Excuse me while I scream about the books I just read

by Gigi Griffis

Oh hey, it’s that time again! I’ve been reading like a madwoman and I’m here to share the best of the best. The first quarter of the year, I finished 21 books and DNFed (did not finish) a handful more. As usual, about half of that reading was non-fiction and the other half fiction (mostly horror and SFF).

From that big batch of new reads, here are my recommendations.

Books with an asterisk are from an author who is part of a marginalized community. Support books by marginalized creators by giving them a library hold, an order, and a review!

The Poisons We Drink*

In a country divided between humans and witchers, Venus Stoneheart hustles as a brewer making illegal love potions to support her family.

Love potions are a dangerous business. Brewing has painful, debilitating side effects, and getting caught means death or a prison sentence. But what Venus is most afraid of is the dark, sentient magic within her.

When an enemy’s iron bullet kills her mother, Venus’s life implodes. Keeping her reckless little sister, Janus, safe is now her responsibility. When the powerful Grand Witcher, the ruthless head of her coven, offers Venus the chance to punish her mother’s killer, she has to pay a steep price for revenge.

The cost? Brew poisonous potions to enslave DC’s most influential politicians in order to pass legislation that will protect witchers for years to come.

As Venus crawls deeper into the corrupt underbelly of her city, the line between magic and power blurs, and it’s hard to tell who to trust … herself included.

My thoughts: I WHIPPED through this one. The writing is fantastic. The characters will jump straight off the page and into your heart. And the plot won’t let you go until you finish.

Dead Girls Walking*

Temple Baker knows that evil runs in her blood. Her father is the North Point Killer, an infamous serial killer known for branding his victims. He was the talk of countless true crime blogs for years. Some say he was possessed by a demon. Some say they never found all his victims. Some say that even though he’s now behind bars, people are still dying in the woods.

Despite everything, Temple never believed that her dad killed her mom. But when he confesses to that crime while on death row, she has no choice but to return to his old hunting grounds and try to find the body to prove it. Turns out, the farm that was once her family’s home has been turned into an overnight camp for queer, horror-obsessed girls. So Temple poses as a camp counselor to go digging in the woods. She tries her best to fit in and keep her true identity hidden.

Then a girl turns up dead in the woods, and Temple fears that one of her father’s “fans” might be mimicking his crimes. As she tries to uncover the truth and keep the campers safe, she realizes that there may be something stranger and more sinister at work—and that her father may not have been the only monster in these woods.

My thoughts: Terrifying and funny and deeply, deeply queer (though there’s no romance). I listened to this one on audio and loved the narrator. And I will be forever #TeamTemple. Love an angry, messy protagonist.

Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity*

In this “refreshing and radical” (The Guardian) narrative, Thomas McBee, a trans man, sets out to uncover what makes a man—and what being a “good” man even means—through his experience training for and fighting in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. A self-described “amateur” at masculinity, McBee embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of gender in society, examining sexism, toxic masculinity, and privilege. As he questions the limitations of gender roles and the roots of masculine aggression, he finds intimacy, hope, and even love in the experience of boxing and in his role as a man in the world. Despite personal history and cultural expectations, “Amateur is a reminder that the individual can still come forward and fight” (The A.V. Club).

My thoughts: Super interesting. I love getting glimpses of gender through the eyes of someone who has passed for more than one. We all know society treats us differently, but only a select few have felt both sides of that different treatment personally.

Wander in the Dark*

Amir Trudeau only goes to his half brother Marcel’s birthday party because of Chloe Danvers. Chloe is rich, and hot, and fits right into the perfect life Marcel inherited when their father left Amir’s mother to start a new family with Marcel’s mom. But Chloe is hot enough for Amir to forget that for one night.

Does she want to hook up? Or is she trying to meddle in the estranged brothers’ messy family drama? Amir can’t tell. He doesn’t know what Chloe wants from him when, in the final hours of Mardi Gras, she asks him to take her home and stay—her parents are away and she doesn’t want to be alone.

Amir never finds out, because when he wakes up, Chloe is dead…

My thoughts: This was the first read of my year and I sped right through. Compelling thriller for those who like a layered mystery.


1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

My thoughts: Magic systems based on language? Callouts on colonialism? Characters wrestling with violence vs. non-violence in a resistance? Yes, please.

