The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “I sing the city”
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Content: There is violence, including sexual assault, and many f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this universe, cities are alive, not just in the metaphorical sense but literally. There is a “birth” that results in the city being embodied in a person. Sometimes this doesn’t work — New Orleans was a stillbirth, for example — but mostly it does. Except: in the case of New York City, something has gone awry. It’s not a stillbirth, but it’s not alive, yet.

So the city adapts: five other people wake up, one for each borough. Their purpose is to get together, work together, and wake up New York as a whole. But, they meet unexpected problems in the form of an alien entity that is trying to stop this city from ever becoming alive.

Oh, my word this was so good. I think I liked it better than her Broken Earth trilogy. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s got a Neil Gaiman feel to it. And I adored the characters as well as the way Jemisin played with race and New York stereotypes in the book. It as a joy to read, one that I plowed through incredibly quickly. And while it stands well on its own, I am fascinated to see where Jemisin takes it with the sequels.

White Smoke

by Tiffany D. Jackson
First sentence: “Ah. There you are.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs and some teenage marijuana usage. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Marigold is looking for a fresh start. Or, at least that’s what she tells herself. She, her brother, her mother, and her stepdad and step-sister are headed away from California, away from Mari’s mistakes and moving to Cedarville for a fresh start. It doesn’t hurt that her mom got a residency there, with free housing. Except: Cedarville isn’t that great of a place. There’s something… off about it. Mari’s hearing sounds in the house. There are smells, and things go missing. Not to mention that every. single. other. house in the neighborhood is boarded up and decrepit looking. It’s all… very, very weird.

I think the mileage on this one depends on how horror-savvy you are. I’m not, so I found it spooky and intimidating and atmospheric. And I had to put it down often just to drop my anxiety levels. But, I suppose if you are the sort of person who likes horror and reads/watches it often, this one might not have the same effect. I did like that Jackson was exploring the idea of gentrification ad the impact it has on the (mostly black and poor) community. I also liked that she talked about unfair incarceration because of drug laws, and how those laws fall differently for black and white people. This horror story has some meat to it.

And then there’s the ending. Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s kind of abrupt and weird. I wonder if there’s a sequel, because so much is unresolved. Or if Jackson meant it to be that way. At any rate, I found it a fun enough ride.

Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim
First sentence: “The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt, and regret.”
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Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Shiori is the only Princess of the Kiata kingdom, the youngest of seven children of the Emperor. She’s basically a good kid, except she has a secret: she is magic. Which is a big deal in a world where magic has been banned. Oh, and she does NOT want to marry the person she is betrothed to. But when she discovers a secret about her stepmother, her six brothers are turned into cranes and Shiori is cursed: for every sound she utters, one of her brothers will die. She is then sent to the farthest reaches of the kingdom, and she has to find her brothers as well as her way back home. Along the way, help comes from the unlikeliest of sources: the same betrothed she was trying so hard to avoid marrying.

I’ve seen Lim’s work around; one of the teens in the teen review group at the store really liked her Spin the Dawn. And I have to admit: Lim has a way with fairy tales. It’s a grand fantasy, with dragons and magic and villains and double crossing, but it’s also, at its heart, a fairy tale, where the main character has growth and learns her lessons and all ends up happily ever after (mostly). Lim was able to keep me turning pages, pulling me in with her storytelling. It wasn’t heavy-handed, and I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns it took (though I did suspect a few things, but I think we were supposed to). It was a really good story, and one where I am curious to see where it goes from here.

Maybe I’ll even go back and read her other duology, too.

Flash Fire

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Nicky, yes,‘ Seth Gray groaned, and Nick had never been prouder of himself in his entire life.”
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Others in the series: The Extraordinaries
Content: There is a lot of talk about sex (a lot!) and being horny, but no actual. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but might be uncomfortable for some in that age group.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

Picking up a few months after The Extraordinaries left off, Seth and Nick are in a happy, healthy relationship. Seth has embraced his role as Pyro Storm, and Nick is trying to figure out how to control his powers. Things are looking good, and it feels like the only major decision they will have to make is what to wear to Prom.

But, of course, things are not meant to be easy for our heroes. There are some new extraordinaries in town, some of which may be good, but others… not so much. And, of course, Nick and Seth and Gibby and Jazz are going to have to deal with things that are way out of their league.

