Q: What does a family of booksellers read?
A: Lots of stuff, all the time.

This article is a continuously refreshed round-up of books that Booksweet co-owners Shaun and Truly (and sometimes their 14-year old Raymond!) enjoyed in 2023.

Curious to explore our favorite reads of 2022? We’ve got you covered.


Shaun //

Everyone on this Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson
I really enjoyed Stevenson’s Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone, so was more than happy to continue on with the adventures of Ern Cunningham, a man whose extensive knowledge of the detective fiction genre gives him an uncanny edge when he improbably encounters a murder scene. Ern, as narrator and ostensible “author” of both books, understands that readers might have missed his debut outing, so he carefully avoids spoilers for Family even as he dishes out very plot structure-based clues for the new outing. This time around, Ern and his girlfriend Julia are attending a mystery writers convention aboard a train rocketing across Australia – so when one of their number is found dead, the remaining authors are all well-versed in how to commit the perfect crime. The premise is somewhat less flashy than the first book’s, but the particular conflicts Ern encounters (outside of the dead body itself) allow for a lot more character work, including our hero’s experience of imposter syndrome crashing against his tendency to view himself as the main character. Stevenson has delivered another fun and breezy mystery that pokes fun at genre conventions by binding itself tightly to them. 

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire Book 1) by Naomi Novik
If you’ve finished Fourth Wing and Iron Flame and need some more dragons in your life, have a look at Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series! I loved Novik’s dark academia Scholomance trilogy (first book: A Deadly Education), and was keen to check out her historical fantasy set during the Napoleonic Wars. Captain William Laurence has been proud to serve Britain’s Royal Navy, but an unexpected discovery of a dragon egg aboard a captured French vessel binds him to the less prestigious – but perhaps even more vital – Aerial Corps, where he will need to learn quickly the dragon-riding skills that have taken his new companions a lifetime to master. Laurence’s dragon Temeraire is of a rare and uncertain breed, incredibly intelligent, and the two form a bond deeper than many of the paired riders are able to achieve. The first volume of a completed nine-book series, His Majesty’s Dragon is at once action packed and frequently tender, while exploring themes of imperialism, class, and agency. 

The MANIAC by Benjamin Labatut
Labatut’s follow-up to his Booker- and National Book Award-finalist When We Cease to Understand the World follows the evolution of mathematics and science in the 20th century, primarily through the work of genius John von Neumann, through to the development of artificial intelligence that can defeat grand masters of chess and go. This is an unusual book but incredibly rich and well-crafted – von Neumann is the central character, but the man and his work are explored in relation to his peers and rivals, who tell the story in a fictionalized but largely reliable history. And, given that some of the geniuses discussed precede or follow von Neumann, it may be more accurate to say this is a “biography” of the early life of AI – the title, after all, refers directly to a groundbreaking computer (the Mathematical Analyzer Numerical Integrator and Automatic Computer), although the monicker may also apply to those who developed and worked with the machine. Labatut provides an engrossing story of the personal, interpersonal, and professional conflicts within the previous century’s greatest minds, which continue to shape our world in everything from warfare and international relations to ChatGPT. 

Self-portraits by Osamu Dazai
Preorder: February 6, 2024
CW: suicide
Dazai’s 1948 novel No Longer Human became an unlikely TikTok sensation, which has thankfully led to more of his work being translated into English. Self-portraits collects several of the author’s semi-autobiographical short stories, many of them for the first time in translation. (It is worth mentioning though that two of the three stories in the recent volume Early Light are also included here.) Dazai was something of a Japanese Kerouac, an absolute mess of a person whose writing often fixated on his own experiences, but an author who nonetheless composed memorable and enthralling scenes, often pulling the reader along into his skewed view of humanity. This collection follows his personal arc, of sorts, from being cast out by his wealthy family to his first marriage and assorted failures, on to his return home when his house in Tokyo is damaged by Allied bombs during World War II. There is a desperation to Dazai’s prose – the war encroaches less upon his tales than one might expect given the era, but there are other destructive forces Dazai seems to know he will never escape – but the author meets his circumstances with a grin, charming his audience with his own misfortune.

Truly // 

Dawn by Octavia Butler
In preparation for Booksweet’s 1/12 Scifi/Fantasy Book Club, I had the joy of revisiting this book for the first time in over a decade. While the alien tentacle sex in a living spaceship stood the test of time (very memorable!), I’d forgotten the specifics. What I love about Butler’s work is her ability to invite the reader into the story for self reflection through character-driven narratives. In Dawn, our protagonist Lilith Iyapo wakes up on an alien spaceship 250 years after Earth was destroyed by nuclear war. The Oankali, an alien race, scooped up all of the human survivors they could to conduct genetic trades imperative to their species. As Lilith learns Oankali ways, swaps DNA, and interacts with other humans on the ship, Butler weaves in critical reflection points for readers to consider concepts of home, sex, race, gender, species, and what it means to be human. Butler’s writing is glorious in this novel and always: grounded in human behavior and universal desires with a strong female lead who lives in your heart and mind forever. 

Related note: If you’ve been wanting to dive into Octavia Butler’s work, but you’re not sure where to start, this blog post has some great recommendations suitable for any reader, scifi loving or not. 

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Often sold as a “haunted bookshop story by a Pulitzer Prize winner,” I’d been meaning to dive into this story for some time. As compelling as I find ghost stories, this story had so much more to offer. I immediately fell for the story’s gruff protagonist Tookie, an Ojibwe woman who lands a job at Birchbark Books (Erdrich’s real-life shop in Minneapolis) after being incarcerated for a decade. Despite her initial tough exterior, Tookie softens with time. She finds love and marries. She delights in books and bookselling. She becomes a smitten grandma. And she gets haunted by an annoying white customer named Flora, whose own death was not enough to keep her from the bookshop. In life and in death, Tookie refers to Flora as Tookie calls her “a stalker — of all things Indigenous.” Flora grossly transgresses appreciation/appropriation boundaries, claiming at some points to have “Indian blood” of unknown origin through a mystery relation. In death, her behavior becomes violent as she attempts to possess Tookie’s body. While this seems like a very plot-driven book, Flora’s colonial haunting serves as an omen for the cursed year to come. A huge chunk of the book is set during the COVID lock-down, where Tookie bears witness to the protests in Minneapolis following the killing of George Floyd, prompting her to revisit her own incarceration and her feelings about her partner’s career in law enforcement. Throughout the book, Erdrich invites us to consider the ways our collective and individual past haunts our present–and the stories we need to keep moving one foot in front of the other towards a more connected and caring future. 

Starling House by Alix E Harrow
This book was one of Booksweet shop manager Zoe’s favorite books of the year so of course I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! A modern gothic fantasy set in rural Kentucky, this tale introduces us to the cynical, protective protagonist Opal and her younger brother Jasper. Orphaned and living in a run-down motel, the two scrape by on gas station meals while haunted nightly by nightmares featuring the Starling House, the creepy mansion on the outskirts of town. The house calls Opal to its gates, where she meets its owner, Aurthur, the town’s creepy recluse (who turns out to have a heart of gold). After she’s offered a handsome sum to be Aurthur’s housekeeper, money she desperately craves to give Jasper a better life, she falls in love with the house… who grows to love her back and draws her into an underworld stewing with the sour ghosts of the past made manifest in the present. If you like major “big sister energy” with a side of badassery, sentient houses, creepy mists with teeth, small town black sheep, men-in-black taking an L, and tender fade-to-black romances, this book is for you. I loved the expert pacing, the characters, and the glorious house. All of it was exactly the escape hatch I needed. 

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
When I have the luxury of a whole day off (a Christmas miracle!), I like to plan a book that can be devoured in an afternoon. Keegan is a great go-to for this activity, with slim novels that contain genuinely expansive narratives. Small Things Like These has the added bonus of being set during the melancholy Christmas season, where “good will to all,” the cold truths of capitalism, and religious hypocrisy collide. The story follows the life and choices of Bill Furlong, who grew up fatherless under the care of his teen mother and her kind boss, Mrs. Wilson. As an adult, Bill works hard to provide for his five daughters and his wife Eileen as owner of his own coal delivery business. One of his deliveries is to Good Shepherd Convent, one of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries, horrific real-life asylums run by Roman Catholic institutions for most of the 20th century, created to reform “fallen young women.” Bill is faced with a choice: to confront the wickedness of the Convent or to keep his nose down and mind his own business like the rest of the town. Keegan has a magical way of bringing readers deep into a character’s history, motivations, longings, fears, and contexts. She cuts through the noise to the complicated, beating heart of her characters, revealing universal truths about our hesitations, our actions, and our desire to connect.


