Gretchen's Picks

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The Luminous Dead: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062846907
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Published: Harper Voyager - April 2nd, 2019

Ahhhhh! A grim, driven novel of suspense, meticulously plotted, fantastically rendered, and psychologically unnerving. It's rare that such a muscular, embodied sort of survival/adventure story builds such fascinating characters, but I've got Gyre and Em stuck in my head and haven't stopped thinking about this damn book since I finished it. Thrilling, occasionally terrifying, and compelling as a descent into the earth, into grief, into darkness and an unusual story of female characters whose selfishness and ambition aren't redeemed or apologized for by the story. Moral ambiguity, edge-of-your-seat terrifying caving, and unreliable characters whose motivations and needs unspool as Gyre descends.


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Pet Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780525647072
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Published: Make Me a World - September 10th, 2019

Possibly my favorite book of the year, this is a clear-eyed, unsentimental, justice-oriented book about a girl who must make choices about uncovering the darkness underpinning the seemingly enlightened and perfect community. Jam is a relatable, thoughtful, passionate young woman of privilege whose orderly world is turned upside-down when an avenging creature of art and gold and static and horror emerges from her mother's painting. The creature, called Pet, is bent on hunting a monster--one which it claims is in the house of Jam's best friend, Redemption. As Jam investigates, she frequently makes mistakes and struggles with balancing the single-minded justice of Pet with her own fear of tearing apart the community of people she loves and grew up with. Emezi seamlessly integrates diverse perspectives--Jam is a trans girl, and her reluctance to speak aloud has led herr family and many community members to adapt to using sign language a great deal of the time. These facts are present in the story but don't feel like diversity for the sake of diversity. This story of the growth and vigilance and protective compassion Jam must learn will resonate for anyone who can recognize that a just society must never sit back and forget. I loved this powerful little book.


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Red, White & Royal Blue: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781250316776
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Published: St. Martin's Griffin - May 14th, 2019

I enjoyed this so much! A snarky, funny, big-hearted delight from start to finish, deepened by the pang of it being set in a world where a woman Democrat won the Presidency in 2016. Alex is the mediagenic, politically ambitious 20-something First Son of the United States, finishing college and on the fast track to becoming the youngest member of Congress in US history. He has a longtime grudge against Henry, the junior Prince of England, and at Henry's older brother's royal wedding, Alex and Henry get to snarking at each other and cause an international incident. Their PR teams force them to make nice... and I bet you can guess what happens next. Alex and Henry are callow in their own ways, but also very constrained by their very public lives and their problems feel real and their missteps and self-deceptions make lots of sense from where they're coming from. Multiple queer characters allow everyone to be imperfect and feel real. Thoughtful characters, especially the secondary ones whose sibling love keeps the boys' egos on the ground, round out the cast. I laughed, I gasped in public, and all in all enjoyed the heck out of this not terribly challenging but entirely affecting book. Highly recommended for a diverting read.


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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780525562023
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Published: Penguin Press - June 4th, 2019

one of the best books I have read in the last decade, if not the best. It's such an intense, unflinching, careful, loving, pitiless, above all beautifully written book, a spiraling letter from a son to his Vietnamese immigrant mother, meditating upon the abuse and joy they have each felt in their lives, the moments where their connections burned bright and flared out, the timid hopeful, secretive first love he found with a boy, the intergenerational trauma and PTSD of a family borne through the effects of war and colonization. Intimate, beautiful, absolutely gutting, rarely have I seen such a clear evocation of a life. All the warnings, including for child abuse, animal abuse, racial abuse, homophobia, sexual abuse, war trauma. An incredible feat of a novel if you think you can face the brutal truth of it. Also, one of the best (awkward, terrifying reality and incredible wonder of it at once) first time gay sex scenes I've ever read.


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Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy #1) Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250313195
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Published: Tor.com - September 10th, 2019

Rarely have I, in this jaded life, been so flush with excitement for a new book. Gideon the Ninth is off-the-wall ridiculous, sarcastic, funny, angry, compellingly earnest, and evinces in the reader the kind of love of not one but TWO complex, emotionally stunted, delightfully messed-up characters that most authors only dream of inspiring. Gideon is my favorite character in recent fiction, and this is one of the most delightful novels I've read in years. Deeply dangerous, messed up death magic, brazenly confident writing, and, listen, GAY NECROMANCERS uncovering locked room mysteries and facing ever more sinister foes in search of an unknown goal... this book is incredible. I can't help but capslock about it, and that effervescent, delightful glee in having this book soon to be in the world is a rare and precious gift.


