The Extraordinaries

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room.”
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Content: There is talk of sex, but none actual, and some mild swearing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think it’d be suitable for younger readers.

Nick Bell is obsessed with Nova City’s “Extraordinaries” — read: superheroes — but especially Shadow Star. He daydreams about him, he writes fanfic about him, and Nick has decided that what he really wants is to be Extraordinary like him.

Nick’s friends Gabby, Jazz, and Seth all think this is a bad idea. However, that is not going to stop Nick from getting and becoming who he wants to be.

Okay, that’s very lame summary of a very good book.It’d hard to say what Klune’s books are really about; this one I would peg as a rom-com with superheroes. There’s some great tropes in it, from both the romance and superhero genres, but it’s got a sly sense of humor that makes these tropes fresh.

Nick has ADHD and is a very adorable hot mess. It’s really only his friends (well, and his father) that keep him together. He makes bad (well, mostly awkward) decisions that put him in awkward situations. And I adored every minute of it. It helps that the reader is a LOT more aware of situations than Nick is; I think we are meant to figure out things way before Nick does, mostly so we can shake our heads and say “Oh, Nick” at the book. It was delightful.

I think I have a new favorite author. Klune’s books are absolutely wonderful.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1, Volume 1

by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
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Content: Aside from it being a manga, which is kind of tricky to learn to read, there’s nothing. It’s in the manga section of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Urano is a college student who loves books. Loves them so much that she surrounds herself with them. And, unfortunately, that is her downfall: she dies in a book-related accident. And then wakes up, reincarnated into 5 year old Myne, as a peasant in a world with a low literacy rate. It becomes Urano/Myne’s goal to find a book, and when she can’t find one, to make one.

My youngest told me that I would really like this manga series, and she’s right: it’s bookish, it’s cute, it’s fun. And unlike other isekai manga, this one is centered on a girl with a goal is really quite fun. I adored the fish-out-of-water aspect as Urano tries to figure out how to operate in this new world and body. And her focus on inding and then making a book is completely relatable.

So, yes, I have picked up the next few volumes of this one. I have found a magna that I like!

The Leak

by Kate Reed Petty and Andrea Bell
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Content: It’s got one kiss and some talk of making out. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Ruth Keller is 12 years old, and wants to be a journalist when she gets older. She runs a little newsletter, reporting on stories in her middle school and town. And then one day, she is out fishing at the town lake with her friend Jonathan, and she sees something weird: a mysterious sludge and a dead fish on the shore. Ruth sees a story — local companies must be polluting the lake – and runs with it. The problem is that she’s only 12, and adults aren’t listening to her. Well, that, and she kind of jumps to conclusions before she gets her facts right.

This is a really great little story not just about youth activism and awareness, but also about facts and truth and how stories can be affected by perspective. There were a couple of subplots that I didn’t care for — one involving Ruth’s older brother hand his girlfriend (who is a mentor to Ruth), and the other involving Ruth and Jonathan “liking” each other — but that didn’t take away from the charm and message of the main story.

A solid middle grade graphic novel.

Audio book: One Last Stop

by Case McQuiston
Read by Natalie Naudus
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. Plus some on-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

August can’t settle down. Literally: she’s 23 years old, and she can’t seem to finish college, or find a place where she belongs. She’s transferred to New York City in yet another attempt to get out from underneath her overbearing mother and to find a place where she fits.

Enter a few quirky roommates and August begins to feel at home. And then she meets Jane Soo on the subway: Its love at first sight (kind of), except there’s a hitch: Jane can’t leave the Q Train. And August, who has been trained by her mother to be obsessive about finding people and fixing things, can’t seem to let it go.

It’s not a brilliant novel, but it’s sure a fun one! I liked how McQuiston played with time in this one, and how Jane’s and August’s relationship wasn’t a perfect one. That said, it was a combination of the narrator – she was fabulous – and the secondary characters that kept me listening to this one. I adored all the characters McQuison populated the world with; they were funny, sweet, lovable, and interesting.

It wasn’t my favorite of all time, but it was a good solid romance and it was fun. Perhaps that’s all I can ask for.

Blackout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is mild swearing and three f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic premise is this: it’s a hot summer day in New York City, and the power goes out at 5 p.m. The six different authors then set about telling six interconnected stories about what happens — romance-wise — once the lights go off. It takes place in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with both straight and gay couples, as the night goes on.