Shaun //

Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein
Sarah Bernstein’s lyrical, Booker Prize-shortlisted second novel is somehow both permeated with a heavy, almost suffocating sense of foreboding and nimble enough to dance mischievously through its picturesque, perplexing environs. An unnamed narrator moves to “remote northern country” to manage her eldest brother’s household now that his wife has left him; the narrator does not speak the language, and receives a hostile welcome made more bitter when she is blamed for a series of inexplicable natural events. As she alternately strives to fit in with or vex the townspeople, we as readers are wondering whether we should take her account at face value; whatever the truth, though, it is clear this woman has suffered, not only at the hands of the townspeople but also her older siblings, including the brother she now tends. Study for Obedience is a disorienting book, the clash of its Victorian tenor with its inescapably modern-day setting providing the foundation for all further obfuscation. But the language is beautiful and the narrator’s tribulations are rich, providing a complex exploration of xenophobia as well as personal trauma. 

The Future by Naomi Alderman
What if the world ended and you were left to survive with Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos? In The Future, a survivalist social media influencer unexpectedly finds herself caught up in a scheme to keep three of the world’s most outrageously wealthy people (analogous to, but not literally, the heads of Facebook, X/Twitter, and Amazon) alive in the event of extinction-level catastrophe. But behind the scenes, an even more audacious plan is in motion, orchestrated by the daughter of a former cult leader. I tend to shy away from books treating on social media moguls and the super-rich, but Naomi Alderman’s The Future is a smart, refreshing tale more interested in the people closest to these titans than the billionaires themselves. This is a book about the paths open to humankind – the ones we’ve followed, the ones we’ve rejected, and where we might go next — as well as the lessons to be learned from technology, religion, and each other. 

Monica by Daniel Clowes
Clowes’ latest graphic novel follows the arc of its title character from her mother’s fateful decision to end her wartime betrothal through to Monica’s childhood and lifelong quest for identity. Abandoned by her mother and with her father a mystery, a crackling voice at the edge of the radio dial offers Monica a purpose. But in adulthood, as relationships flounder and the truth about her mother leads Monica to join a cult, it appears the answers Monica seeks will bring no comfort. Luckily, an unspeakable otherworldly horror is coming to claim them all. Clowes draws on influences from Silver Age war and romance comics as well as EC horror and crime for this heartbreaking character study.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi
Charlie’s life has hit rock bottom when a wealthy relative passes away and bequeaths him a fortune – along with his well-entrenched criminal empire. But Charlie’s Uncle Jake, whom Charlie hasn’t seen since his own mother’s funeral when he was five years old, wasn’t what you’d call “dastardly;” rather, he saw the word “villain” as a job title, one that saw him nudging various industries and governments in particular directions. From his volcano lair. Charlie is not well suited for this role, but he’ll have to get up to speed quick if he wants to save himself (and his newfound fortune) from a league of rival evildoers. With Uncle Jake’s most trusted advisor showing him the ropes and his own most trusted cats feeding him intel, Charlie might make it through his first month as a villain alive – if he can get the dolphins to call off their labor strike. Starter Villain is a quick, fun read about the less glamorous side of global domination.

Truly // 

The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle: A True and Exact Accounting of the History of Turtle Island Vol 1 and Vol 2 by Kent Monkman and Giséle Gordon
I love books that care little for my well-worn literary expectations and deliver instead something wholly unexpected. These two volumes are a breath of fresh air. Written by two visual artists, collaborators Kent Monkman and Giséle Gordon, the stories examine the colonial history of occupied Canada through the eyes of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a time-traveling, shape-shifting, fun-loving, and just plain loving supernatural being. Monkman, a member of Fisher River Cree Nation in Treaty 5 Territory (Manitoba), has been revisiting his alter-ego, Miss Chief, in his artwork for decades. Her image begs for a full story to be told–and in The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (volume 1 and 2), Monkman and Gordon deliver. Miss Chief delights in the powers of her body as a form of care, of resistance, and of defense. Part historical fiction, part myth, part legend-in-the-making, Miss Chief sees generations of Cree through the horrors of disease, forced relocation, broken promises, and stolen children. She tries to teach settlers about Wahkohtowin, the good and interconnected way of living, only to encounter their hollow greed and stunted, stifled understanding of mutual care and respect. She dips forward into time to try to see what is ahead and returns to warn her loved ones. She becomes a bird to visit and protect a loved one in an Indian Boarding School. She reunites families and cares for the wounds of intergenerational trauma. I love Miss Chief for the ways her presence upends cis, white, straight colonial assumptions of what an “Indian Legend” looks like. I love her joy. I love her care. The sex in this book is as raunchy and fun as the fart jokes. The sorrow is deep and the love is endless, bound not by time or gender or form. Miss Chief is here to teach humans–and to just love them.

I listened to both volumes through our audiobook partners at Libro.fm–and I’m so glad that I did. Cree language is woven beautifully into the text and it was really wonderful to hear the language spoken aloud. Having devoured the audiobook versions, I’m looking forward to diving into Miss Chief’s stories in paper book form very soon. It’s been a long time since I wanted an immediate re-read; this is one of the most soul-nourishing things I’ve read in 2023. Maybe ever.

Same Bed Different Dreams by Ed Park
While this story starts as a straightforward narrative detailing the failed dreams of Soon Sheen, a Korean American writer turned copywriter for GLOAT, a social media company, it veers off into about 20 different tracks including: Parker Jotter, a Black Korean War veteran who writes sci-fi and claims to have seen a UFO, anarchist Emma Goldman, President Ronald Regan, Marilyn Monroe, and so many others. All characters lead back to the Korean Provisional Government (or K.P.G.), an actual network / unrecognized government in exile founded in 1919 during the period of Japanese colonial rule in Korea. This story is demanding–less so in its syntax and more in its structure. You’ve got to let go of trying to “get it” and let the current take you. It’s like watching a David Lynch movie or reading Gravity’s Rainbow: the less you try to understand the experience, the more all the pieces will click together to re-make logic. I had a great time with this book and its many strange characters–and Googling about the real K.P.G. after I finished. 


Shaun //

The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht
From the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, a haunting picturebook for adults. The Mysteries is an environmental parable, a cautionary tale about rumors and moral panic, and a fascinating, unexpected return for one of America’s most beloved cartoonists. 

Death Valley by Melissa Broder
A strange and beautiful novel about a woman struggling to cope with the concurrent traumas of her father’s debilitating accident and her husband’s advancing illness. Retreating to a Best Western in the California desert, the unnamed narrator encounters a giant cactus that should not exist, with an enormous gash in its side; naturally, she crawls inside. Conversing with younger versions of her ailing loved ones, the woman comes to know her father and husband in a new way, while also seeing herself in a new light. Death Valley is a novel deeply rooted in sadness, yet it is frequently very funny – the narrator’s wry outlook, the enigmatically attractive cast she encounters at the motel, the nurses at her father’s hospital, and her long-suffering husband, all would be at home in a quirky comedy, even as they navigate the horrors large and small of getting through another day. For fans of Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, and Gilmore Girls.

Emperor of Rome by Mary Beard
What was it like to be the emperor – or to have to deal with him? Rather than focus on any one ruler, SPQR author Mary Beard explores the day to day tasks and responsibilities of Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, and the like, as well as the generals, senators, and functionaries whose role it was to work with or around him. Dangerous dinners, grand public works, and Nero on the stage make for lively reading, and Beard’s prose dances through the ancient world.

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
Britney’s memoir wasn’t on my TBR pile, but early reviews of the audiobook promised a can’t-miss reading by Michelle Williams. The pop star’s story highlights the power and powerlessness of stardom, especially at those points when the dynamics of fame complicate normal human events like falling in love, breaking up, and raising children. Britney tells her story in broad strokes, jumping from highlight to trauma to the next, but, as she emphasizes throughout, this is her story, rather than the stories that have been told about her throughout her career; for a woman who had all agency stripped from her for 13 years under a conservatorship, that’s energizing, both for the author and the reader. (And yes, Michelle Williams gives a great performance on the audio.)

Truly // 

Babel by R.F. Kuang
I read this book, one of Shaun’s all-time favorites, in preparation for this month’s Scifi Fantasy Book Club gathering and OMG. I’m raging, I’m rooting, I’m crying. I loved it. I’m taking a shortcut this month and re-posting Shaun’s blurb from 2022 (below). All I can add is this: even if you’re not typically a big fantasy reader, this book has so much to offer. I’d add to Shaun’s comps that this book is also for fans of literary fiction by Anthony Doerr (especially Cloud Cuckoo Land) and David MitchelHere’s Shaun’s 2022 blurb: 

“An anti-colonialist Oxford book where linguistic nuance is the foundation of magic? It’s like this book was written just for me. Robin Swift was taken from his home in Canton as a young boy and raised by an Oxford don to be a translator – and in so doing, attain the arcane power of etching powerful spells in silver bars. But a chance encounter with a revolutionary cell and a close-knit group of friends with their own reasons to refuse to serve the British empire sets Robin on a deadly path, making enemies of his adoptive father, his former professors, and the Crown itself. Babel is a smart and thrilling book for fans of Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth.”

