Escape! by the Writing Bloc Cooperative

Short story anthologies can be hit or miss, especially ones that dare to include a variety of genres, as Escape! from the Writing Bloc Cooperative does. 20 stories by 20 writers, ranging from political satire to speculate fiction and sci-fi to literary fiction (and everything in between), all on the theme of escapism. There were only two stories that I DNF'd in this collection, and one other story that I read but just didn't like. That can make it difficult to rate the collection as a whole, but the remaining 17 stories grabbed my attention so fully, I have no regrets. I found a number of new-to-me writers that I've been sure to follow on Twitter/Goodreads so I'm sure not…

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The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney

"A curmudgeon and his eccentric new roommate join together to plan an epic escape in this charming, poignant tale." In Dan Mooney's novel The Great Unexpected, Joel and Frank are nursing home roommates and, despite huge differences in their personalities, quickly become the dearest of friends—and partners in crime! Through Joel's experiences and feelings, we are reminded of how we as a society tend to treat the elderly. We might mean well, yes, but forgetting to include them in important decisions that directly affect them, stripping their sense of agency can seriously impact a person's mental health. I liked how Mooney had readers sympathizing with Joel's frustrations, and at the same time, understanding why his family, friends, and the nursing…

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The Stonewall Riots by Gayle E. Pitman

In The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets, Gayle Pitman gives younger readers (middle grade and up) a history of LGBTQ discrimination and the fight for equal rights, with Stonewall as the pivot point. In an age-appropriate but non-reductive way, Pitman conveys how dangerous it was for people to be gay in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as how widespread internalized homophobia was. She also puts the gay liberation movement in context with other movements going on in the '60s, giving readers a sense of how quickly and dramatically these movements arose, and how people had to utilize direct action because traditional forms of political activity (naturally) weren't effective. She shows the complexity of everything leading up to…

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The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Last year I read Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky, which was an incredible reading experience. I mentioned in my mini-review that I was fully invested in the characters of that book, and felt like I was part of its world. The same holds true for Anders' latest novel, The City of the Middle of the Night. Anders has been called "this generation's Le Guin," and that is spot-on, especially in the way she created the political, economic, and sociocultural aspects of the Argelan, Xiosphant, and Gelet. This novel has that "epic journey" feel you get when you've been with characters through their intense adventures and personal growth. I loved all the layers and nuance. I enjoy…

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Nonbinary by Rajunov/Duane

In Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, 30 authors share how their experiences are shaped by the deeply entrenched gender binary of our society. I have so many post-it flags marking my favorite points and memorable quotes, I'm not sure where to start. So let me list my top three favorite essays in the collection: - "Token Act" by Sand C. Chang, about being a token among liberal/progressive allies - "Lowercase Q" by Cal Sparrow, about not feeling sure where you belong, no label feeling quite right, yet continuing the journey because it's part of the process - "An Outsider in My Own Landscape" by S.E. Smith, a thoughtfully expressed middle finger to how society relentlessly labels people instead of…

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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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