I’m still terrible at updating Goodreads. I don’t know why. It would take two minutes if I just did it after each book I read, and yet here we are, five months into the year, and I don’t think I’ve done it a single time. And so, another mini reviews post, because I’ve really been reading a lot of excellent books and you should know about them. All 5 star reads this time, because I know how to pick books I’m going to love when they aren’t horror.

“Shallow Graves” by Kali Wallace

Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how.

Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past.

Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

This book is so. Good. I had it on my to-read list for months and never got to it, and I was depriving myself of some serious magic. There are monsters. There are cults. There are banshees who scream until people’s ears bleed and ghouls who work night jobs and eat corpses in their bathroom and witches who cause dangerous visions and … whatever Breezy is.

And you guys. Breezy. I love her. She’s so lost and confused but at the same time, so fierce and determined and willing to jump right into the fray to find the answers she needs. And those answers are … well … spoilery, so I won’t reveal them because I really, really want you to read this. It’s urban fantasy, I guess, monsters hiding in plain sight in the real world, and that’s not usually my genre but it worked really well here.

There were a lot of good things about trauma and acceptance and learning to love and value yourself, and a lot of morality questions which I’m always into, and Kali Wallace writes really, really beautifully but also realistically. Her dialogue sounds like things people would actually say, which seems like a very low bar but is actually a high compliment. Oh and also, Breezy is a bi girl of color. I loved loved looooved this book and was so bummed when it was over, and I’ll definitely reread it. 5 stars.

“10 Things I Can See from Here” by Carrie Mac

Perfect for fans of Finding Audrey and Everything, Everything, this is the poignant and uplifting story of Maeve, who is dealing with anxiety while falling in love with a girl who is not afraid of anything.

Think positive.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.

Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.

Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?

This was just really delightful. I related so hard to Maeve, obviously, although our anxiety disorders take slightly different forms, and I was rooting so hard for her relationship with Salix. There are other side plots, like the death of a neighbor and a newly forged relationship with the man who moves into her vacated apartment, which are equally as lovely and full of weight and depth as the main plots, and, though there were ups and downs as the summary suggests, this is ultimately a fairly light, romantic story of two girls who are already out and don’t have to spend chapters and chapters of plot angsting over coming out and homophobia and how hard it is to be gay.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with stories like that, and of course people do have those experiences and deserve to see them reflected in the stories they read. But it’s nice, once in a while, to not be constantly inundated with the same heavy, sad plotlines for lbpq girls. Maeve’s anxiety was much more of a player in the angst than her relationship with Salix, and Salix being a calming, patient, gentle force for her was heart-meltingly sweet. This is going in my pile of feel-good f/f reads. 5 stars.

“Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

I am so so late to this one, I know. Roxane Gay was talking about it like, last year or the one before that or something, and it’s been on my radar since then, but as usual, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. But I’m so glad I did.

At first I was wary, because it starts off presenting Harlowe as literally the authority on all things feminist and gay, and also as this mystical magic fairy-like being who talks in the most absurd ways about spirituality and energies and auras. Not that those things are absurd in themselves, mind you, but the tone and wording she always uses would make it impossible for me, personally, to be able to take her seriously. Juliet soldiers on, though, even in the face of a seemingly impossible task–sorting through a box full of scraps of names of women with no other information about them and figuring out who they are and why they’re important. Along the way, she gets her heart broken but also gets to ride on a motorcycle with and kiss a girl, becomes somewhat disenchanted with her feminist hero, and learns so much more about her heritage and family than she knew before.

It was relieving to see some of the characters, Juliet included, start to push back against Harlowe’s obsession with tokenizing her friends and partners of color and focusing all her feminism on the power of vaginas. That last in particular was making me very uncomfortable, and I was afraid it wasn’t going to be addressed and that the author was going to just tacitly support it. Juliet’s visit with her cousin, going to the party where people were getting their hair cut and swimming and dancing and kissing, having her worldview expanded and learning about multiple genders and pronouns and ways of being in relationships, all these things were so much fun to read about and Juliet’s open-mindedness and willingness to learn were reflective of the way I want to exist in the world.

I highly recommend this to everyone, but especially to those who are just starting to explore feminism outside the boundaries of what mainstream media feeds us, those who are worried about coming out to their families and need to see that struggle reflected in literature, and those who, like Juliet, have never learned much about where and who they come from and the surprising links that can come from learning about it. It’s not a dense read as this review might make it sound, it actually flies by in easy to read prose that still packs a punch. And it’s sharp and funny and just. Go read it. 5 stars.