Wellness by Nathan Hill
If you enjoyed Hill’s 2017 novel The Nix (me!), you’re in for a treat with Wellness. Skilled at unpacking complex societal issues through character-driven stories about family relationships, Hill introduces readers to a 40-something couple, Jack and Elizabeth, in this new novel. Jack and Elizabeth’s relationship moves from sweet to sour as they age out of their lovestruck college days in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood and into their midlife churn of parenting and floor-planning their condo in the suburbs. What makes this book special is the way Hill digs into the dark shadows of Jack and Elizabeth’s identities and the forces that shaped who they are: the twisted ways technology shapes our worldviews, devastating family traumas, and the grotesque truths of intergenerational wealth. When I say that Hill digs deep, I mean he takes readers back generations within the families of his protagonists to unearth their truths. I left this book with some really interesting and totally unexpected “fun facts” (like how condensed milk helped the union win the Civil War) and breathtaking perspectives on modern life and all the forces that shape it.

The Book of Love by Kelly Link
Preorder: February 13, 2024
I love Kelly Link’s short story collections (White Cat, Black Dog and Get In Trouble are some of my all-time favorites). I was excited to dive into Link’s debut novel, 640 pages of occult weirdness set in the suburban town of Lovesend. When a teenage friend group dies and comes back to life, they find themselves in the throes of a centuries-old feud between supernatural gatekeepers and a vengeful moon goddess. It’s up to the teens to figure out their new magical powers, their relationships, and their identities – all while saving each other from a desperate eternity. Link’s writing is fresh, witty, and delightfully fantastical. Plus, the food descriptions in this book are a lot of fun. As it turns out: magic makes you really hungry.

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant
An organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, Grant is an expert in figuring out how individuals and teams can perform at their best. While there’s part of me that often finds the “human optimization” of self-help exhausting, the way Grant uses data-backed evidence and vivid storytelling to share his research is just the opposite: it’s a total pick-me-up. According to Grant, the secret to unlocking our true potential lies in nurturing a positive relationship with learning. In addition to sharing a new framework for understanding our potential, Grant offers concrete steps to put the new understandings into practice. Fans of Brené Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, and Grant’s 2021 release Think Again will enjoy this one.


Shaun //

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emily Habeck
Not long after Lewis and Wren’s wedding, Lewis receives a shocking diagnosis: he’s turning into a shark. He’s not the first person known to transform into an animal, but his particular condition is very rare, and will inevitably lead to his permanent separation from the woman he loves, as he takes to the ocean while she must remain on land. The change is slow and agonizing, but also full of instances of close connection to the people he loves, moments of clarity toward his friends and colleagues, and opportunities to consider what it means to be human. Habeck’s eye-catching premise really blossoms, though, after Lewis has completed his change, when readers learn more about Wren and both husband and wife have to sort out what comes next.

Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson
If you’ve read her daily “Letters from an American” newsletter, you know Heather Cox Richardson has an extraordinary knack for drawing connections that help readers better understand our current political moment. Democracy Awakening is a high-level view of the cultural and political forces that have shaped our nation from its founding through to the present day, drawing a clear through-line from the imperfect execution of the Declaration of Independence to the January 6 riots. Richardson’s smart, infuriating, and thrilling book implores Americans to finally, for the first time, live up to our ideals and in doing so reclaim democracy from authoritarianism. It’s a bold and necessary ask.

The Fraud by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s layered historical drama is full of fascinating characters, none of whom are quite as they seem. The Fraud is set in late 19th century London, where both high and low society are fascinated by the Tichborne affair, a trial both in the court of public opinion and the court of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to determine whether the man claiming to be heir to a wealthy estate and baronetcy is in fact Sir Roger Tichborne, thought lost at sea, or if he is in fact a butcher named Arthur Orton. Our point of view character is Eliza Touchet, a widow who finds herself integrated into the household of her cousin-by-marriage William Ainsworth, a novelist whose ability to coast on early success is running out. Mrs. Touchet sees herself as worldly, but she can’t help being swept up in the tawdry Tichborne drama, and her progressive ideals bow against experiences of suffering from which her station shields her, as well as relationships which propriety forbids. Smith gives us a whole host of rich characters – all based on real people and events, any of whom could be said to fit the title – set within what might be described as the pop culture of the Victorian era, with true crime scoundrels and celebrity bickering. (I particularly enjoyed Mrs. Touchet’s utter disdain for Charles Dickens.) Extraordinary historical fiction for fans of Zadie Smith’s earlier work, Maggie O’Farrell, and literary feuds.

Against Technoableism by Ashley Shew
A short but brilliant volume exploring the ways that technology intended to aid people with disabilities often ignores the wants and needs of those it purports to serve. A lively and personable writer, Shew explains how, instead of trying to “fix” human beings toward an ableist norm, centering disabled people in research and design concerning their own bodies would create a more equitable environment for all. 

Where the Body Was by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Preorder: December 5, 2023
Brubaker and Phillips are the preeminent team in crime graphic novels, and their latest is a fun and wry take on the genre. In a small suburban subdivision in 1984, pretty much everyone is up to no good: Teenagers Tommy and Karina are burglarizing Pelican Road’s nicer residences, unhoused veteran Sergeant Ranko is growing increasingly erratic, and Toni is having an affair with “man with a badge” Palmer Sneed, whose own misdeeds are about to catch up with him. Standing against the chaos is Lila Nguyen, an eleven-year old girl on rollerskates wearing a superhero costume. A private eye arrives on the scene, and things go south. Where the Body Was is a slim volume, as the creators seem to enjoy bouncing around to different settings and offering a new angle on crime fiction with each new book. Fans of The Fade Out, Friday, and the rest will not be disappointed.

Truly // 

The Trouble With Language by Rebecca Fishow
Each tale in this haunting short story collection is only a few pages long, some breezing in and out again in just the turn of a page. The effect is like eavesdropping on a long subway ride late at night; passengers come and go, leaving bizarre little stories in their wake. And you, reader, you get to collect them all and your cache is dazzlingly weird, including roomates who find their life’s true purpose through a severed head; a woman who makes hundreds of paper cranes while her body rapidly shrinks inside a hotel room; and a married couple imprisoned (literally: they are in a jail) by a gruesomely plagued child. This, plus tender everyday tales. For fans of Kelly Link, Emily Schultz, and strange “snackable” fiction (one does not always have time to commit to a big beefy book), this delightful read is for you. 

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff
In Groff’s latest novel, a servant girl flees the hungry horror of her colony, the North American wilderness offering more of a promising future than the “starving times” destitute of her community. (I’m with you, girl: I’m accustomed to hard work and all, but once the cannibalism starts, I’m out!) This story is raw, visceral, and spends as much time with the protagonist’s hot diarrhea in the woods (adventures in foraging!) as it does with her memories of growing up in a London poorhouse and her life of service in England to a bohemian mistress. The past and the present are both crucial for survival; the future nearly irrelevant. I really loved the tension and immediacy of this book. There is no decision fatigue. Do what works, do it now, or die.

Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang
Delectable food writing and speculative fiction all in one book? I’m in. Climate disaster cloaks the earth in a thick smog. Pollinators perish, crops die, ecosystems collapse. Genetically modified and tasteless grains are all that remain, providing joyless nutrients. Except for atop one private mountain, where the clouds have parted and the world’s wealthiest live and most importantly… dine. What’s a chef to do but lie her way into this gated community to really taste the world one last time, no matter the cost. The story was dark, but not heavy handed. While Zhang describes the layers of inequity in grotesque detail, this book reads less like a manifesto and more like a slow-burn thriller peppered with gluttonous feasts of sex and food and pleasure. Zhang’s protagonist gasps for survival and searches desperately for the answer to one central question: What is the point of life without the ability to take a big, juicy bite?

Dearborn by Ghassan Zeineddine
This short story collection celebrates the diversity of the Arab American community in Dearborn, Michigan. Each of Zeineddine’s stories features an incredibly unique and memorable character, their tales oscillating between hilarious and tender, melancholic and bombastic. Belonging, home, family, queerness, intergenerational migration and war traumas–these themes are explored in the most deeply personal and loving ways. I adored this book; its characters are vibrant and alive in my head and I expect they will be for years to come. 

A few folks at the shop have joined me in fangirling Dearborn. A fun fact for fellow fans: Zeineddine is a co-editor of a nonfiction essay collection that is currently on my TBR pile: Hadha Baladuna: Arab American Narratives of Boundary and Belonging. I can’t wait for more.

A Grandmother Begins the Story by Michelle Porter
Pre-order now for this book’s release on November 7, 2023
This intergenerational story follows five generations of Métis women in the Goulet family and their often fraught attempts to know one another, be loved by one another, and move on peacefully to the afterlife–clear of head and of heart. Porter’s storytelling is bursting with unexpected, matter-of-fact magic. There are vivid scenes of dance parties in the afterlife; exacting Tarot fortunes; and talking bison who share their stories of heartbreak and longing. Each character’s voice is clear-as-a-bell, women to champion in their imperfect glory.

