a hot air balloon trip and three bottles of champagne. Allan and Julius are ready for some spectacular views, but they’re not expecting to land in the sea and be rescued by a North Korean ship, and they could never have imagined that the captain of the ship would be harboring a suitcase full of contraband uranium, on a nuclear weapons mission for Kim Jong-un. Yikes! Soon Allan and Julius are at the center of a complex diplomatic crisis involving world figures from the Swedish foreign minister to Angela Merkel and President Trump. Needless to say, things are about to get very, very complicated."  I'm super excited to be part of the TLC Book Tour for Jonas…

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