Big fat thanks to Mindi of Fat Positive Cooperative for writing this nice review of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts! Fat Positive Cooperative is an amazing website, full of resources, book and podcast recommendations, and spotlights on fat heroes.
Every new year, social media and regular media fill up with weight loss messages. It gets so exhausting, and I think it's damaging to hear over and over that bodies like ours aren't acceptable and need to be changed. I'm excited to start the year following a bunch of fat activists on social media that I've discovered through Fat Positive Cooperative.
How are you planning on loving your body in the new year??
Okay, I saved the best group of book recommendations for last – young adult, my favorite genre! As I said in my previous blog post, I didn’t read as much YA this year as I usually do. I was afraid that reading YA while working on my own YA novel would make me compare my work or inadvertently try to replicate the book I was reading. Maybe I was overthinking it. But anyway! It wasn’t an entirely YA-free year, and I did read several awesome books this year. Once again, these recommendations aren’t all books that were published in 2018, but rather my favorite books that I read during 2018. Check them out! (library pun!)
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (2017)
This story is delicious. It’s about Monty, a flamboyant bisexual boy who’s the son of a Lord in 1700s England, and he goes on a Grand Tour of Europe (which I guess was a Thing) with his sister and his BFF/secret crush Percy. I loved it, and especially recommend it if you like stories about boys who kiss boys, stories about teens having adventures, and/or agonizingly beautiful crush feelings. I spent most of the time I was listening with a dopey grin on my face. I loved how Monty (and the audiobook reader) calls everyone “dahhhhhling,” how he’s confident but also knows he’s a fuckup, and how he seems like he doesn’t care about anything but secretly has very tender feelings inside. It’s a great book that you can just cozy up with and get lost in.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (2017)
This story is about three best friends and a whirlwind weekend at a Comic Con. I don’t participate in fandoms or do cosplay or anything, but these characters do, and it was really fun to see the weekend through their eyes. Alternating chapters are narrated by Taylor, who’s chubby and autistic and secretly in love with the one boy in the group, and Charlie, a vlogger/actress who’s recovering from a very public breakup and getting to know her crush, Alyssa. I haven’t read many books with autistic main characters, so Taylor’s chapters were probably the most eye-opening for me, but I loved Charlie’s chapters too. The story has a wonderful emphasis on friendship, as Taylor and Charlie support each other through all the feelings and drama.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (2018)
I liked this more than I thought I would! I'm not particularly interested in zombies, but this has some fun twists on a classic zombie story. It’s about Mila, a teenage girl whose best friend Riley and two popular girls from school have all just died. Mila, who’s been practicing witchcraft with Riley, brings them all back to life and tries to figure out what happened. I liked the undead girls a lot, and how all the girls bond and realize that they like each other despite being so different.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (2018)
More of a middle-reader than YA, but it’s a great story! Twelve-year-old Aru has to save the world (from her own screwup) by going on an adventure through Hindu mythology. She's sassy and insecure and very realistic, and she bonds with her fellow adventurers and creates a lovely, fun friendship story.
Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (2018)
This has a lot of classic YA features, like a quick-moving story and teens who have time during a life-threatening situation to think about crushes and kisses. It’s about Logan, the son of the President of the USA, and Maddie, the daughter of a retired Secret Service agent. To try to keep him safe, Logan’s parents send him to stay in Alaska with Maddie and her dad. It turns out to be less safe than expected, though, as some bad guys attempt to kidnap Logan almost immediately upon his arrival. There’s a lot of backstory about Logan and Maddie and their relationship, but it gets revealed throughout the book, so you don’t have to wade through it to get to the action. Maddie is the tougher, more skilled one, but she still likes pretty things. Logan is bigger and stronger but doesn’t know as much about wilderness survival, so they’re pretty well-balanced as they work to save each other. It’s not a big emotional story…there are feelings, and a few moments of big feelings, but mostly it’s a fast-paced adventure, which is just what I was looking for.
I started reading mysteries a few years ago when I was searching for adult fiction that wasn’t romance-centered. I stumbled upon cozy mysteries, which I like because they are usually pretty light stories (which seems like an odd thing to say about stories involving murder, but I stand by it). I also think mysteries are very interesting from a writing perspective, and I like to see how authors weave the storylines together, plant red herrings, and eventually lead the sleuth to solve the crime.