Note: there are sections of this book that are super spicy–and unexpectedly so. I’m a-okay with spice, but I mention it here lest it helps you make informed book club choices. If you’re planning a book club with close friends: this is a great pick! Planning a book club for work? Let us help you find another great choice.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
This cozy, low-stakes fantasy is about an orc named Viv who puts down her battle sword and opens a coffee shop in a city where nobody has ever heard of coffee before. With her work cut out for her, she outfits the shop with all its necessities and hires an incredibly detail-oriented and savvy business succubus named Tandri. Together, Viv and Tandri build community through coffee and fall in love. Baldree has built a world removed enough from present-day earth to be comforting and filled it with incredibly endearing characters who just really try their best and make friends along the way. If you are in need of great writing that will fill your cup, give you a break during a tough time, and just make you smile: Legends & Lattes is it. Not into high fantasy? Me neither! Viv is an orc. Tandri is a succubus. The cafe cook is a Ratkin. All this is true and honestly: it really has nothing to do with the story. It just serves to remove you from the real-world when you need an escape. Kick back, forget you don’t usually care about orc stuff, and enjoy a really cozy and delightful book. 

Fun fact: this Libro.fm audiobook is now part of my seasonal depression toolkit. When the going gets tough, the tough gets Legends & Lattes. If you’re building your seasonal depression toolkit now before the days get any shorter, let us know! We’re here to help – and right here with you.


Shaun // 

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
I’m always excited to read a new book by James McBride. Though his latest kicks off with a skeleton in a well in 1972, nearly all of the story takes place in the 1920s and ‘30s within a small Pennsylvania neighborhood called Chicken Hill, where Jewish, Black, and immigrant communities strive together even as they remain largely apart. Chona, the proprietor of the titular shop, agrees to help hide an orphaned deaf Black boy named Dodo from the state to keep him from being incarcerated in an asylum, setting off an unlikely course of events that works to unravel several of the town’s deepest secrets (and maybe ends up putting that skeleton in the well). McBride’s expansive cast of characters are richly human, giving life to a tale of America as it was lived, with all of the laughter and sorrow, the friendship and distrust, the ugliness of ableism and racism and the hope of creating something of your own. Great for readers of McBride’s previous books including The Good Lord Bird, as well as Colson Whitehead.

Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree
Like Legends & Lattes, this is a fresh, fun, and sweet take on the fantasy  genre. Viv and her companions are lively and relatable, and the story is overwhelmingly wholesome (despite a lot of cursing). Great for readers who love fantasy but need a breather from glorious battle.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir
From the author of the Locked Tomb series (Gideon the Ninth, etc.), Floralinda is an absolutely delightful fairy tale parody. Princess Floralinda finds herself imprisoned at the top of a tower by an evil witch, and each floor below is guarded by a different monster. But none of the princes who come to rescue her can get past the dragon just past the entrance. Eventually, Floralinda… not so much decides, but has an opportunity to attempt to free herself. With the grudging aid of a fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda overcomes increasingly ferocious beasts, in the effort becoming something other than what she’d been before. Muir’s descriptions of the action are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and her characters’ mistakes and misdeeds always carry consequences, though not necessarily the ones you might expect. The print edition of this book has so far only been available in very limited editions, all of which are currently out of print; thankfully, you can experience Princess Floralinda as an audiobook, and this story really does benefit from being read aloud.

Truly // 

Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree
Everything Shaun said in his blurb plus this: if you’re looking for a cozy, super feel good story but aren’t willing to sacrifice wit and smart writing, this book is for you. Controversial opinion: I find Star Wars boring and I always wished it could just all be various intergalactic species living, laughing, and loving in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Bladree’s books are that: incredible characters who lay their swords down and just do the stuff of living. Also: if you didn’t read Legends & Lattes, don’t worry. You can dive into this first without missing a beat.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Take My Hand explores America’s not-so-distant history of federally funded eugenics programs and is loosely inspired by the 1973 case of Relf v. Weinberger, whose ruling stated that federal dollars could not be used for forced sterilizations and established standards for informed consent. The story centers 11-year-old Erica Williams and her 13-year old sister India, cared for by Civil, a young and well-heeled nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. Civil’s interactions with the Williams family, an “offsite” home visit on her roster, are rich in complex interpersonal and class dynamics. While both families are Black, Civil is the daughter of a successful doctor, living in a beautiful, well-stocked home and the Williams family lives in a hole-roofed shack with a dirt floor. The “charity mindset” of community care, policy, and healthcare is at play from the very beginning of the story, lacing its way through the bond Civil forms with the girls and their family. Through masterful storytelling and compelling characters, Perkins-Valdez brings to life the complexity, pain, and necessity of reproductive care while fighting for its vital center: choice.


Shaun //

Meet Me by the Fountain by Alexandra Lange
Not going to lie, malls were a pretty big part of my formative years. And even today, I find deadmall videos much more fascinating than I probably should. Whether the idea of “the mall” evokes nostalgia, excitement, or revulsion, Meet Me by the Fountain is an intriguing look at a formative American institution. Lange explores the history of shopping centers from a primarily architectural lens, but this of course draws in so much of the social history, as well. The rise and fall of malls and mall culture – all taking place within very recent history – is a compelling tale about the development of American suburbs and the shape of our communities.

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood
Zoe Thorogood follows up her semi-autobiographical The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott with the fully autobiographical Lonely, which like its predecessor experiments with the graphic novel format to explore issues of loneliness, depression, and the unending churn of an artist’s life. Thorogood’s art is organic and charming, and though the material is heavy, she’s an engaging and sympathetic storyteller. This book was nominated for an Eisner Award (the comics industry’s highest honor), and Thorogood herself was named as the medium’s most promising newcomer for 2023.

The Many Masks of Andy Zhou by Jack Cheng
Like so many of us, Andy Zhou enters middle school with a sense of excitement and possibility, only to find challenges he could never have anticipated. His best friend Cindy decides the two of them will reinvent themselves by dying their hair and joining the dance club, but instead of drawing them closer together, these shared experiences threaten to drive a wedge between them. Meanwhile, Andy’s antagonistic lab partner Jameel becomes an unexpected friend, and Andy’s grandparents, visiting from Shanghai, bring both joy and conflict at home. Detroit-based author Jack Cheng draws on his own experiences of trying to fit in as a young immigrant at school and within his family and circle of friends, creating a sweet and energetic story of self-discovery. 

Our family listened to The Many Masks of Andy Zhou read by Eddy Lee on Libro.fm while enjoying a little road trip this summer. Lee captured Cheng’s pitch-perfect middlegrade tone perfectly in this production (not too young, not too old, lots of learning and wonder but no “talking down”). The book opened up good family conversations about first generation immigration stories, representation, bullies, and disordered eating (which Cheng introduces sensitively and with incredible care). Bonus: this book is set in metro-Detroit and readers will have a fun time imagining the story unfold in places they’ve lived and visited.  Jack Cheng will be at Booksweet on Friday, September 29 at 7 pm to lead a FREE writing workshop for tweens (ages 10-13). RSVP for this FREE event. 

Truly //

Detransition, Baby by Torry Peters
What a riveting read! I could not put this book down. Winner of the 2022 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novels, Detransition, Baby is an intimate exploration of gender, parenthood, love, and trans life. The plot has all the high-drama of a soap opera, with none of the voyeurism. It centers an unlikely trio: Reese, a trans woman with a deep desire to become a mother (and a habit of sleeping with married men); Amy/Ames, Reese’s ex-girlfriend who has detransitioned and has recently impregnated their cis lover (who just so happens to be their boss); and Katrina, the cis, “straight,” women carrying Ames’ child. The characters and their motivations are incredibly well-developed: messy, imperfect, complex, contradictory, and deeply human. If you’re looking for a great book club pick, Detransition, Baby is a total page-turner and is brimming with conversation starters for those looking to tease apart complex issues of bodily autonomy, family, desire, identity, and choice.

Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang
What a wild, strange, and thrilling book! Huang knits together an unexpected blend of literary fiction, mystery, thriller, scifi, and body horror to completely skewer the beauty industry. Set in a beauty company called Holistik (which is like Gwynth Paltrow’s goop Beauty but way more messed up… I hope), the story’s protagonist is a 20-something ex-pianist who remains unnamed throughout most of the book until she is forced by the company to adopt an anglicized name. While we don’t know her name, Huang plunges readers deep into the inner-workings of our protagonist’s family histories, her relationship with music and the piano, her experiences of racism, her feelings of isolation, her poverty, her elder-care responsibilities in the broken U.S. medical system, and her desires with a raw intensity and depth. The plot is filled with unexpected twists and exacting critiques of  consumerism, identity, classism, and luxury. I really enjoyed this one – although if body horror makes you gag, you’ll likely want to sit this one out.

Sky Ropes by Sondra Soderborg
This realistic middlegrade book is full of so much heart! I loved getting to know Breanna Woodruff, a big-talking, softball-loving prankster with a painful family secret tucked away in her heart. Set during sixth-grade camp, Soderborg skillfully reminds readers of all ages that vulnerability is bravery, that healing is a group activity (and we all have a role to play), and that there is always more to a person’s story than meets the eye. This book is filled with great conversation starters for classrooms and families alike. An Ann Arbor-based debut author, Soderborg’s resume includes child advocacy and teaching in both a high school and in a prison; these experiences inform her deep and skillful character work. Breanna’s journey provides a trauma-informed road map of sorts, including practical “calm down” methods for managing anxiety and panic attacks, concrete examples of what building group agreements and norms looks like, and scene work that demonstrates what it looks like to show up for yourself and for others. Plus, Breanna’s hometown is Ann Arbor in disguise, which is always a treat. 

