Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome to my September books wrap up. This was a month of really good books, and four ARCs! Okay, let’s talk books!
First up was a book that I pre-ordered and got on release day, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. This is a #ownvoices queer paranormal romance, focusing on Yadriel, who is trans and comes from a family of brujx. Yads wants to go through the rites to become an official brujo, but his family won’t let him because they don’t think the traditional rites of passage will “work” with him being trans. He decides to just do the ceremony on his own, with the help of his cousin, Maritza. Then Yads decides that he needs to prove that it worked by trying to summon the spirit of his recently deceased cousin, but he accidentally summons Julian, the resident “bad boy” of his school. Julian has unfinished business and drags Yads into it. Hijinks ensue. There was a pre-order campaign that if you signed up, you’d get a signed bookplate and some character cards. They are gorgeous!!
I just absolutely loved this, and I will never be able to be as eloquent as Adri is, so I’m just going to link their 5 Reasons to Read video, which is *amazing* and you just need to read this book already. I will quickly mention a few key things. This is such a great representation of a trans person, you can tell the author has experienced some of these things themself. They explore the dynamics of a Latinx family, a lot of the traditional views Latinx families often have around trans and queer people, but Yadriel’s family is mostly accepting of him. There is deadnaming that happens, but the name is never said on the page, which I love to see. It’s never necessary for us to know the deadname. Also, magic! I will warn you, if you are averse to blood, there is description of that and self-harm, both for ritualistic/magical purposes. Honestly, this book is just incredible and there’s a lot happening not mentioned in the synopsis. It’s the perfect spooky read for Halloween season!
Heavy Vinyl Vol 1 by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva. This is a cute graphic novel which is basically about a record store that’s a front for a secret teen girl fight club that’s fighting crime and working to take the patriarchy down. I can’t really say much more than that. It was a cute quick read, and it also has queer characters!
All of the books from now on are ARCs, one physical from William Morrow and the others are ebooks I got through NetGalley. If you don’t really know book terminology, ARC is short for Advance Reader Copy, meaning a copy given to readers before it’s released for the general public. It’s a way of marketing the book and getting reviews of the book out before it’s published. ARCs are generally given to reviewers for free, in exchange for honest reviews.
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots. I received a physical ARC from William Morrow. Thanks for providing a copy to review! Anna has been working as a temp for a while, but her temp jobs aren’t for just any boring company. She works as a temp for villains. Though it’s equally boring – paperwork is pretty much universal. She gets hired for one particular villain, and after working there for a while, she’s brought along on an assignment. Things go awry and she ends up badly injured and laid off. Angry and stuck at home while she recovers, she puts her data smarts and internet connection to heavy use. Anna discovers she’s far from alone in being hurt at the hands of a hero, and eventually creates something that shows how much damage heroes actually do. Her skills get noticed by one of the Big Bads, and she puts them and her team to work weaponizing the data against the so-called good heroes. Quick rundown of the representation in this book: bi protagonist that becomes disabled, multiple queer characters – a trans super, several same-gender couples, use of they/them pronouns. I immensely enjoyed reading this! This is a unique perspective, from a hench or an underling rather than the heroes or the villains. This book is not action-packed or flashy at all. Well, there are some scenes later on, but that’s well after all of the world-building, the mundane, the data collection and weaponizing, the lives of henches. I really enjoyed that aspect, actually. It’s certainly not for everyone, definitely not if you’re expecting action all the time. There have been some comparison to The Boys which I can see, but that’s still very action-packed. This is far more mundane than that, and it’s about the people who work for the villains, helping them do their “evil” deeds. There’s a lot of time spent on Anna’s recovery, how those injuries continue to impact her well after she’s healed, some roommate drama, and everyday things. It does get a little…disturbing toward the end, far more than I was expecting after having read most of the book, so be aware of that. I thought this did really good with the commentary on various topics that parallel our world. This book might be a little long, but I think it was worth it in the end.
