Recommendations from a Virtual Bookseller

Last month, one of my favorite local indie bookstores launched a Virtual Bookseller tool that allows you to receive book recommendations from the staff of Porter Square Books in your email. It seemed like a pretty cool idea, so I filled out the form and (im)patiently awaited my results.

The form itself is self-explanatory and very detailed. You list your favorite and least favorite books, genres you enjoy, books you’ve recently read, and other things you look for in a good book. At the end of the form is space for extra notes, which I found was a good place to list my genre kryptonite. Some things I listed here include:

  • witches, magic, the supernatural/paranormal
  • queer and nonbinary characters
  • authors and characters of color
  • small press books
  • books about books

While I was excited about using the Virtual Bookseller, I expected a lot of overlap with things I had already read or books I planned to read. I was pleased when many of the selections were books I had never heard of. Here are the books recommended to me by my team of super booksellers, and my thoughts on them.


Yeine Darr wants only to mourn her mother’s death, but her estranged grandfather Dekarta, ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, has other plans. Summoned to the city of Sky and named one of Dekarta’s heirs, Yeine must master the politics of the cruel Arameri society if she is to have any chance of winning the throne…and staying alive. Read if you like your fantasy non-Euro-centric, dark, and sexy.

The Fifth Season has been on my TBR since it was released, but I can’t say I’m very familiar with Jemisin’s other work. This sounds like a great read, and the premise reminds me of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor but less Eurocentric, which is something I can absolutely get behind.


This short story collection recasts classic fairy tales via queer lenses in a Russian-doll nesting frame that rewards careful reading.



Small press, strong female characters, genre-defying fantasy/sci-fi/myth-like. (YA crossover)

Hmm…not really much to go on here, but I am feeling quite a few of my buttons being pushed (in a good way). Oh PSB, you always know the right words to say.


Lambda award winning fantasy from City Lights.

I’m starting to wonder if they’re being intentionally vague. However, a quick search led me to the key phrase “lesbian vampires.” Enough said.


A classic that fits right in with your other favorites.

Okay, now I know they’re being intentionally vague. Touche, PSB. Out of respect I’ll trust your skill at book recommending and pick up a copy of this without any further digging. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by your uncanny ability to know my soul through a handful of my favorite books.


The title character is a rat—yep, a rat—born and raised in a Boston bookstore in the 1960s. While his mother and siblings nest in the pages of novels, Firmin learns to read them and develops a taste for literature (sometimes literally—he is a rat, after all). His love of books and his longing for connection are endearing, tragic, and surprisingly relatable. Like Douglas Adams’ works, it manages to be by turns dark and hilarious, sardonic and deeply earnest. Also great for fans of Kavalier & Clay.

Apparently Douglas Adams + The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay = a book about a rat that reads. I feel like this might be a challenge for how strange a book they can recommend that I might still be interested in reading. Well, I do love rats, bookstores, dark humor, and Boston. Challenge accepted.


Simply magnificent! Tan gives small snippets of Grimm’s fairy tales, each accompanied by a photograph of an exquisite sculpture. The pairings are dark, stunning, and utterly brilliant. With introductions by Neil Gaiman and Jack Zipes, not to mention lists of additional resources, this is a treasure for any fairy tale fan and is destined to be poured over again and again. A masterpiece!

This sounds like an art exhibit I would kill to see, but since I can’t, I will definitely be obtaining a copy of this book. Besides, I do love coffee table books allow me to showcase my fondness for all things dark and eerie.


Mega Girl, now unmasked, is a student at the New School who is also wrestling with questions of identity, morality, politics, and ethics.

I’ve read a bit of SFP online, and the first volume has been glaring at me from the graphic novel shelf of my local comic shop. I do plan on bringing it home, making this the first real overlap between my recommendations and books I already plan to read.


Hearing thoughts, controlling minds…the characters in this book are not like us. But is separating oneself from society the best way to deal with being an outcast? An interesting plot, complex characters, plus beautiful art…I couldn’t put this down!

This is another comic I’ve been meaning to read. I have a couple of the issues, but life has done what it does and gotten between me and my reading. It’s very frustrating. I’ve been reading more in trades lately anyway, so I’ll probably borrow this one in trade form as well.


Set in a mysterious boarding school, the comic follows Antimony, a girl with strong connections to the supernatural, and her tech-whiz best friend, Kat. The art and storytelling come of age with the girls, and what begins as a lighthearted mystery quickly becomes something much richer, darker, and more complicated. GUNNERKRIGG COURT features science, folklore, mythological creatures, robots, a sweet queer romance, a shapeshifting demon trapped in a stuffed animal, and one of the most compelling female friendships I’ve ever read.

More webcomics? These guys really do know the way to my heart. Which is especially surprising given that I never specifically mentioned my interest in webcomics on the interest form. That said, it is the best place to find queer comics nowadays, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.


At Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, the regular customers don’t buy books, Instead, they borrow them in patterns. When Clay builds a computer program to track them (with the help of an attractive Google employee) he discovers the quest he’s always wanted. A contemporary adventure- read this if you liked Ready Player One.

I haven’t read Ready Player One, but bookstores and books about bookstores make me happy.


Very bookish adventure in which the main character, a rare book dealer, tries to recover his past by reading the books from his childhood. By the Nobel-Prizewinning Italian writer Umberto Eco.

This sounds amazing. I suppose I should expect nothing less from the great Umberto Eco.


This novel takes place in the publishing world of 1950s New York City. Three ambitious young people – the son of a prestigious editor, a woman who hopes to become an editor herself, and a black writer from Harlem – stake their futures here, with compelling results.

Hell yeah. Gimme all that 50s publishing biz and all the drama that comes with it. I’m picturing Mad Men but with more books, sprinkled with Sorkinesque walk and talks through all the big New York pubs.


With a title like that, I suppose it’s fitting that this was the only book on the list that didn’t include a description from the recommender. Apparently it is exactly what the title suggestions: a personal guide to the books that sparked Manguel’s curiosity. Mine is also piqued, and I can’t wait to pick it up.

All in all, I was pretty impressed by Porter Square’s selections. There was a good mix of novels, collections, comics, nonfiction, and more. Just about every title was something new and unexpected. I appreciated the customized notes on each book, which shows that they paid great attention to my likes and dislikes. Every single one of these books sound like something I would enjoy, and I hope that they live up to my expectations.

Thanks so much to the hardworking Porter Square booksellers who took the time to introduce me to some great new reads!

Does this sound awesome to you? It should, because it is. Get your own recommendations emailed to you, and let me know what you think!


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