A Coastline is an Immeasurable Thing by Mary-Alice Daniel
Pre-order the paperback edition, out on November 14, 2023
Lyrical, emotionally evocative, and brimming with arresting visual language, A Coastline is an Immeasurable Thing shares Daniel’s childhood experiences as a Nigerian immigrant to Reading, England and Nashville, Tennessee–and the connection she found in adulthood to Los Angeles, California. Daniel’s family returned to Nigeria to visit family intermittently throughout her childhood and her perspective of seeing the nation first-hand in pieces over the years offers a unique way to understand the nation’s politics, practices, and position. Daniel’s feelings of belonging (and not), of home yearning, and of place have a universality about them, but her specifics offer a deeper understanding of Nigerian culture, of tribal identities, of the specific ways that racism and xenophobia inhabit individual communities, and how Daniel herself has found expansive meaning in her journey to define “home.” Local connection fun fact: In addition to a host of incredible academic accomplishments (an undergraduate degree from Yale, a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of California), Daniel has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at U-M.

Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon
Mars is not a boy or a girl: they are non-binary. While they build courage to share their truth with friends and family, they also navigate the highly gendered domain of competitive figure skating, their one true passion. All this while they are grieving the death of their dad, figuring out the friendship reconfigurations of middle school, and oh yeah… homework. Huntoon is an Ypsilanti-based non-binary author, parent, and public educator; their handling of Mars’ gender story is deeply tender, piercingly personal, and so exactingly true. You can absolutely tell that Huntoon is surrounded by the age they are writing for all day through the oh-so-realistic dialogue, the true-to-life Instagram messaging, and the unique way that Gen Alpha (kids born from 2010-2024) and their Millennial/Gen X parents and teachers interact. Mars is the kind of character who shines bright as they learn the ropes of self advocacy, vulnerability, processing huge emotions, and creating change. This is a vital book for the representation that it brings for non-binary youth, but it is also a vital book for cis readers of all ages to learn from Mars’ experience in order to show up better for our non-binary friends, family, classmates, colleagues, and community members. My sincere hope and need for the world is that classrooms and families read this book together–and talk about it with honesty and with love. What the world needs now is Mars. Caroline Huntoon will be at Booksweet on Sunday, October 29 at 2 pm to lead a FREE writing workshop for tweens (ages 10-13). RSVP for this FREE event.


Truly // 

My Murder by Katie Williams
In a not-too-distant future, clones are real and the wrongfully murdered can be “brought back” to life via cloning. In this murder mystery / speculative fiction read, a group of clones meet in “clone group therapy” to try to make sense of their new lives. Are they the same person that they once were? What is their relationship to a past they never lived? And was the murder of their original body actually caught? The twists in this book are wonderful and the dialogue is peppered with wry and unexpected jokes. While I wouldn’t categorize this as a “cozy” mystery, the violence happens off the page (the victims already died). I really enjoyed this read, brimming with fun philosophical questions, cool characters, weird jokes, and a really riveting plot.

Come & Get It by Kiley Ried
Pre-order now for January 9, 2024
Ried is masterful at cringe-worthy moments, pitch perfect dialogue, problematic characters, and the glorious awkwardness of young adulthood. I loved Ried’s debut novel Such a Fun Age and I was again captivated by her brand of messy, imperfect women in Come & Get It. Set in a college campus in Arkansas, money, indiscretion, and reckless restlessness pulse through this page-turner, pushing the plot to darkly funny and delightfully horrifying places. The book reads like really good gossip – it’s literary yet super juicy and fun.

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo
Pre-order now for August 1, 2023
CW: Infertility
I love Acevedo’s YA fiction, The Poet X and Clap When You Land and I was so excited to experience her first foray into “adult” fiction with Family Lore. Acevedo weaves together past and present in Santo Domingo and New York City to tell a multi-generational story about the magical women of the Marte family. When one of the elder sisters, Flor, predicts her own death and plans a living wake for herself, the occasion prompts all of the women in the family to grapple with their own life’s purpose. I was surprised at the effectiveness of Acevedo’s “light-touch” magical realism (magic is a lovely and unquestioned presence yet largely stays in the background) and her frank exploration of female sexual pleasure (one of the characters was gifted with a magic vagina). Family Lore is a story filled with entertaining eccentricities, high drama, and heart.

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende
For decades, Allende has been one of my favorite authors; I’m excited to read everything she writes. Like many of her stories, The Wind Knows My Name spans continents and decades, illuminating how world events impact the lives of everyday people. In this story, a boy is orphaned by the atrocities of the holocaust and grows into a man who provides sanctuary to an El Salvadorian child refugee separated from her mom at the U.S. / Mexican boarder. War and migration, unjust deaths and reclaimed lives, found family, grief, the grit and joy of the human experience – Allende delivers it all in a character-driven story full of feeling and surprising bursts of hope.

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
CW: sexual violence, harm to a minor, domestic violence
A multi-generational story that moves back and forth through time with fluid feeling, this story centers the women of the North family: grandmother Hazel, her daughters Miriam and August, and granddaughter Joan. With unflinching directness, Stringfellow also shines a light on the North family’s horrific family secrets, on the systemic and interpersonal racism they experience as Black women, and on the undercurrent of violence that threads through their lives. This book was hard to read in places – please note my CW and proceed with care – but I loved how the interpersonal dynamics between these women nudged each woman forward, not always in a linear fashion, come what may.

Shaun // 

The Fragile Threads of Power by V.E. Schwab [preorder: September 26, 2023]
An unexpected but thrilling return to V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic universe! As revolution brews against the Maresh reign, Rhy, Kell, and Dellah Bard are dragged into new and perilous circumstances they are not entirely equipped to meet. The cast of new characters adds exciting new dimensions to the different versions of London and their relationship with magic, as well as the ever-present questions of how to wield power responsibly. Shades of Magic has been a Booksweet reader favorite, along with Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and The Fragile Threads of Power is a worthy addition. 

Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood [preorder: September 5, 2023]
The harrowing story of a woman trying to deliver a cake across town for her daughter’s birthday. Grace Adams was destined for greatness – a champion linguist, a popular television presenter, a lifesaving swimmer –  but somewhere along the line things went wrong. Now out of work, on the brink of divorce, and estranged from her daughter, Grace needs to do one simple thing to remind everyone, not least of all herself, who she really is, no matter the cost. The cost, it turns out, is absurdly high. But Grace’s biggest obstacle is the things she has refused to say, and the woman fluent in five languages will have to find the words to heal her relationships. A dark family dramedy with some spectacular cathartic moments.

The Insect Crisis by Oliver Millman
There’s a reason you’re seeing fewer bugs splat on your windshield these days, and it’s not great. Oliver Millman discusses the effects of climate change and other human interventions on insect populations worldwide, and what that will mean for biodiversity and the food chain in the near future. It’s a harrowing read, but there are also chapters full of hope, as Millman recounts efforts to save specific species as well as larger-scale realizations among industries and governments that long-held practices must change. 

Museum of Human History by Rebekah Bergman
There’s a haunting intimacy to Rebekah Berman’s debut novel, which explores the lives of several characters in a small island town where a near-fatal accident left eight-year old Maeve Wilhelmin a coma – one that also somehow halted her aging for the next twenty-five years. The island is also home to a research facility that seems to have developed a cure for the outward signs of growing older, but not its other effects; as it turns out, though, taking the treatment has further unintended consequences. As the unconscious Maeve shifts from cautionary tale to object of worship to museum relic, her father and twin sister are among those struggling to adapt to the roles the tragedy has pushed them into. Museum of Human History is a beautiful meditation on time and technology, as well as the seemingly-random intersection of lives.


Raymond [9th grade] //

Wet Moon, vol 2
:: Content Warning: body negativity, violence ::
Our protagonist Cleo has a crush on a girl but her friend Tribley is making fun of her for it, making the crush out to be more mushy than it is. Tribley is also getting ripped on for liking Star Trek (everyone is making fun of her Trekkie tattoo). Cleo also gets into a fight at a concert and she feels bad about it–she’s been working hard to change her ways. Set in 2009, Wet Moon is a “slice of life” story about characters who are 19-25 and figuring out their life. I like this book’s art, character design and fashion, and true-to-life dialogue. Wet Moon is filled with LGBTQ characters without being corny (no stereotypes, no big “coming out” story). There are trans characters in this book and I like how casually they are included. I also really like the representation of a straight couple where the man in the couple is trans. Not everyone is friends, but everyone is accepting each other as people. This isn’t a middlegrade book (there’s smoking and sex but nothing is shown or graphic), but it’s good for high school and up. 

