Amari and the Great Game

by B. B. Alston
First sentence: “I sprint down the sidewalk, flying past designer boutiques, luxury shops, and a fancy art gallery.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Amari and the Night Brothers
Content: There is some bullying by other kids (and some adults) and some intense moments. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

It’s the start of her first full summer as Junior Agent and Amari Peters is excited. Sure, her brother is still in a magically-induced coma that no one can figure out. and, sure the under-Prime Minister (or something like that) is making a stink about having magicians in the Bureau. But Amari’s going to have a great summer. That is until a time-freeze happens and it doesn’t affect her. It’s so powerful, though, that it has to be a magician’s doing, and it’s left the entire Magical council frozen. Suddenly, what was going to be a great summer turns into one full of suspicion and increasingly hostile circumstances at camp. On top of which, Amari has been challenged to a Great Game with none other than Dylan, for the Crown of the League of Magicians.

Is Amari up to all the challenges?

I love a good series, and this is quite a good series. Alston keeps up the level of action and suspense while having Amari do something that’s familiar – investigate a problem that’s leading to discrimination against magicians – while also making it new and fresh. There are some of the same faces as well as new ones, a lot of the same challenges which Amari handles better – or just differently, and some new faces mixed in as well. It’s familiar without being stale, which is nice.

And Alston knows how to spin a good tale: he keeps up the pace while still allowing Amari and her friends to become fully fleshed-out people. I haven’t liked a series this much since Percy Jackson, and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Audio book: Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi
Read by Christopher Meyer
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There is a lot of mild swearing and one f-bomb, and illusions to sexual assault. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Jam lives in a world free of monsters. The citizens of the city of Lucille defeated the monsters and created a just and equitable world. But one night, Jam’s mother, Bitter, paints a monstrous-looking creature, and Jam accidentally brings it through the canvas into the real world. Initially, Jam thinks the creature is a monster, but it – Pet – is out to Hunt monsters, which it says is in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Hunting monsters is not an easy task, and it is one that Jam resists at first, but eventually, they recruit Redemption’s help to find and defeat the monster.

The thing is: the monsters aren’t “monsters”. They’re people who do monstrous things. Which is what I thought at the beginning, but then an actual non-human being showed up, and I was confused: is monster literal? Is it metaphorical? Is it both? I don’t know.

That’s not saying that I wasn’t intriged by this one. Myers was a fabulous narrator, and he kept me engaged in the story when I was confused about what was going on. I loved the representation: Jam is trans and Black, and the matter-of-fact-ness of Jam’s personhood was refreshing.

And in the end, the book is probably more about complacency than anything else: Lucille thought that they had defeated the monsters, which meant there were not going to be any more monsters, ever. This turned out to be untrue, so maybe we just have to keep fighting the monsters even if it’s hard and we don’t want to?

Anyway, that’s what I got out of it.

Audio book: The Black Flamingo

by Dean Atta
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There is some swearing, talk of gay sex, and (older) teen drinking and drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Michael has spent his life feeling different from everyone else. A mixed-race kid (half-Black, half-Greek-Cypriate) in a mostly white London neighborhood, and as a boy who likes more traditionally “girly” things. He tries to find a place for himself in a religious school, with a female best friend, and in the drama department, though some of his crushes on boys don’t go over well (he gets the “you’re going to hell” speech more than once). But it’s not until he gets to university, and finds the Drag club, that he truly begins to Find Himself.

I read this as part of Trans Awareness Readathon week, mostly because I thought there would be more about gender fluidity and drag. There wasn’t. However, there was a lot about identity in general, both as a Black man in a majority white society and as a gay man in a conservative school. It was good – though listening to it on audio means I missed out on the novel as verse aspect. And because it was read by the author (who did well with it), I mistakenly thought it was a memoir for a while (there are some striking similarities between Michael the character and Atta the author). Even with all of that, it was a short, good listen, and I’m glad I got to experience Michael and his story.

Warrior Girl Unearthed

by Angeline Boulley
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: May 2, 2023
Content: It addresses r*pe, sexual assault, predatory behaviors, and missing Indigenous women. There is some swearing and talk of drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

What Perry Firekeeper-Birch wanted for the summer: to be lazy, to go fishing, to enjoy the sunshine. What she got: a job with the Ojibwe summer intern program, working at the Tribal museum. What she expected: the summer to be Boring. What she got: a fascinating education in her Tribal history, and in the repatriation (or not) of the items stolen by museums and colleges, including the local Mackinac State University.