As far as I can tell, the key components of a cozy mystery are:
This year, I listened to a lot of mystery audiobooks to relax while working on my novel. Since my book was young adult fiction, reading other YA novels felt way too close to home, so I really dove into mysteries. I even braved the world of non-cozy mysteries a little!
I’m always on the lookout for queer cozy mysteries. I found a couple this year, but they didn’t make my best-of list. The one queer mystery that did was definitely not cozy, as you’ll see below. I’m thinking about writing a queer cozy mystery as my next writing project, but I haven’t gotten very far. If you have any suggestions of queer cozies for me to check out, please let me know!
And now I present:
Shelley’s Favorite Mystery Reads of 2018
A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell (A Witchcraft Mystery #9) (2018)
This is my favorite cozy mystery series, and I was excited when a new book came out. This series is about Lily, a witch who owns a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. Too often, cozy sleuths are prissy, fancy ladies, and I love that Lily isn’t. She runs around town in Keds and a ponytail, and is friends with the homeless man who sleeps in her store’s doorway. She also has a talking pig for a familiar, a colleague who makes plus-size replicas of vintage dresses, and a bunch of witchy and hippie friends who pop up occasionally to help her with research or tracking down leads. The audiobooks are narrated with a sweet Texas twang by Xe Sands, who is one of my favorite narrators, and the world of this series just seems so sweet and weird and fun. Plus, I love reading about the vintage clothes.
Blanche on the Lam (Blanche White #1) by Barbara Neely (1992)
I’ve been looking for more cozy mysteries written by authors of color, which is how I found this book. The main character, Blanche, is a black woman who does domestic work in rich white families’ homes, and starts sleuthing when there’s a murder in the house she’s working in. Blanche makes a lot of observations about the experience of being a black woman working for white people, and about police treatment of white vs. black people, and how black lives are treated as though they’re disposable. I liked this book a lot, and the author did a good job injecting social commentary into a story that could otherwise be pretty quick and easy.
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs #1) by Jacqueline Winspear (2003)
This was a really interesting story! It’s not actually a cozy, since the sleuth in this book is a professional detective, but it does have a lot of the primness of some cozies. We start in the 1930s as Maisie sets up her detective agency, then most of the story is about her younger years, and with her personal life connecting to the mystery. Maisie was a nurse in World War I, which I learned a lot about, and an ambitious, inquisitive, driven woman in a time when women were expected to be none of those things. Before reading this book, I hadn’t considered how in-the-middle-of-things the nurses were during the war. I thought author did a good job of illustrating the horrors of war and how veterans are kind of abandoned when they come back. And Maisie is smart and kind and I liked her orderly process of solving the mystery.
Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery by Katie Gilmartin (2014)
My final mystery recommendation for today is a standalone and is not cozy at all, but it’s definitely queer. This story takes place in the 1950s and is about Josie, who travels to San Francisco when her brother goes missing, and explores the underground gay scene while she searches for him. She meets lots of memorable characters, tells and hears heartbreaking stories about having to hide being queer, and comments on racism and sexism as well as homophobia. It’s a touching and engaging story that breaks every cozy rule that I listed above, including the graphic sex. I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you are interested in queer history!
The year is almost over, which means it’s time for best-of lists for 2018. I love looking back over the books I’ve read each year and picking my favorites. This year, I’m splitting my recommendations into three categories – non-fiction, mysteries, and young adult fiction – and making three posts. So many books to recommend! I don’t only read brand-new books, so these are my favorite books that I read during 2018. Some are new, and some are older. I’ll include the year of publication for easy reference.
I listened to almost all of these on audiobook, but I refer to “reading” them. I try to mention when the audio version is particularly well-read, in case that influences your decision of how to ingest the book.
If you’re interested in following my book reviews on the regs, feel free to add me on Goodreads!
And while you’re over on Goodreads, don’t forget to post your thoughts about MY novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts!