Truly //

August Blue by Deborah Levy
In this slim, lyrical read, Elsa, an ex-concert pianist is awakened to new possibilities for her life as she stumbles out into a newly opening, post-pandemic world. Her dying adoptive father, her friends and lovers, and her fleeting encounters with a mysterious doppelganger nudge her gently, like waves lapping on the shore, towards imagining a different future for herself. We’re all stumbling out of the darkest days of pandemic isolation, reborn in some sense. There’s something really powerful about witnessing this rebirth in Elsa, the ways change is made with both force and with grace. If you are looking for a book to transport you, the beautifully written scenes in this book are dazzling and transverse Athens, London, and Paris.  

You Need to Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon
I want to gift this to every femme in my life. We were raised in a toxic culture – and it is causing incredible harm. In this book, Gordon breaks down myths about fatness – including the racist, sexist origins of many medical terms (looking at you, BMI) – to dismantle the anti-fat bias that informs the treatment of fat people. This book is the “call in” that I didn’t know I needed and the perfect companion read alongside The Body is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. 

Migraine by Oliver Sacks
Regular debilitating migraines have been part of my life for the almost three decades and before this book, I can’t say that I actually understood them. Sacks examines the many different ways migraines manifest themselves in different people, including real life doctor’s notes of actual patients (identities redacted, of course), along with amazing artwork created by people who experience migraines depicting their experiences with migraine auras, visual disruptions, and hallucinations. Booksweet bookseller Zoe recommended this book to me and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this strange bodily occurrence. Reading this book has helped me talk openly with my doctor about my migraine experiences and even find a bit of surprising peace with my migraines. 

Shaun // 

Stay True by Hua Hsu
Hua Hsu’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir is a poignant and fascinating reflection on identity-building, as 18-year-old Hua and his unlikely friend Ken are shaped in very different ways by the pop culture of the late ‘90s and their Asian American heritage. When Ken is killed in a carjacking while both young men are still in college, Hua Hsu further reflects on the forces that shaped each of their lives, how they shaped each other’s, and how his close friend’s death informs who Hua will become. Hsu’s book is elegantly written, and the passages where he communicates with his father in Taiwan over fax are especially moving. 

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction as well as many other accolades, How the Word is Passed recounts Clint Smith’s experiences at several sites that hold significance to the history of slavery in the United States. Smith’s visits reveal the ways some former plantations are reckoning with their past, while others are decidedly not, and the author also explores lesser-known landmarks including the block near Wall Street where enslaved people were once bought and sold. Smith makes history personal, responding eloquently to all he sees and asking his guides difficult questions, as well as conducting interviews with his own grandparents about growing up Black in the Jim Crow South. This is an important and compelling read.

Dear Prudence by Daniel M. Lavery
Daniel Lavery has been one of my favorite humor writers since he co-founded the satire website The Toast (now sadly defunct), and his book of essays Something That May Shock and Discredit You is an incredibly thoughtful (and very funny) exploration of his trans identity through medieval literature, the Bible, and more. Dear Prudence is something else. For seven years, Lavery served as Slate.com’s advice columnist, taking on the “Prudence” persona that other writers had created and which now another writer has taken up. Prudence is, of course, filtered through Lavery’s personality, experience, and style, but Lavery is also filtered through Prudence, which reigns in some of his historical and literary references while simultaneously lending him the authority of a worldly, trusted aunt. This book is a collection of reader letters and their responses from Lavery’s tenure as Prudence, along with commentary on recurring themes and general guidance for better communication. Great for fans of over-the-top advice columns, Reddit AITA threads, and Lavery’s previous work.

How to Stay Productive When the World is Ending by Reductress
If you’re familiar with the online satirical site Reductress, you have a good idea what you’re in for here. If not, well, it’s a treat. In How to Stay Productive When the World is Ending, the Reductress writers take aim at the modern glamorization of over-work (“Meet the Woman Working a Job She Hates to Impress People She Doesn’t Respect”), remote work (“How to Make Your Home Workspace Safer”), generational differences on career outlook (a series of “Productivity Tips from Boomer Dad”), and what can best be described as “Other” (“How to Turn Your Home for Wayward Children Into a Content House,” “Should You Incorporate Your Polycule for Tax Purposes?”). Humor may not be a cure for grind culture, but it’s at least an amusing and relatable distraction.


Shaun // 

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
Best known for historical fantasies including Babel and the Poppy War series, here Kuang turns her attention to the modern-day publishing industry. June Hayward and Athena Liu are friends more out of circumstance than affection, coming up through the same prestigious writing program and both landing in Washington, DC after graduation. But while June struggles to get her writing career off the ground, Athena is an instant and stunning success. When a freak accident cuts Athena’s life short, though, June is there to pick up the pieces – or, rather, a complete draft manuscript of Athena’s next book. Now writing as Juniper Song, June rockets to fame on the strength of “her” World War I novel exploring the plight of Chinese laborers. Told from June/Juniper’s perspective, Yellowface is a dark, funny, and deeply uncomfortable novel about the world of books and the racism, both casual and direct, that pervades the industry.

Witch King by Martha Wells
Wells’ Murderbot series has been hugely popular with Booksweet’s sci-fi readers, so I was keen to check out this first book in a new series. Witch King is a fantasy epic full of political intrigue, revolving around a body-hopping demon prince named Kai and a cadre of trusted friends and uneasy allies accrued over his long life. While attempting to solve his own murder (he got better!), Kai discovers that the world is not quite as he left it – pacts that have held for centuries are fraying, his closest remaining kin are holding secrets. To make matters worse, Kai must balance the need to protect those who rely on him, rescue powerful allies gone missing, and mete out vengeance to those most deserving, all while getting used to an all-new body. Witch King shows all of Wells’ wit within a complex world of wizards, witches, and demons at war.

Twelve Caesars by Mary Beard
SPQR author Mary Beard turns her attention from the history of empire to the history of its artifacts, and how coins, sculpture, and paintings shaped our modern perceptions of ancient Rome. The name of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Nero may call up strong images, but Beard’s interest is in how these images came down to use through the centuries – and why we should not be so confident in these emperor’s pictures of our mind’s eye. It’s a fascinating work of archaeological and art history.

Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
The team behind the smart and delightful Unbeatable Squirrel Girl returns with an original graphic novel. Sorry guys, the world ended on Y2K – the laws of physics broke down and the world split into several regions with their own magical rules. Marguerite and her talking dog Daisy are on a quest to find three artifacts that might just set the world to rights – but the one spell she knows will only get her so far. North, whose other works include the “Choosable Path” Shakespeare books Romeo and/or Juliet and To Be or Not to Be, as well as the nonfiction How to Take Over the World, delights in challenging the assumptions of genre – the superhero Squirrel Girl frequently resolves conflicts without a fight, and protip: if you want the “good ending” in his Shakespeare books, do not kill anybody! – and here the heroic quest comes under scrutiny in ways great and small. Danger will be shelved with middlegrade graphic novels, but it’s a fantastic read for older teens and adults, as well. Basically anyone who likes fun.

Truly // 

Psyche and Eros by Luna McNamara
Pre-order now for June 13, 2023
Fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe will devour McNamara’s retelling of the epic love story of Psyche, the rambunctious, human warrior princess, and Eros, god of desire. I loved being whisked away by McNamara’s transportive language and getting to know legendary characters through her delightfully down-to-earth, dialogue-driven portrayals. This is a Greek myth with contemporary sensibilities and a pulsing human heart.

Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley
Perry Firekeeper-Birch brings the equity-minded, justice-oriented main character energy that we want and need in our lives. Refreshingly at home in her own skin, Perry loves fishing, her family, and her Ojibwe community on Sugar Island in the St. Marys River on the eastern tip of Michigan’s upper peninsula. A nuanced thriller centering the repatriation of Ojibwe objects from museums and private collections, the disappearance of indigenous women, and a murder mystery, Perry navigates an incredibly tumultuous summer while figuring out her own boundaries around when and if “the ends justify the means” in the pursuit of justice. I loved how voice-y, smart, thoughtful, honest, and funny Perry’s character is; it’s a joy to be with her throughout her personal growth in the book. A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Boulley brings Anishinaabemowin / Ojibwemowin to the page and discusses issues facing Perry’s community on Sugar Island with care. Fans of Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter will love meeting that story’s heroine, Daunis, as an adult, where she appears as a beloved Auntie to Perry, providing guidance, wisdom, and accountability to her beloved niece in this beautifully paced, immensely enjoyable book.

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books and author of Booksweet reader YA favorites, The Belles series, Shattered Midnight, Blackout, and Tiny Pretty Things, Clayton makes her middlegrade debut with The Marvellers. This book brings all of the fantastical world-building that you want in a book about magic school with a genuinely diverse cast of characters hailing from across the globe and nurturing their own distinctive magical gifts. The Marvellers introduces readers to eleven-year-old Ella Durand, an eager student, an open-hearted friend, and the first of “her kind” of magical practitioner to attend the Arcanum Training Institute. As sweet as Ella is, she’s also a brave truth-seeker committed to fairness and inclusivity in her community. This book has just the right amount of tension for younger middlegrade readers–enough to keep readers engrossed but not so much that they’re scared to go to bed. The story also provides families with an opportunity to stay connected to the young readers in our lives, opening up conversations about bullying, “othering,” discrimination, and what it means to stand in your truth. 