That’s just where the summer starts, though. It’s 2014, and there is unrest in the country, with the shooting of Michael Brown, and that hits close to home because Perry’s dad is half Black. Additionally, Indigenous women in the community have gone missing, and her sister, who is working with the Tribal police, is helping look for them. But it all comes to a head when Perry discovers unearthed graves in the yard of a local “businessman” who was going to donate artifacts back to the tribe, but instead gives them to Mackinac State.

It sounds like a lot – and this is just scratching the surface – but Boulley is a talented enough storyteller to weave these seemingly disparate story threads together into a very satisfying whole. The story is less about missing Indigenous women and repatriating lost/stolen artifacts than it is about Perry learning how to take responsibility and be a leader in her community. It’s her growth arc – though the characters of her friends and twin sister (and yes, Daunis from Firekeeper’s Daughter shows up) are fully fleshed out and not simple caricatures. I love how Boulley is able to weave in the Ojibwe language and traditions in a way that feels respectful but is also informative for those of us who are not Ojibwe. It’s a feat to be able to put so much into a book and have it flow seamlessly.

In short: I loved it.

Audiobook: Nora Goes Off Script

by Annabel Monaghan
Read by Hillary Huber
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: Oh, well, it’s a romance book. Infer what you will. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

Nora is fine. She has a fairly successful career writing scripts for romance movies for the Romance Channel. When her husband left, she was sad, but he was also an asshole, so it wasn’t that bad. And then she wrote a script about their story and sold it to an actual movie studio and it got made into a movie. The studio spent a couple of days filming at her actual house – and the star, Leo Vance, is charmed by her home. After the filming is done, he sticks around, wanting to experience normal life for a bit (in order to process his mother’s recent death). He helps Nora with the shopping and cooking and with her kids… and eventually, they fall in love.

But things are not perfect; when Leo has to jet away to deal with a film contract, he promises he will come back. But he doesn’t. Nora’s heart breaks, and life goes on, and suddenly those romance movie scripts with predictable outcomes seem trite. Will Nora be able to get her life back on track after the second man in as many years has walked out on her?

Oh, I liked this one. It was delightful on audio – Huber does a fantastic job, keeping me engaged in the story. Which was a lot of fun as well. It seems that the current trend in romance books is to be the thing while critiquing the thing, so while I knew the beats of the story, there was some depth to it. I liked how the focus was more on Nora’s ability to be resilient and vulnerable to others, as well as making her children her priority. I liked the relationship between her and Leo, and even the conflict felt real. It was a solid romance book, and I’ll be happy to read whatever Monaghan writes next.

The Moth Keeper

by K. O’Neill
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s not much to be concerned about. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Let’s see if I can sum this one up: in this world, there is a group of people (personified animals?) who are all awake at night (they’re called the “night village”). The moon has blessed them with moon moths to help pollinate the moonflowers; it’s magic the people use to survive in the desert. The catch for all this is: one person from the community needs to hold a lantern all night and keep an eye on the moths. The current moth keeper is getting ready to retire, and Anya has chosen to take it over.

The problem is that Anya is afraid of the dark. She lost her mother in the dark and she has always wanted to be with the day people in their village. So, one day, she gives in and visits. That, unfortunately (i think?) leads to her falling asleep on her job and losing the moths. This is especially bad because the moonflowers are about to bloom, and without the moths, they will die and the night village will suffer.

I wanted to like this one. I really did. The art is lovely, and I have liked O’Neill’s other books. But, I just couldn’t get into this one. I didn’t connect with the story, and there were panels where I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I think there’s a good story in here, I’m just not the one to find it. This is too bad because the art is lovely.

Audiobook: Poverty, by America

by Matthew Desmond
Read by Dion Graham
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There are a few mild swear words. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

I was moved by the stories of the people in Desmond’s Evicted, but I think there was a part of me that could put it at a distance. At least that’s not my life. But in Poverty, by America Desmond pulls no punches: poverty is not just a “them” problem. It’s something that affects ALL of us. 

In this short, to the point, book Desmond uses data to show how the system exploits poor people, from the TANF government funds that so many states misuse or use for programs other than to actually help poor people (for every $1 of the fund, only 22 cents make it into the hands of poor people) to the landlords who nickel and dime the poor into higher rents for lower quality apartments that they can get evicted from. But it’s more than that: it’s the middle class with our health care and mortgage subsidies (the middle class and wealthy are subsidized by the government at much if not more than poor people are) and the wealthy and businesses who are not made to pay their (measly, comparatively) tax share. 

It’s Desmond challenging the reader to think about whether a corporation pays their employees a living wage before shopping there. It’s a call for a universal basic income. It’s a lament that for the past 50 years, in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, no progress has been made to help the people living in poverty. 