TW: suicidal ideation

Oh hey it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Whatever that means. Are we not all aware of mental health? I guess I’ll use this time to tell you that, from your friendly neighborhood mentally ill, it’s okay. Whatever you’re dealing with, whatever you’re going through, it’s okay to be dealing with and going through it. It’s okay to handle it in whatever is the best way for you. If you need meds, take them. You’re not lesser because of it, your brain chemistry is just off and needs correcting. Same as if your thyroid is off and needs help (mine does), or if you’re diabetic and need insulin, or whatever.

Sometimes it will be impossible to get out of bed. Sometimes it will be impossible to put food in your face. Sometimes it will be impossible to go to class or work or even to go outside. Sometimes the weather will be so beautiful and you’ll be desperate to enjoy it, but the best you’ll be able to manage is to open windows. Sometimes you’ll kill plants by neglect because if you can’t even feed yourself, how are you supposed to water them? Sometimes your house will be a mess, the dishes won’t be done and the floors won’t be swept or vacuumed and the bed won’t be made.

Sometimes you’ll want to die, really and legitimately, not figuratively or just in an overwhelmed way. Sometimes you’ll even have a plan for how to accomplish it. Sometimes you’ll have to check yourself into the hospital, sometimes you’ll have to call your loved ones and terrify them by asking for help with this. Sometimes you’ll just have to cry and rage and do what you can to weather the storm. Sometimes you’ll barely be hanging on by your claws and teeth.

People will have reactions to this. They’ll be understanding and helpful and supportive, sometimes. But sometimes they’ll also be dismissive, won’t understand, will think (and maybe even tell you to your face) that you’re weak, lazy, overdramatic. These words will embed themselves in your brain, they’ll repeat on a loop for days and weeks and even months, in the quiet moments when you’re just trying to unplug for a while and not have to deal. You might even start to believe them yourself, because if people who love you are saying it, why would they do that if it wasn’t true? This is hard, and I don’t know a decent way to combat it. I am, after all, right here with you.

But I’m also right here to be the dissenting voice, to remind you of all the ways you’re lovely and strong and brave. You’ve made it this far, haven’t you? You’ve lasted this long. You’re still alive, still breathing. That’s all that matters, when you get right down to it. When you throw out capitalism and ablism and mental illness stigma and every other toxic system that’s in place to keep you feeling like garbage, what counts is that you’re here. We’re here. We’ve survived so long with our brains wanting to kill us, with well-meaning but ultimately harmful loved ones encouraging our brains to want to kill us, with society wanting to kill us. We’re still here, and we matter. You matter so much. Look at what you’ve overcome. Look at what you’ve seen within yourself and chosen to fight. It doesn’t matter how unconventional or useless that fight looks to others, it matters that it works.

Take just this second, while you’re reading this, to stop and be still and praise yourself for continuing to exist. Thank yourself for the gift of your life. Remember all the little things that are so personal I couldn’t begin to make them universal here that have kept you going when all you wanted was peace. Add things to that list, if there are things to add. Never stop looking for and adding things.

You’re doing so well. I love you, and I’m aware.

I seem to always be writing and rewriting the same poem, just with different stories and slightly different forms. Sorry about it. This is the shortest one I’ve probably ever written, because it’s an acrostic. The first letter of each word spells out the title. Katabasis is a Greek word which was often used to describe a descent into the underworld, typically as part of a hero’s quest, but, as we know, women can’t be heroes. So Persephone’s was a punishment, except I don’t think it was. I’ve never thought it was. I choose to reinterpret her story the way I do to all my favorite goddesses and fairy tale princesses and etc.

Killing would be better, she thinks,
a clean break, a final severing.
To lie still and quiet,
away from those who make scrutinizing her into a job, insuring she plays her role.
Beckoning, Hades’ hand is the clearest thing she’s ever seen,
agonizingly real in a world where everything is spring green unreality.
Spreading on her palm seeds as red as the blood she’s often thought of shedding,
igniting the blood she’s not yet shed, an offering and a promise and a binding.
She lifts them to her lips, and she twines their hands, and she reaches out with the other and takes her own fate.