The second book in Clayton’s Marvellerverse, The Memory Thieves, comes out on September 26, 2023 and is available for preorder now.

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith
This all-ages graphic novel is a complete and total joy. Take the epic, swashbuckling, J.R.R. Tolkien-inspiring energy of Beowulf and mix it up with the silly, freewheeling logic of Shel Silverstein and you have Bea Wolf. In Bea Wolf, a group of kids defend their right to sugar-fuelled, raucous treehouse parties against the treacherous Grindle, a boring, quiet-seeking adult neighbor with fun-zapping powers. The fight is led by none other than the powerful leader Bea Wolf, “a five-year-old, forged in sparkes and fury.” Weinersmith ditches Old English for this retelling in favor of a punchy alliterative style loaded up with delicious word riddles (or kennings, for the poets in the house). This language is made to be read aloud and shared, reminding us all that language is made to be played around with. I adored this book to bits.

The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins
Pre-order now for August 15, 2023
I read this after Shaun said, “please read this so I can talk with someone about it.” It was amazing. I have nothing to add to his book blurb (written in March, scroll down to take a peek), except for to say: I have never read anything quite like it. It’s written by a public school educator with a deep and sustained background in environmental justice movements. The author essentially gifts readers with a playbook for surviving the anthropocene, but delivers it through a kidnapping thriller peppered through with touching portraits of intergenerational trauma and a teen navigating the need to control her disordered world through disordered eating. There’s a lot of tension–and a lot of heart.


Shaun //

Finally Seen by Kelly Yang
A sweet story of  ten-year-old Lina Gao joining her family in the United States after having stayed in China with her grandmother for the past five years. Lina struggles to adjust to a school where she barely speaks the language and a family she hardly recognizes – her little sister was a baby the last time Lina saw her, and her parents’ careers are not quite as they’d been portrayed in letters and phone calls. Yang draws on her own immigration experience for a heartfelt journey that will resonate with anyone who’s ever not quite fit in.

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond
Desmond offers a compelling and readily accessible exploration of the causes of poverty in the United States, poverty’s effects on families, and the biases and decisions that continue to obstruct efforts at a meaningful solution. Despite everything, there is hope within these pages, and a vision for the future we must have the courage to make real.

The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins
Pre-order now for August 15, 2023
A generation after climate catastrophe, humankind has united to rehabilitate the Earth, putting in the necessary effort to heal devastated biomes and build sustainable cities at the poles in what became known as the Transition. But some fear the lessons of recent history are already being forgotten, and that those most responsible for the devastation need to be held accountable. Emi Vargas’s parents Larch and Kristina are heroes of the Transition, but during Zero Day celebrations – marking the date Earth achieved zero emissions – her mother vanishes amidst global attacks targeting “climate criminals,” leading Emi and her father on a rescue mission that will uncover deep-seated family secrets. This story of a family divided raises difficult questions about accountability and justice, avoiding easy answers even as it offers a dire warning and points an accusing finger at the “destroying classes” currently taking our world to the brink of disaster.

The Curator by Owen King
In a city nicknamed The Fairest, set within a vaguely 19th-century European nation, a revolution has just unseated a tyrannical regime. But as time passes, what they have won, and what the victorious rebels will do with it, has grown less clear, and the public are growing restless. Into this comes Dora, a domestic worker before the revolution who has finagled a residence in, and responsibility for, the derelict Museum of the Worker. Dora’s quest to uncover the truth about her brother’s death many years before – as well as what may have come after – takes her on a journey through the still-unsettled city, ultimately confronting an adversary even more vicious than the human butcher at the museum next door. 

Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami’s reflections on his own life as a novelist over the course of thirty years should prove charming and inspirational for aspiring authors. Murakami discusses how his work as a translator interweaves with his creative work, his daily writing habits, and why he’s happy he didn’t win a certain major award. He’s very tentative about offering any concrete advice – “that’s how it seems to me, anyway” or some variation is a recurring phrase – but nevertheless his portrayal of a successful author with an enduring career contains a lot of lessons for those aspiring to the vocation.

Truly //

Hula by Jasmin Lolani Hakes
Pre-order now for May 2, 2023
Set in Hilo, Hawai’i, this is a story about three generations of women from the Naupaka family, renowned for their hula abilities. When the pride of the family, Laka, leaves the Big Island when she becomes pregnant a rift is opened between Laka and her mother Hulali that takes generations to unpack and heal. At the center of the rift: Laka’s daughter Hi‘i, who has pale skin, red hair, and green eyes, threatening the family’s claim to their land, per the U.S. government’s blood quantum policies. While the story centers the Naupaka family, Hula is ultimately about a deep yearning to belong: to our families and for the contemporary members of the occupied Hawaiian Kingdom, to the land. I loved the unhurried pace of this story, lingering on the most tender parts of a family’s history to truly understand the repair needed. Hakes weaves together Hawaiian folklore, the past and present day colonization of the islands, and the most glorious sense of place as vital components of this family saga. It was a beautiful, richly developed debut — I’m looking forward to more from Jasmin Lolani Hakes.  

The Apology by Jimin Han
Pre-order now for August 1, 2023
This is a story about a 105-year-old South Korean woman named Jeonga Cha trying to mend some of the trauma she caused in the name of “upholding the family name” before she dies, only to experience death and continue her attempts as a ghost. Over the course of the book, Jeonga unlearns the deeply entrenched value of “keeping up appearances” to bring her family the healing it needs. I can’t remember ever having read a book that centers an elder in this particular way. I loved spending time with Jeonga, learning from her experiences of aging and her joys of self-care, her bickering and beefs, her softness and humor, her opinions and her questions. Han’s careful rendering of Jeonga brings readers into the character’s history (taking us back to the days of Japanese colonialism and the Korean war) without getting lost in it. Rather, Jeonga leverages her past experiences as she lives, learns, and grows in the present and makes plans for the future.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Way back in September 2021, Shaun blurbed this National Book Award finalist by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr. What more can I add about this epic story of connection and unexpected optimism? Just that it’s out in paperback now, I finally got around to reading it, and I LOVED it. Readers: you’re going to be presented with a lot of seemingly unrelated story threads at the beginning of this book. I invite you to let go of the need to do any sense-making of how they relate and just enjoy the gorgeous language and characters. Trust that Doerr will take you where you need to go and enjoy the ride. This book has one of the most satisfying endings that I’ve enjoyed in a while. Chef’s kiss. 

The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin
Book #2 in the Great Cities Duology // Book #1: The City We Became
Before N.K. Jemisin was a four-time Hugo Award-Winning author, she was a counseling psychologist. I love this fun fact because it feels like a glimpse into her ability to  tap into a character’s deepest desires, choices, motivations, and relationship dynamics with complete fluency and grace. In the Great Cities duology, Jemisin brings the soul of her city to life, with each of the boroughs of New York embodied by individuals who are suddenly granted access to their neighborhood’s bespoke magic, energy, and power. The borough’s work together (and at odds with one another… looking at you, Staten Island) to defeat The Woman in White (aka “Squigglebitch”), an ambassador for universal homogeneity who uses her ghostly tentacles to energize xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, racist people to do her bidding, unified under the dogma “Make New York Great Again.” While readers had been expecting a Great Cities Trilogy, this book is the final in the series (readers can check out Jemisin’s remarkably vulnerable and touching acknowledgements at the back of the book to find out why). Despite its heavy themes, Jemisin’s characters are a joy to be with. Their magic is a wild ride and a ton of fun. 


Shaun // 

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Successful podcaster Bodie Kane returns to boarding school of her youth to teach short between-term courses, leading her to reflect on the circumstances of her roommate’s murder during their junior year. As one of her podcasting students takes up the crime as a class project, Bodie begins to wonder whether an offhand comment she made during the police investigation may have sent the wrong man to prison – and whether the questions that were never asked might have instead implicated theatre teacher Dennis Bloch, to whom Bodie addresses her story. Makkai’s book explores the myriad ways young women and girls are exploited, and how both personal growth and changing societal attitudes alter how individuals view their own past. 

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz
Longlisted for the Book Prize, After Sappho is a lyrical novel in vignettes covering the history of women, literature, and women’s literature as embodied in the early twentieth century figures Rina Faccio, Romaine Brooks, and Virginia Woolf as they cast off names and identities that no longer suited them in order to simply exist as themselves. After Sappho is Schwartz’ first novel, but dance and theatre scholars on campus may also be interested in her previous book, The Bodies of Others: Drag Dances and Their Afterlives, published in 2019 by the University of Michigan Press.