Machine by Elizabeth Bear. Dr. Brookllyn Jens works on a medical rescue spaceship that’s been sent to answer a distress call coming from a generation ship that left Terra a long time ago. Her crew arrives to find that the entire ship is in cryopods, the on-board AI seems to be unstable, there’s a strange tinkertoy-like machine filling much of the ship, and there’s a modern ship docked that isn’t answering any hails. A rescue operation is begun, and they return to the central hospital in space. Jens can’t resist a mystery and starts digging. She quickly learns that there might be some life-changing hard truths she’s not prepared for. I will always enjoy science fiction, unless it’s *really* bad. Happily, this is not one of those! I immensely enjoyed reading this, and was pleasantly surprised to learn in the beginning that Jens is a lesbian and that she has chronic pain, using an exoskeleton that enables her to move around far more than she would without it and be a functional member of this society. There’s honestly so much that happens in this book, I don’t even know where is best to begin. Worldbuilding – it’s so complex and rich, and I really appreciated that it was spread out throughout this and not dumped all at once. This society includes a wide variety of species, and the collective term for all of them, including humans, is systers. (Side note: I suspect the origin of this term could be from Anita Borg, and is short for system sisters, which makes sense in this context. It also simply means sister in others.) I really loved the descriptions of Core General, the hospital, and how it was designed for a wide range of environmental and gravitational needs, along with the varying sizes of the systers. I also liked the descriptions of the specific systers that had a role in the story, even if it was brief. This is written in first person, so we’re in the head of Jens, and she will occasionally go on a small tangent to explain some things, maybe philosophize about the situation, things like that. For most of the book, it’s fine and I think it actually helps us understand the world better and be more engaged with the story. Towards the end, it gets a little overly complicated and I didn’t think it was completely necessary. There’s also casual queer rep, some characters use they pronouns, and it’s standard for the hospital staff to have tags that have names, species, and pronouns. Some species prefer to be referred to as “it” and it seems that it’s typically the bug species. There’s a LOT that happened in this story that I’m not even mentioning, but I did really enjoy this and would definitely recommend if you want to read something sci-fi that’s also a mystery.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang. This story follows a family of Taiwanese- and Chinese-Americans, focusing on the women: Mother, Daughter, and Grandmother. Daughter is telling us the history of her family to the best of her ability, translating from letters written by her grandmother, relaying stories that her mother told her. Shortly after being told a story about Hu Gu Po, a tiger spirit living in a woman, she wakes up with a tail. That’s not even the strangest thing that happens throughout this book. There are backyard holes that breathe, fish-daughters, a golden cage with a shadow of a bird in it but no visible bird, and she’s falling for a neighborhood girl that has her own strangeness. This was extremely interesting to read because of the writing style, which reminded me quite a bit of Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Chang’s writing bends reality, uses words normally associated with the human body to describe nature and makes it possible for a human to get pregnant by a river or grow a tiger tail. It’s very poetic at times, which the author has background in. The author said that she’d sometimes class this as “speculative history” and I can see that! I’d definitely put this into the fabulism category as well, plenty of the things that happen in this book fall into that. This is a generational story, exploring how different generations experience the world, pass on their stories and their trauma. There are many folktales in this, and they’re all based on Taiwanese, Chinese, or Fujianese folktales. The author says that they can all be found in text form online, but because they’re often from an oral tradition, there might be many different versions. There isn’t exactly a plot to this, but that is not a bad thing at all! It feels like an epic being told to us, rather than something that’s written down in a book to start with. It touches on domestic violence, poverty, racism. It also has bright moments of queer love between Daughter and the neighborhood girl, and this love is simply accepted by those around them. Queer love even stays in their family myths, with a man falling for a pirate, Grandmother experiencing some love for a woman. I really enjoyed reading Chang’s writing and look forward to reading more of her work.
The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. Kara is going through a divorce, and she absolutely *cannot* bear to be around her mother for very long, so instead, she goes to stay with her eccentric uncle at his Wonder Museum. This museum is chock-full of all these odd things – a ton of dried cane toads, taxidermy taking up a lot of space, unique carvings here and there. Kara grew up in this museum, so none of it bothers her while she helps her uncle out for a while. Uncle Earl has to go into surgery for a while, so Kara takes over with some support from Simon, the quirky gay barista that works at and lives above the coffee shop next door. The first day, they discover there’s a hole in the wall that they assume a tourist carelessly broke and ran off. But when they take a closer look at the hallway through the hole, they realize that the proportions are impossible. They explore some and discover it leads to some strange world filled with willows and quiet islands dotting foggy water. *dun dun dunnnn* Normally, I’d tell you a bit more about this, but that was kind of all I knew, and let me tell you, that’s the best way. This is a horror story after all, but if you desperately want to know more details, I’d be happy to tell you more! This is the first I’ve read from T. Kingfisher, and I definitely would love to read more from this author! I really loved the writing in this, it was beautiful and sufficiently creepy when needed. The humor woven throughout, both regular and gallows humor, was fantastic. I really appreciated that the main characters, Kara and Simon, were very relatable, and they didn’t suddenly have some special ability or were already completely competent. They were just regular people, trying to figure this out, understand space-time physics, other dimensions, and all this science stuff that they’re definitely not qualified for. If you like horror that has some humor thrown in, this is for you!
That’s all of the books I read in September! I hope you found something new that you want to read, enjoy the spooky season. Bye.
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