If there is goign to be short stories, I think, I prefer them when they are interconnected. Think of this as the Black, summer version of Let it Snow. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s fun, it’s swoony. People you don’t normally think of writing romance — Angie Thomas, Nic Stone — write solid stories that fit in beautifully in-between Jackson’s longer, multi-chapter anchor story. I loved the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and thought it worked together really really well. In short: It’s a brilliant concept, brilliantly executed.

Definitely pick this one up.

State of the TBR Pile: July 2021

I don’t really know why, but I’ve hit a slump. My pile has shrunk, and if I’m honest, there’s not a lot on it that excites me. There are things I should read (like the book club pick) and thinks I know might make me happy (the TJ Klune), but I’m not feeling it.

It’s also very white, which is going against my usual goal of having the pile be 50% non-white. So, I’m asking for recommendations, especially Asian and/or Latinx writers. Suggestions for me?

What’s on the pile:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo

Rise to the Sun

by Leah Johnson
First sentence: “My best friend has always been the first person I run to when it’s time to blow up my life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs and some talk of sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Olivia is a mess. She dates a lot, but her relationships never last. And her last one ended really, really badly. She just needs to get away, so she convinces her best friend, Imani, to drive to northern Georgia to a music festival where Imani’s favorite band is headlining. A best friend’s weekend is what they need.

Toni just graduated from high school, but ever since the sudden death of her father, she’s not sure if she wants to follow the stable path her mom has set, or follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue music. She’s at the festival to figure things out.

But when Olivia an Toni collide (almost literally), everything gets thrown up in the air as they try to figure out the sparks between them.

Much like Johnson’s first book, this one simultaneously is a joy of Black girl romance while having more difficult themes – like the death of a parent, or the expectations of parents – underneath. It’s a fun, delightful, breezy read, and one I’m definitely glad is out there Johnson writes some pretty spectacular YA books, that are much-needed in this market.

News of the World

by Paulette Jiles
First sentence: “Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment.”
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Content: There is some violence. It’s in the adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Captain Kidd is a veteran of several wars, but, now at 71, he just wanders over north Texas performing readings of newspaper articles from around the world for a dime admission. It’s not a great life, but since his wife died, it’s a decent one. Then at at stop in Wichita Falls, he is paid $50 in gold to deliver a girl — Johanna — who was kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe when she was six. Now, four years later, she is being returned to the family she has left down near San Antonio. He agrees to take her, even though the journey will be dangerous, and they set out. The rest of the story is really just about Kidd and his developing bond with Johanna, through their good times and trials.

I didn’t dislike this one — even though I have an issue with authors who don’t use quotation marks for dialogue — but I din’t love it either. In retrospect, this one may have been better for me on audio, because I wouldn’t’ have been distracted by the form. I did like Kidd’s relationship with Johanna, though there was a part of me that felt like the book had a bit of a white savior complex: sure Johanna was kidnapped (which was wrong) but she had acclimated to her new life with the Kiowa. Why does she need to assimilate with the white people? Was the bits of her life with the Kiowa accurate (probably not)? Why is it important that men rescue a white girl from the “vicious natives”? It just felt a bit off to me, especially since the book was written by a white woman.

So, yeah. It’s not a terrible book, but it’s not a great one either.

Unsettled

by Reem Faruqi
First sentence: “I grab Asna’s hand, palm to palm.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s a novel in verse, so even though it looks long, it goes quickly. There is some talk of bullying and dementia. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Nurah is happy with her life in Pakistan: she has friends at school, she lives near her grandparents, and loves her home. But then, her father gets a job offer in Peachtree City, Georgia, and relocates the family there. Nurah finds it hard to adapt: she is out of place at school and her brother, whom she used to have a good relationship with, is increasingly distant. The one place Nurah feels at home is the rec center swim team; she’s not the best, but she feels at home in the water.

This was a very sweet and heartfelt story. I thought it worked really well as a novel in verse; it was simple without being simplistic. And Nurah’s challenges with fitting in at school, getting along with her increasingly distant brother, a grandmother with dementia, and just experiencing a new country are presented in a way to make them incredibly relatable.

It was a charming book, but one with a deeply felt heart.

Monthly Round-Up: June 2021

This month was graphic novels and non-fiction, which is an interesting mix for me. It was a good mix, because I read some really good books this month My favorite, though, was this one:

Important, yes, but also very, very good.

As for the rest:

Young Adult:

Stormbreak

Graphic Novel:

Firefly Legacy, volume 1
Firefly Legacy, volume 2
The Girl from the Sea

Adult Fiction:

Parable of the Talents

Non-Fiction:

Anthropocene Reviewed
God Save the Queens (audio book)

What was your favorite this month?