American Sirens*

The extraordinary story of an unjustly forgotten group of Black men in Pittsburgh who became the first paramedics in America, saving lives and changing the course of emergency medicine around the world
Until the 1970s, if you suffered a medical crisis, your chances of survival were minimal. A 9-1-1 call might bring police or even the local funeral home. But that all changed with Freedom House EMS in Pittsburgh, a group of Black men who became America’s first paramedics and set the gold standard for emergency medicine around the world, only to have their story and their legacy erased—until now.

Content warnings: racism (obviously) and sexism; there’s a Zionism jump scare toward the end
My thoughts: I heard about this one on a podcast and I have never smashed the order button so fast. A fascinating story of the first US EMTs, their struggle, their attempted erasure, and the actual lasting impact they made on the world. I was deeply emotional at the end when the narrator read off all the names.

We Can’t Fix the Sky*

Ferris knows something is suspicious about Addie’s arrival. She just can’t figure out what. As soon as this estranged half-sister joins the picture, things turn strange: The sun never sets, then it never rises. Rain refuses to end, rivers glow, and fog swallows the town whole. Her parents are tense and secretive while Addie is an intriguing unknown. Ferris is pulled in two directions: The one that wants to unearth her family’s secrets and the one that just wants to stay a kid with her best friend.

On her own in a new town, Addie is supposed to shake off the demons that follow her through court orders, therapy, and ketamine treatments. Visions of her time months ago chase her and make it hard to concentrate. The already complicated life transition reaches a fever pitch when old romances turn up and her baby sister begins poking around the shadows of the reasons she came to town.

Content warnings: violence (on page); sexual assault (off page); homophobia.

My thoughts: A very literary and deeply emotional little novel. I loved it.

The Hundred Years War on Palestine*

A landmark history of one hundred years of war waged against the Palestinians from the foremost US historian of the Middle East, told through pivotal events and family history

In 1899, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, mayor of Jerusalem, alarmed by the Zionist call to create a Jewish national home in Palestine, wrote a letter aimed at Theodore Herzl: the country had an indigenous people who would not easily accept their own displacement. He warned of the perils ahead, ending his note, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.” Thus Rashid Khalidi, al-Khalidi’s great-great-nephew, begins this sweeping history, the first general account of the conflict told from an explicitly Palestinian perspective.

Drawing on a wealth of untapped archival materials and the reports of generations of family members―mayors, judges, scholars, diplomats, and journalists―The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine upends accepted interpretations of the conflict, which tend, at best, to describe a tragic clash between two peoples with claims to the same territory. Instead, Khalidi traces a hundred years of colonial war on the Palestinians, waged first by the Zionist movement and then Israel, but backed by Britain and the United States, the great powers of the age. He highlights the key episodes in this colonial campaign, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the destruction of Palestine in 1948, from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the endless and futile peace process.

My thoughts: A succinct, thoughtful history of Palestine and its long history of subjugation and violence. If you are looking for a summary on the history there, this is your book.

The Diary Keepers*

Based on select writings from a collection of more than two thousand Dutch diaries written during World War II in order to record this unparalleled time, and maintained by devoted archivists, The Diary Keepers illuminates a part of history we haven’t seen in quite this way before, from the stories of a Nazi sympathizing police officer to a Jewish journalist who documented daily activities at a transport camp.

My thoughts: Sad, compelling, hopeful, and hard, this collection of journals from Dutch folks during WWII contains the accounts of resisters, those in hiding, and collaborators. A real find for history lovers.

Flowers in the Gutter

The true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, working-class teenagers who fought the Nazis by whatever means they could.

Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were classic outsiders: Their clothes were different, their music was rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But they were also Germans living under Hitler, and any nonconformity could get them arrested or worse. As children in 1933, they saw their world change. Their earliest memories were of the Nazi rise to power and of their parents fighting Brownshirts in the streets, being sent to prison, or just disappearing.

As Hitler’s grip tightened, these three found themselves trapped in a nation whose government contradicted everything they believed in. And by the time they were teenagers, the Nazis expected them to be part of the war machine. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean and hundreds like them said no…

My thoughts: I’ve long loved the story of the Edelweiss Pirates, so this was an instant “yes” for me when I found it. Based on the real journals of these rebel teens, it reads a bit like a novel rather than non-fiction. 10/10.

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