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The Mary Sue Book Club, December 2022: Magical Creatures & Biographies of Artists

Vampire kingdoms, vengeful lobsters, and gender in the 1920s.

Three books mentioned in this month's book club. Image: Bloom Books; Pantheon Books; and Creature Publishing, LLC.

After 11 months and 69 recommendations from The Mary Sue Book Club, it’s time for the final books of the year. While many readers will reach for holiday titles themed to Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and more, this list will provide you with some tonal shifts and probably inspire some interesting discussions on New Year’s Eve.

Included are two non-fiction titles and four in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy. Both non-fiction books feature stories of artists: One centers on a group of artists (all writers), and the other looks at the work of one of the most celebrated cartoonists/graphic novelists of all time. On the other end of the spectrum are stories that take place over a century, on other planets, and on other planes of existence.

Young Bloomsbury: The Generation That Redefined Love, Freedom, and Self-Expression in 1920s England by Nino Strachey

Young Bloomsbury: The Generation That Redefined Love, Freedom, and Self-Expression in 1920s England by Nino Strachey. Image: Atria Books.
(Atria Books)

In the years before the First World War, a collection of writers and artists—Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey among them—began to make a name for themselves in England and America for their irreverent spirit and provocative works of literature, art, and criticism. They called themselves the Bloomsbury Group and by the 1920s, they were at the height of their influence.

Then a new generation stepped forward—creative young people who tantalized their elders with their captivating looks, bold ideas, and subversive energy. Young Bloomsbury introduces us to this colorful cast of characters, including novelist Eddy Sackville-West, who wore elaborate make-up and dressed in satin and black velvet; artist Stephen Tomlin, who sculpted the heads of his male and female lovers; and author Julia Strachey, who wrote a searing tale of blighted love. Talented and productive, these larger-than-life figures had high-achieving professional lives and extremely complicated emotional lives.The group had always celebrated sexual equality and freedom in private, feeling that every person had the right to live and love in the way they chose. But as transgressive self-expression became more public, this younger generation gave Old Bloomsbury a new voice.

Young Bloomsbury releases on December 6.

Out of Aztlan by V. Castro

Out of Aztlan by V. Castro. Image: Creature Publishing, LLC.
(Creature Publishing, LLC.)

An ancient goddess rises up from an inverted temple in a lake of blood to purify the earth. Two pearl divers plot revenge against the Spanish merchants who enslave them. A mutant species of jellyfish fueled by garbage heaps wreaks havoc on beachgoers. Aided by mermaids, a pirate known as The Scorpion and her all-female crew challenge a corrupt king. And back on dry land, a mother avenges the daughters of her community with a very special batch of ancho chili salsa.

V. Castro’s spirited characters come alive in her uniquely playful, fiery style, from a vengeful lobster to a mother willing to put her life on the line for justice. In these and other stories, the descendants of Aztlan-the mythical homeland of the Aztec people-work to overthrow their oppressors and usher in the dawn of a new world.

Out of Aztlan releases on December 6.

Where It Rains in Color by Denise Crittendon

Where It Rains in Color by Denise Crittendon. Image: Angry Robot.
(Angry Robot)

Colonized by the descendants of Earth’s West African Dogon Tribe, the planet of Swazembi is a blazing, color-rich utopia and famous vacation center of the galaxy. No one is used to serious trouble in this idyllic, peace-loving world, least of all the Rare Indigo.

But Lileala’s perfect, pampered lifestyle is about to be shattered. The unthinkable happens and her glorious midnight skin becomes infected with a mysterious disease. Where her skin should glisten like diamonds mixed with coal, instead it scabs and scars. On top of that, she starts to hear voices in her head, and everything around her becomes confusing and frightening.

Lileala’s destiny, however, goes far beyond her beauty. While searching for a cure, she stumbles upon something much more valuable. A new power awakens inside her, and she realizes her whole life, and the galaxy with it, is about to change…

Where It Rains in Color releases on December 6.

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! by Art Spiegelman

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! by Art Spiegelman. Image: Pantheon Books.
(Pantheon Books)

This legendary 1978 collection of comics by Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the best-selling Maus, presents the seminal works that changed how comics are made and appreciated today—now with a new Afterword by the author.

Innovative, serious, funny, and many decades ahead of its time, Breakdowns is offered here in its entirety: the long-sought-after collection of the artist’s comics of the 1970s, along with an introduction almost as long as the book it introduces—and just as autobiographically intimate and experimentally daring.

At once the story of an artist and of his medium, Breakdowns alters the terms of what can be accomplished in a memoir.

Breakdowns re-releases on December 13.

Queen of Myth and Monsters by Scarlett St. Clair

Queen of Myth and Monsters by Scarlett St Clair. Image: Bloom Books.
(Bloom Books)

Isolde, newly coronated queen, has finally found a king worthy of her in the vampire Adrian. But their love for each other has cost Isolde her father and her homeland. With two opposing goddesses playing mortals and vampires against one another, Isolde is uncertain who her allies are in the vampire stronghold of Revekka.

Now, as politics in the Red Palace grow more underhanded, inexplicable monster attacks plague the villages, and a deadly crimson mist threatens all of Cordova, Isolde must trust in the bond she’s formed with Adrian, even as she learns troubling information about his complicated past.

Queen of Myth and Monsters releases on December 20.

The Lost Witch by Paige Crutcher

The Lost Witch by Paige Crutcher. Image: St. Martin’s Griffin.
(St. Martin’s Griffin)

1922. Brigid Heron is a powerful witch and healer in the seemingly lost, but charming small town of Evermore on a forgotten isle in Ireland. However, there is one thing that she longs for above all else: a child of her own. She is even willing to be seduced by the mysterious Luc Knightly, head of the Knightly coven, whose pull is potent and impossible to resist. When their child is born and falls ill, Brigid will risk anything to save her daughter-even tap into the forbidden magic of the Lough of Brionglóid. But when the wild magic takes her daughter from her, Brigid is swept away as well.

2022. Evermore is under siege. The witches of Knight have been using their chaos magic to widen the rift between the island and the Otherworld. Creatures from folklore prey on the villagers, consuming their very humanity.Brigid awakens in this world with no memory of how she traveled into the future, but she learns that she helped unleash this curse on Evermore. To seal the lough and stop the witches of Knight, she must work with her magical descendants, Ophelia and Finola. But the knowledge she seeks lies with Luc Knightly himself–mysterious, handsome, and powerful. To save Evermore, Brigid may have to lose everything once again.

The Lost Witch releases on December 27.

Which of these are you most excited to check out?

(featured image: Bloom Books; Pantheon Books; and Creature Publishing, LLC.)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.