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Darius the Great Is Not Okay Cover Image
$10.99
ISBN: 9780525552970
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Published: Penguin Books - August 20th, 2019

I read this book in one night and I loved it so so much. Darius is one of the most well-drawn, real teens I can remember seeing in contemporary YA. The way this book approaches mental health is especially important for young adult audiences, particularly because it acknowledges how difficult it can be but ultimately possible to manage clinical depression and have it be openly discussed and cared for in a family setting. Darius's not-ready-to-talk-about-it gay feelings are similarly well-handled. The warmth of Darius's family, the difficult concerns of globally disparate family and cultures meeting, in Darius's case for the first time, is treated with such remarkable humor and sensitivity. His relationship with the neighbor boy, his difficult yet loving relationship with his father, the fraught feelings he has about meeting his dying grandfather for the first time, the sweet affection he has for his little sister and for his mother, the Star Trek references, the gorgeous explorations of Iranian place and culture and food, everything about this book is just beautiful.


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The Monster of Elendhaven Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781250225689
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Published: Tor.com - September 24th, 2019

What an atmospheric, gruesome, chillingly beautiful story. The bitter humor is a perfect counterpoint to he completely fucked up, mesmerizing romance of inexorable destruction. In many ways this feels like the evil cousin of Emily Tesh's Silver in the Wood--instead of grief and life, this story revels in destruction and overwhelming, clear-eyed spite. I'll be thinking of Florian and Johann for a while.


The Princess and the Pony Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780545637084
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Published: Arthur A. Levine Books - June 30th, 2015

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All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780765397539
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Published: Tor.com - May 2nd, 2017

This slim book features my new most relatable protagonist ever--the somewhat disaffected, self-hacked murderbot who only wants to be left alone, not have to talk to humans more than necessary, and keep on going through the secretly-downloaded drama shows that are more interesting than real humans. Funny, fresh, action-packed, and unpredictable, this is a great beginning to a series I'll be keeping up with.


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Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth Cover Image
By Oliver Jeffers, Oliver Jeffers (Illustrator)
$19.99
ISBN: 9780399167898
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Published: Philomel Books - November 14th, 2017

Such a good, smart book for younger kids! This is a gentle, chatty introduction to the world, infused with a sense of deep respect for the earth and a reminder to all of us that we are never really alone on this planet. Great baby shower/ toddler gift.


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The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780316229296
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Published: Orbit - August 4th, 2015

Gretchen's Rec: Brutal, intense, and fascinating. I was totally sucked in by the troubled, volcanically unstable world and its palimpsest of forgotten cultures and technologies. The three threads of a story flow together with increasing vehemence. Jemisin has come into her own as a storyteller.


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The Tiger's Daughter (Ascendant #1) Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780765392534
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Published: Tor Books - October 3rd, 2017

I can't remember the last time I loved a book as much as I loved this one. It has taken its place as my favorite queer fantasy novel. This is the sweeping story of two girls, united by their childhood friendship which grows into an intense romantic love, the daughters of two warrior women who loved one another despite their warring countries. The political background of the characters feels urgent and allows for a fascinating cross-cultural insight. The worldbuilding is so lush and lived-in; the characters get so much time to develop, the intricacies of their relationships and their flaws and quirks get lots of space, and that grounding in both characterization and fully-realized setting gives so much support to the intensity of their relationship and the stakes of their lives.


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Lilith's Brood Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9780446676106
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - June 1st, 2000

Gretchen's Rec: Ruthlessly beautiful, disturbing, and haunting. This is my favorite series of all time--every time I re-read it I get something new out of it.


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Silver in the Wood Cover Image
$11.99
ISBN: 9781250229793
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Published: Tor.com - June 18th, 2019

This slim book has all the depth and slow gentle warmth and teeming life and dark terror of rotting leaf matter blanketing a centuries-old wood. The author's prose is evocative and spare, taciturn and forthright yet observant and beautifully assured, much like her protagonist. The old stories of the Green Man and the monsters in the wood find new (queer!) life and meaning in this lovely book.