History Smashers: Christopher Columbus and the Taino People by Kate Messner,  Jose Barreiro,  and Falynn Koch   [preorder: August 8]
I love the History Smashers series, which blend text and comics to make accessible the “real” history many of us were and continue to be denied in school. I appreciate not only the debunking of Columbus’s myths but also the focus on the Taino people. 

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead [preorder: July 18]
I’m always excited for a new Colson Whitehead book. Continuing the adventures of Harlem Shuffle’s striving furniture salesman and petty criminal Ray Carney, Crook Manifesto is the best kind of sequel, as the stakes are raised in ways that are both over the top and wholly believable. As the story begins, Carney is retired from the shadier side of his business, but is soon swept up in the powerful cultural tides of 1970s Harlem. Who knew Jackson 5 concert tickets could lead to so much trouble! 

Truly // 

Our Share of Night by Marina Enriquez
Twitching with the vivid details of horror, this witchy escape into the gruesome world of Argentinian occultists introduces us to Gaspar and his dad Juan, a medium under the service of Gaspar’s wealthy maternal grandparents. Juan has the power to unlock and channel “The Darkness,” fueling and cementing his in-law’s power and fortune. Before his powers drive him to madness and death, Juan tries to protect Gaspar from inheriting his powers (sure to be exploited in terrible ways), but Juan’s secretive approach causes an ugly and often violent strain on the relationship. This book is intense and nuanced, weaving together some truly demented creepy stuff, Gaspar’s difficult coming-of-age story, and the complex heartbreaks only family knows how to make. This was an escape read for me but like any good page-turning horror, I often left a chapter gasping for air. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I revisited this book as part of the 2023 Washtenaw Reads program and I’m so glad that I did. I love spending time with Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old babysitter who–at the very top of the story–is accused of kidnapping the white toddler that she sits for while exploring the nut aisle of the local grocery store. While this is a story of race, privilege, and power, it’s also so incredible at holding space for the intensely awkward moments in life, especially through dialogue. There are a lot of “cringe moments” in this book and Emira takes stock of it all and moves forward with heart. Even reading this for a second time, I had a hard time putting this book down. I spoke out loud to its characters (“ugh!” “nooo!” “what?” “gross!”). I felt a bond to it, wanting it with me through my day to see what happens next, and next, and next for Emira as she comes into her own, on her own terms. 

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
You don’t need me to tell you that one of the most critically acclaimed books of the 20th century is an absolute stunner. Instead, I’ll offer some brief thoughts about how readers may (or may not) encounter Baldwin in U.S. public high schools. In the 60s and 70s, it was common to encounter James Baldwin within the context of a public high school education. During the 1980s, the book experienced challenges and bans. By the time I got to high school in the mid-90s, I don’t remember reading Baldwin at all. Instead, we read a steady diet of white male perspectives on existentialism. My lifelong reading journey has been informed by a deep need to read what wasn’t taught in school. I know I’m not alone in this kind of remediation. Aside from the joy of a breathtaking book, “backfilling” my education in this way helps me see the specifics of why and how curricular shifts occur–and the many impacts that this kind of educational deprivation can have on a person, on a community, and on our society. This is especially true in our current era of book bans that primarily focus on marginalized authors writing about their experiences. Relatedly: Go Tell It On the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel. This is not a new game book banners are playing, they just have the internet now so their agenda spreads quicker than it did in the 80s. To dive deep into the topic of book bans, challenges, and access (and find in-roads to advocacy!), join us for our next Banned Book Club session.  

Even if you were lucky enough to encounter Go Tell It On the Mountain as a 9th grader, it’s likely worth a revisit with adult eyes and no deadlines. This is a demanding read. There are non-linear narratives that criss-cross time, radical perspective shifts, heavy servings of religious shame, and a truly toxic stepdad. There’s also transcendent poetry, structural genius, incredible dialogue, and characters who will live with you forever. Baldwin’s work invests fully in all the ways the past bleeds through to our present, connecting our fates and futures to one another in every way imaginable. 

For those interested in diving deep into the work of James Baldwin, here are a few links that we shared as part of our 2/17 Booksweet Book Dive conversation led by U-M PhD candidate, LaTara McLemore:

VIDEOS: James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965) // Why Did the FBI Spy on James Baldwin?
PODCAST: James Baldwin’s Fire – NPR’s Throughline
ARTICLES: An Introduction to James Baldwin //James Baldwin: The Last Interview by Richard Goldstein //Additional context from Lambda Literary
BOOKS: Explore other books by and about James Baldwin at Booksweet


Shaun //

Illuminations by Alan Moore
Moore’s best-known works — among them the graphic novels Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons, V for Vendetta with David Lloyd, and From Hell with Eddie Campbell — have earned him a reputation as an incredible mind with a penchant for exploring the darkest niches of the human psyche. His first prose collection kicks off with a short story in this vein. But readers unfamiliar with Moore’s broader work, like the farcical Bojeffries Saga, may be surprised to learn that he is also very, very funny, and most of the stories in Illuminations hew closer to this track. “Location, Location, Location,” set in the immediate aftermath of the Biblical Book of Revelation, finds the last real estate agent on Earth showing a Silicon Valley-styled Jesus Christ around His new home. Meanwhile, most of the volume is taken up by “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” a delightful satire of the American comics industry from its origins to the present. The story itself is wild, but sliding a 240-page novella into an ostensible collection of short stories is also just an extremely amusing thing to do. Illuminations will be a treat for fans of Moore’s work, but should also appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett.

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Siblings Louise and Mark haven’t spoken in years, but are forced together to sort out their parents’ estate when their mother and father die in a car crash near their home. Louise wants to handle her parents’ legacy responsibly, but Mark wants to clear everything in their house into the junkyard, especially their mother’s extensive collection of creepy dolls and taxidermy nativities. Hendrix once again offers his witty spin on familiar horror tropes to provide surprising insights into family dynamics.

Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Ernest Cunningham knows the rules of a good mystery novel, and promises to be a “reliable narrator.” Ern also comes from a family of criminals, and by the end of the novel, a family of killers. Three years after Ern gave testimony that sent his brother Michael to prison, the entire extended Cunningham family is gathering at a remote ski resort reunion to welcome Michael back into the fold. But with the discovery of a mysterious stranger’s lifeless body and cascading revelations about the Cunninghams’ shared past, it falls to the outcast Ern to protect his family, even from themselves.

Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
Urban Promise Prep School is praised for keeping the young men in its charge on the straight and narrow, but when its founder and principal is found murdered on school grounds, suspicion immediately falls on three students. J.B., Ramón, and Trey all tussled with Principal Moore the day of the shooting, and all had found ways to ditch their assigned detention which would have otherwise provided an alibi. Each student attests to his own innocence in alternating narrated chapters, careful to cast blame on the others while concealing details that would show themselves in a negative light. In the end, Principal Moore’s death uncovers the darker side of education reform as well as what –or who– is sacrificed to project success. Great for fans of Angie Thomas and Karen McManus.

Truly // 

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
This book is an indigenous horror story that’s as much about the wendigo, the evil spirit that preys on and fuels insatiable greed, as it is a love letter to the fierce love of aunties, friends, siblings, and family. With great dialogue, characters who you’ll want to befriend, and gruesomely rendered scary stuff, I completely loved this book and I left it feeling inspired to give horror a try more often.

Ghost Music by An Yu
Yu’s story begins with the marriage of piano teacher Song Yan and BMW executive Bowen, disintegrating in real-time in-front of Bowen’s mom, who’s just moved into their Beijing apartment. As the couple acclimates to their new roomie, a mysterious mushroom delivery starts arriving daily, ushering in an era where everyday magic, conversations with ghosts, and talking mushrooms become the norm for Song Yan. This book is a stunner, with surreal surprises tucked neatly, expertly into every chapter.

The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh
This is a tale of the Wrens, female members of the Royal Naval Service who served as motorcycle dispatch riders. Told in two narratives that criss-cross time, from WWI to WWII, Call of the Wrens offers a glimpse into the adventuresome lives of women determined to chart their own course, of the friendships that sustained them, and of the losses that reshape family and self.

Flamer by Mike Curato
:: cw – suicidal ideation ::

In the fall of 2022, the librarians, teachers, and students of the Dearborn Public Schools faced challenges fulled by anti LGBTQIA+ rhetoric to a number of books in the Dearborn Public School library, including Mike Curato’s graphic novel Flamer. Set at a scouting camp in the 90s, Flamer‘s protagonist Aiden feels at home in the great outdoors but still feels at times like an outsider. Through aggressions both micro and macro, Aiden is bullied for being overweight, biracial, and queer. A difficult story told with humor, compassion, and an incredible memory for the specifics of casual teenage hate speech, Curato extends a hand to queer kids who might be feeling alone, offering a critical message: You are wonderful. You are loved. And you’re going to be okay.

Interested in joining fellow community members in explorations and advocacy around book bans and challenges in U.S. public schools and libraries? Teens and adults are invited to join us for Banned Book Club! Season two of the club starts on February 10 with a discussion of What the Fact? Finding the Truth in All the Noise by Dr. Seema Yasmin.