And now, without further ado, I present: Shelley’s Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2018
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors (2018)
It’s ridiculous that saying “Black Lives Matter” is so controversial. People act like it means that black lives matter more than white lives, but where in the history of the United States has that ever been the case? Considering how differently (than white people) black and brown people are treated by teachers, police, courts and the prison system, it seems clear that the system is set up to show how little black lives do matter. This book really takes you inside that experience, and Patrisse does an amazing job of explaining how it feels to be told that you don’t matter. She describes her family and friends with such tenderness and love, showing how the movement evolved not from anger, but from deep love for her community. I never thought about Black Lives Matter developing from such a personal place, but I see now that this is because it’s not that personal for me. But Patrisse grew up with constant reminders that her life, and the lives of her black family and neighbors, didn’t matter to police or other people in power.
The memoir is very open and raw, and you get to know her family and friends and the systems of support that they’ve created because they can’t rely on support from outside. Before reading this book, I didn’t know that Patrisse is queer. This fact might make you realize how little I knew about her going in. Her sexuality is a big part of the memoir, and I really appreciated that. Her coming out story felt familiar to me, and her gender and sexuality are central parts of her identity. I love how much she prioritizes centering trans women and queers, and to making Black Lives Matter a non-patriarchal movement.
This is a beautiful and powerful book, and Patrisse’s narration of the audiobook adds to the text. I recommend it highly!
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2012)
Until I finished writing my book, I didn’t realize how hard the vulnerability would be. Even admitting that I thought I had something to say that other people might find valuable felt really vulnerable. I also can’t control how other people interpret my story, what they connect with, or how their reading affects their ideas about me. All of this felt really scary. I walk a thin line between completely buying into touchy-feely-self-help talk and “this is such bullshit,” so I appreciated Brené’s talk about her own struggles with being vulnerable. I thought that was really refreshing. This book was a lot more helpful than I expected, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work!
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)
This is a great book! Ijeoma Oluo addresses a lot of topics, including cultural appropriation, affirmative action, intersectionality, and how to determine if something really is about race. She gives some good, concrete tips, like tying it back to larger systems of oppression when calling out racism. Instead of just saying “that’s racist” when someone says something offensive, you should instead say “that promotes a stereotype about this group that leads to them being offered fewer jobs and getting lower pay” (or whatever is relevant to the comment). She also comes back to that idea later, by giving examples in other chapters of calling things out. I liked that a lot. She says that it’s important to talk about race, but that talk isn’t the end. We need action as well. It’s a serious and dense book, but it moves quickly and doesn’t drag. It definitely gave me a lot to think about.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)
This book was fascinating. It’s always interesting to learn about someone else’s life when it’s so different from your own. I didn’t realize there would be so much violence. The family’s patriarchal beliefs let abuse go unchecked, and there were also a lot of major accidents which led to long-term medical issues that never got dealt with beyond Reiki, salves and herbs. I think with the title being “Educated,” I was expecting the story to stick to education, but it ended up being about escaping from a lifetime of conditioning and abuse. I was really rooting for Tara, and I loved hearing about the things she had to learn when she got to college, knowledge that most incoming college students took for granted. It was also really interesting to see her process of becoming her own person and forming her own beliefs. It’s a pretty amazing story!
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright (2017)
“Shaming people cures nothing. Living in a state of silence cures nothing.”
This book reminded me of a Mary Roach book, but with more political rants and less grossing me out. The author explains different plagues that have hit humans throughout history, like the Bubonic Plague, Syphilis, Tuberculosis and Typhoid. It moves quickly, is funny, and I learned a lot! She focuses on how different plagues have been handled, what worked and what didn’t, and talks about trends throughout history. I didn’t realize how common it is to blame victims for becoming sick, with society treating the sickness like a moral failing and fighting against the sick people rather than against the disease itself. My day job is in HIV prevention, and I never realized that the stigma of HIV/AIDS is not a new thing. It’s the same way sick people have been treated for centuries.
I was initially disappointed when I looked at the table of contents and realized that there wasn’t a chapter about AIDS, but she addressed it in the epilogue, and explained that she was focusing on plagues that have mostly been resolved. She had so much beautifully righteous indignation toward the members of Reagan’s administration who refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, with quotes like: “this plague seems a perfect case-in-point of what happens when you ignore every single one of history’s lessons regarding disease.” Very true!
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.