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Strange Grace Cover Image
$12.99
ISBN: 9781534402096
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Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - September 17th, 2019

This is a rare gift of a YA story—protagonists who love their families and community, who trust that the way things are done is the way they ought to be done, then upon finding out the lie behind the seven year sacrifice, they take their power, enlist their community, and fight through grief and anger to risk everything on a new option. The prose is stylistically spot-on, giving the depth of magic in the forest and the lived-in humdrum existence of the townsfolk equal weight, with some incredibly visceral imagery to bring the story further to life. The romantic threads between the three protagonists are so lovely and unusual to see, and the way the romance is important but doesn’t supersede the main plot works beautifully. The plotting and pacing are great, and the heightened story of a small town caught up in an historic cycle of life and death between the forest, the devil, the witches, and the people was perfectly spun. I loved this book and I know I will be thinking about it for a long while.


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Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle #1) Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9781250162687
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Published: Tor.com - June 19th, 2018

I very much enjoyed this alternate world gaslamp fantasy-mystery book! The lines of oppressiona nd privilege may be shifted from those of our own, but the difficulties faced by Miles, a runaway nobleman who uses his outlawed magic in secret rather than consenting to have his power enslaved to his sister for the use of the privileged, meets a mysterious and attractive man named Tristan Hunter, who joins him on his investigation of several magically mysterious occurrences Miles finds while treating veterans of the war he himself barely came home from. The pacing of this book is gentle enough to give Miles' fears and concerns plenty of weight, and to explore his growing attraction to Mr. Hunter, as well as let the reader organically discover the lived-in world of Aeland. I very much enjoyed this book, from the queer romance to the family ostracism to the shocking conclusion and the many questions of the weight and cost of privilege--and what it might mean to clearly and definitively use one's privilege to upend the oppressive systems of a society. Great book--can't wait for the next one!


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Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501126062
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - September 5th, 2017

Jesmyn Ward's new novel hearkens back to the incredible intimacy, impact, and import of Morrison's Beloved. Ward's prose is sinewy, unsentimental, and perfectly balanced, her characters whole and presented with unflinching brutal honesty, her themes of the costs of historical slavery, the layered cruelties of modern-day racism, and the deleterious effects of racism, drugs, poverty, and incarceration on a family held together by secrets, guilt, love, and ghosts. This is a book that, by rights, should make incredible waves this year--I've rarely read its like.


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A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250186430
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Published: Tor Books - March 26th, 2019

Meticulously written, delving into questions of colonialism and empire and drenched in political intrigue, this satisfying novel follows an underprepared and deeply resourceless new ambassador from a tiny station to the heart of the neighboring empire, to uncover the truth behind the untimely death of her predecessor and do her best to keep her home safe from being devoured by the expansionist empire. Culture clashes, closely-held secrets, and political unrest make the plot swim along, and the story delves with particular interest into questions of identity and memory. Fans of James SA Corey and Ann Leckie will be delighted by this impressive debut!


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An Unkindness of Ghosts Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781617755880
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Akashic Books - October 3rd, 2017

Incredible, relevant, harrowing and fascinating, this is the story of a young woman in the low class of a brutally stratified generation ship. Her search for clues to her mother's death lead her to discover some difficult truths about the ship's voyage. Aster's voice is so solid, her experiences read as tangible, every surface and texture feel real both physically and emotionally. Readers of dystopias that explore race, gender, disability, sexuality, and class will not want to miss this one. It will sit on my shelf by my Butler, Jemisin, Le Guin, Okorafor, Leckie. One of the most human explorations of the possibilities of our repressive future and the hope for hard-won rebellion I have ever read.


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Blackfish City: A Novel Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780062684875
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Published: Ecco - October 2nd, 2018

A densely populated, stratified city controlled by AI government floats in the ocean, a technological answer to the devastation of social and environmental collapse on the continent. The novel switches briskly between a handful of characters inhabiting the city, whose disparate circumstances and personal struggles regrets and fears bring to life the dizzying marvel that is Qaanaaq. The ubiquitous and mysterious City Without A Map broadcast, including the memorable first rumors of the woman who arrives riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side, highlights the importance of story to civic life and personal fulfilment, the connective tissue of the telling of tales for a healthy society. Miller's prose is punchy, each chapter a marvel of efficiency and focus on character, weaving plot threads sinuously and with excellent tempo. His characters are full of bitterness, rage and heartache and the fascinating simmering feeling of impending revolution, of a becoming-whole and coming-together that they never knew to hope for. An astonishing achievement, this is a book I'll be thinking about for a long time.


