Esme's Staff Picks

Showing 13 - 24 of 32 items

Helen Oyeyemi isn't for everyone, but if she is for you, congratulations because you are correct. Peaces follows an eccentric couple and their pet mongoose on a fever-dream of a train ride through the English countryside during which they encounter mysterious figures from their past. At times it has the feel of an old fashioned train mystery that has warped into a wacky romp of absurdity. At others it is an insightful meditation on relationships - the people who stay in our lives as well as those who cease to be real as they fade into the stories we tell ourselves about  them. The casual queerness throughout is the cherry on top that will likely cement Peaces as my book of the year. Have you read it? If so let's talk!

Content Warnings: Some cartoonish violence, house fire

A band of lovable weirdos are on a quest to save the kingdom! Slapstick illustrations meet plenty of heart in this exciting adventure that plays with overdone archetypes. The boisterous cat and the brainy dog are inseparable, and the buffest lizard you've ever seen has unbeatable conflict resolution skills. For an hour or two of delightful banter, sword-fights, and casual queerness look no further than Dungeon Critters!

Content Warnings: Some high stakes moments, non-fatal injuries

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Gayatri Sethi's genre-bending debut is a vulnerable meditation on diaspora and creating solidarity within the margins of the margins. In one of my favorite passages, Sethi offers, "may our existence be a balm." This book is a balm to those who have been othered in spaces that have claimed to love us. Unbelonging also demands accountability of those who use our own marginalized status to shield us from the part we play in upholding Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy - bell hooks and other radical voices are frequently cited within these pages. There are journal prompts as well as spaces for the reader to contribute their own thoughts directly onto the page. If you do decide to accept this invitation (I recommend it!) your copy will become entirely unique to you.  The deeply moving verses contained within Unbelonging are to be savored!

I loved Jemisin's short story collection How Long 'til Black Futures Month, and was so excited to hear that she expanded one of the stories into a book series! The City We Became follows the avatars of five different NYC boroughs as they attempt to combat an evil force that uses police, real estate, and neo-nazi groups to wage war against the city. Chock-full of insider New York jokes and cheeky symbolism, it is a exciting adventure that does not bother to disguise its larger commentary. At its heart, The City We Became is both a love letter and a challenge to this vibrant, frustrating, magical city. 

Content Warnings: abusive dad, attempted sexual assault, threat of police violence, villains are neo-nazis.

She Who Became the Sun is a captivating story of defying expectations and creating your own destiny - no matter the cost. Amid the ruthless backdrop of war during the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, there is a fascinating exploration of gender through characters whose experiences are never shoe-horned into 21st century understandings of queerness. It's dark, it's clever, it's sexy, and it's written beautifully enough to distract you from the horrifying choices these characters make as they stop at nothing to claim their fate. If you love tragic period epics (The Song of Achilles) and morally dubious anti-heroes this one is for you.

Content Warnings: This brutal book has pretty much everything under the sun (no pun intended) but notably there is no sexual violence.

Mary Oliver's poetry always reminds me that this beautiful, tragic life is worth living. "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where" might be my all-time favorite poem and I quote it to my nervous rescue dog daily.

Content Warnings: Animal death, fishing, human death mentions

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The woods conceal potent herbs, trickster foxes, and chilling secrets in this American Gothic portrayal of the role of folk medicine on American plantations in the antebellum period and immediately following the Civil War. The book follows a medicine woman born into slavery named Rue, whose inherited knowledge of hoodoo opens up opportunities to influence the complex power structure of the plantation, as well as accusations of consorting with the devil. Atakora's mastery of symbolism, complex characters, and a lusciously ominous ambiance make for an unsettling, compelling, and ultimately incredibly satisfying read.

Content Warnings: Physical and psychological violence against Black people, sexual violence, birth, miscarriage, abortion, and addiction.

Ugh, SO good. This snappy time-travel adventure is the perfect example of what an enemies to lovers story-line should be: a spirited rivalry that gives way to reluctant admiration, and finally melts into a passionate love of equals. From the very first teasing letter I was so invested in this forbidden love between the characters of Red and Blue, operatives from opposing sides of a war between the harsh mechanical and the lethal botanical.

I can honestly say this is the very first book that prompted me to look up (PG!) fan art of the characters because I just couldn't get enough! My heart!!

Content Warnings: Some blood and gore, poisoning, one scene of implied torture

Arundhati Roy has the rare talent of writing non-fiction essays that are just as engrossing as her fiction. She could write about watching paint dry in her signature wry style and it would keep me on the edge of my seat because she is that good. Thankfully, the subjects covered in Azadi are already fascinating: the movements for freedom under a fascist Indian state, and the role of the writer to document and uplift them. The star of this collection is definitely "The Pandemic is a Portal," in which Roy wonders what could be if we collectively decided to leave our pre-Covid baggage behind and imagine another world.

Content Warnings: the unspeakable violence that state governments enact on their people, Covid-19

This feminist ghost story collection delivers a very similar ~ darkly whimsical ~ tone to one of my favorite films, Spirited Away. Loosely based on Japanese folklore, these stories follow the otherworldly spirits who haunt temples, bathhouses, and unsuspecting men, living (or not) exactly as they please. An on-point concept with an execution to match, do yourself a favor and bring these ladies home! 

Content Warning: Domestic violence

Whether our names are gifts we were given from family or gifts we gave ourselves, they are deeply significant to who we are. Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow's lyrical picture book shows young readers how to honor the pronunciations and meanings of each other's names, and gives us permission to proudly exclaim, this is how you say my name!

I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger and became a huge fan of the 'underestimated elder entangled in a murder mystery' trope. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead takes this Miss Marple-esque character and twists her into someone more shrewd, strange, and clairvoyant than any of the other characters, or even the reader, anticipates. Set in a snowy Polish village, this Nobel Prize winning novel is the perfect winter read, grappling with predetermination, comeuppance, and our responsibility to the natural world.

Content Warnings: Somewhat gruesome deaths, animal abuse mentions, bugs