It’s quite probably one of the most important books I’ve read and challenged me as well as changed my perspective on things. 

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Audiobook: Daisy Jones & the Six

by Taylor Jenkins Reed
Read by a full cast
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There is a lot of drug use, some on-screen sex, and a lot of swearing including many f-bombs. It’s in the Fiction section of the bookstore.

This book has been on my radar since it came out, one of those I’ve been meaning to get to it for ages books. But then my daughter started watching the series on Prime, and talking about it and I remembered that I had the audiobook, and so… why not listen to it?

The basic plot: it’s a book told entirely through interviews, the six members of the band The Six and Daisy Jones telling their story of how they formed and the one album that they made together. It was an absolutely perfect way to tell this type of story, of music and creation, of egos and drugs, of Rock and the 1970s. Oh, and it’s loosely based on Fleetwood Mac. That’s really all you need to know.

Listening to on audio was a blast. I loved that it was a full cast, and everyone did amazing. You could just hear their personalities (Daisy was a DIVA) come through, and it made what I think might have been a good, if somewhat tedious, reading experience FUN. It was an audiobook I wanted to keep listening to. And even when the story turned saccharine at the end, I had fun with it. You can’t get much better than that. I might check out the show, but am quite tickled that they put out a few songs (which are actually pretty good).

Not sure it’s a great work of literature, but I definitely had fun with this one.

Audiobook: B. F. F.

A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found
by Christie Tate
Read by the Author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There is talk of eating disorders, alcoholism, and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

In this memoir, Tate deconstructs her friendships with women, from the way she abandoned her high school friends for a (alcoholic, abusive) boyfriend, to the way she compared and sabotaged friendships as an adult. The throughline for all of this was, yes, her group therapy and recovery sessions, but also a woman she calls Merideth. A woman 20 years Tate’s senior with problems of her own that she is recovering from, Meredith became not just Tate’s rock to lean on, but her conscious and guiding hand. 

So what does one do when Meredith is diagnosed with an incurable and advanced form of cancer? How can she deal with being present for Meredith and with her own grief? How can she learn to be better?

I do have to say up front that, assuming all this is true, Tate is remarkably brave for putting it all out there. She is not likable for a good half of the book when she’s talking about how she abandoned friends due to jealousy and anger. She comes across as petulant and insecure, and yes I was judging her until I started really listening and figuring out where I’m like her. She has much to say about friendship, not just her friendships, and I think that part is worthwhile. The second part is Meredith’s decline and death, and I think Tate has a lot of good things to say about supporting people through that – not just the person who is ill, but the people around them as well – and about grief. But, the final section, after Meredith has passed on, where Tate writes letters about her healing and rekindling friendships she had thought she had permanently destroyed – that was the best section. I think it all had to be there, though. You had to get through petulant Tate to truly understand the healing process. 

While I think it’s kind of uneven in spots, it’s worth it for what Tate has to say about friendship, overall.

Amari and the Night Brothers

by B. B. Alston
First sentence: “I’m sitting in the principal’s office.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some scary moments, mostly with monsters, and instances of bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amari’s older brother (and hero), Quinton, has been missing for six months. He had graduated from high school, he had a job – or so he said – and then he just… disappeared. And it’s been affecting Amari’s school life, mostly because she just knows he’s not dead like everyone else assumes. And so when Quinton appears to her in a Wakeful Dream with a nomination to go to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs summer camp, she figures it’s the best way she has to find out what Really Happened. 

Once there, though, Amari discovers that she is a magician; one with a percentage of magic so high that it’s almost impossible. This brings attention to her, and not always the good kind. Additionally, she is trying out to be a Junior Agent in the Department of Supernatural investigations, which is where her brother worked before his disappearance, and she’s met with all sorts of pushback for wanting to be one of the Elite. And, to top it all off, the evil magician Moreau (yes, like in the Island of Dr…) has a nefarious plan to destroy the Bureau and have magicians take over, and wants Amari to join him. 

I think the marketing material is “Artemis Fowl” meets “Men in Black” but I think it’s more along the Percy Jackson lines. A girl, who doesn’t know her worth, finds a secret camp of people with similar powers, and comes into her own fighting a battle by the end of the book? Comparisons aside, this is a LOT of fun. I liked Amari, felt her struggles were real, glad she found some good friends along the way, and there was a satisfying ending as well as leaving things open for the next book in the series (which I immediately put on hold at the library). I think Alston is one of those writers who, like Riordan, has the potential to capture a whole generation (or two) of children’s imaginations. 

I can’t wait to read the next one!