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Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781534413504
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Published: Gallery / Saga Press - June 26th, 2018

A powerful young woman with a troubled past and a hardened heart, Maggie Hoskie fights monsters both literal and metaphorical, all the while fearing the potential monster inside herself. The writing whizzes along and the plot doesn’t ever quite succumb to its own tropes—a vibrant cast of secondary characters both human and not flesh out the story and give Maggie plenty to worry about besides herself. The magic is really cool, the world feels energetically alive and varied in a way you don’t always see in post-disaster stories. I was so glad to have a story centering Native characters, communities, and contemporary life laid in with a living mythology, thrown into a dystopian-ish scenario. I want to know what happens next!


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Semiosis: A Novel (Semiosis Duology #1) Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780765391360
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Published: Tor Books - March 12th, 2019

I really enjoyed the structure of this novel (each chapter follows a character from a later generation, giving the reader insight over time while still being closely character-driven). I found the alien-ness of the alien planet intriguing, and I was generally grabbed by each subsequent thing that happened. I wouldn't say this book is a must read but it pushed a lot o f my buttons (alien ecology, survival, attempted utopias, generational drift, communication between wildly different species with potentially different goals, uneasy alliances...). I felt like the writing was a bit... generic? Each character didn't feel distinct, there was a bit more showing than telling, but it suited the practicality of the narrative well enough. Very readable, interesting thought experiment of a small human culture trying to make it on a new planet. The ending felt earned.


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The Devourers: A Novel Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781101967539
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Published: Del Rey - February 21st, 2017

One of the most startlingly, disturbingly, hauntingly gorgeous werewolf stories I have ever read. A historian in Kolkata is given an old journal to transcribe from a stranger, a journal of moving and visceral histories written in and on the skins of the shifters who wore and tore them in the 17th Century. Each moment contains such an incredible depth of embodied mythology that you can almost taste the years and lives stretching back and back from every scene. One of the most striking and memorable novels I have come across in some time.


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Ada Twist, Scientist Cover Image
By Andrea Beaty, David Roberts (Illustrator)
$18.99
ISBN: 9781419721373
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Published: Abrams Books for Young Readers - September 6th, 2016

Ada is a charmingly single-minded scientist! One day, her rigorous quest for the full facts behind whatever That Smell is get her into a little trouble. Luckily, her family rallies to support her in her scientific inquiries! The art is top-notch charming, the characters of each family member (including the somewhat incredulous older brother and the slightly harried, yet loving, parents feel full-fledged. Ada's personality shines through on each page. The rhyming text encourages the spirit of curiosity and introduces concepts of scientific rigor, while the portrayal of a Black girl as the young scientist helps all children learn to accept diversity in STEM interests.


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Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (A Sal and Gabi Novel, Book 1) Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781368022828
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Published: Rick Riordan Presents - March 5th, 2019

I listened to the incomparable audiobook of this delightful novel via libro.fm, and can't recommend it enough, especially for families who like to enjoy listening to books with their kids! This middle grade novel is funny, sharp, and wise, with incidental diversity of so many kinds without feeling like you're checking diversity points off a list. Anthony Rey Perez's recording is A perfect, his snarky inflection, effortless voicing of a variety of characters, and ability to slide easily between English and Spanish with native ease make him a perfect choice for this heavily Latinx and Cubano book. Sweet and funny interactions between middle schoolers whose intelligence more often than not gets them into more trouble than it's worth, a hefty dose of magic, and a very heart-wrenching grapple with grief and loss, both potential and real, make this a truly special book.


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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9780316486637
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - October 15th, 2019

A timely, incredibly important account of the difficulties Farrow faced at NBC while working on the Weinstein expose, which he took to the New Yorker and subsequently won a Pulitzer for. The audiobook is grippingly read by Farrow (though the accents he attempts are... let's go with 'confusing'). It's upsetting, sure, but heartening to see the exhaustive research and the very clearly laid-out account of how Farrow had to work against the very powerful high-profile members of the media establishment--including his own bosses--not only because of Weinstein's well-oiled intimidation machine but also as part of those figures attempting to cover up their own histories of being harassers. Highly recommend this important piece of current events journalism, which reads like a thriller novel.


War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780393652109
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 24th, 2018