I think Klune is my new favorite writer! there is something about his writing and his storytelling that just makes me smile. It deals with serious issues — there are bis in here about police brutality as well as being open to admitting, owning, and rectifying one’s mistakes. I love that there are supportive adults in the book, that the kids are allowed to (mostly) be kids. It’s a joy to read and laugh with. It helps that Klune is brilliant at writing all sorts of relationships, as well as action scenes (important in a superhero book!).

I am definitely glad I picked up his books this year. I can’t wait for the next one!


The Extraordinaries

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Audio book: One Last Stop

by Case McQuiston
Read by Natalie Naudus
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Stormbreak

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The fire crawling through Lir’s veins had started hours ago and was only getting worse.”
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Others in the series: Seafire, Steel Tide
Content: There is a lot of violence, some graphic, and some off-screen implied sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Steel Tide, obviously.

Caldonia has defeated the evil overlord Alric, though her arch nemesis, Lir, has gotten away. She has opened her city to Bullets if they want to detox from their drug, Silt. She is doing well, all things considered. But, Lir is not letting it go, and attacks Caldonia’s city setting her on the run, again. She needs to end this once and for all, reclaim the Bullet Seas, stop the reign of terror. But will her plan work?

There really isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t been said about the series as a whole. It’s got a ton of action, and Caldonia is making tough choices for her crew and fleet. It’s amazing seeing a woman command the role of commander so fully and so easily; she has a crisis of conscience now and again, but she never doubts that she is the one in charge. And her crew and followers support her. It’s incredible to read.

Parker is great a writing action, as well. The battle scenes are packed and the whole book kept interesting in continuing reading. I enjoyed that it wasn’t just Caldonia who got character arcs, but rather that her whole crew felt real.

It’s really a good series.

Mister Impossible

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “When they came to kill the Zed, it was a nice day.”
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Others in the series: Call Down the Hawk
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs.It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I saw a virtual event last fall for Swamp Thing in which Maggie said that writing a graphic novel helped her writing overall, made it tighter and more streamlined. And that it affected the way Mister Impossible was written. And you know what? She’s right. Mister Impossible is a tight, streamlined ride. There is action and tension and mystery and reveals, and maybe she’s not all up in the feels with Ronan and Adam, but it all works. In fact, I would say that this one, while it’s the middle in a series, is one of her best books, overall. (Not my favorite, but definitely one of the best.)

I’m not going to go into the plot because spoilers, but know this: it’s a great book. It’s full of Stiefvater-ness (chapter 13! So many little turns of phrases here and there!) and I love the magical world she’s built. And there’s really no “bad” guy — just competing good intentions. What does one do when your good intention is in conflict with someone else’s?

And the end? Let’s just say that waiting for the last book in this trilogy is going to be agonizing.

I love Maggie’s work, yes, but this one? This one is truly excellent.

Otto P. Nudd

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “‘Otto, you’re splendid,’ mumbled Bartleby Doyle.”
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Full disclosure: the author is a friend of a friend, and I am friends wtih her on social media.
Content: The font is pretty large and there are illustrations on every chapter header. There is some talk about parent deaths. it’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Otto considers himself a Very Intelligent Bird. He was raised in captivity by Bartleby Doyle, but the Old Man (as Otto calls him) has let Otto go free, to make a nest nearby. Otto still comes and helps Bartleby with his inventions, but he really just wants to make sure the neighborhood is in order. This means he’s not very nice to the other birds and animals. However, when Bartleby has an accident, and Otto can’t get in the house to push the emergency button, Otto is forced to turn to the “lesser” birds and animals in the neighborhood to help him out.

I am sure there is some animal-loving second- or third-grader out there who is just perfect for this book. Butler has a very chatty style and is often very humorous in spots. Otto — and Marla the squirrel and Pippa the girl – is an interesting character to hang with for a while, and there is a very delightful birds vs. raccoons skirmish at the end. The book has a nice lesson about making amnends and resitution for wrongs (even if it is just hurt feelings).

But this just didn’t rise above the level of “just fine” for me. And I get it: I am definitely not the target audience. (And, to be honest, I wasn’t when I was in third grade, either.) That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. It’s just not one for me.

Namesake

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “My first dive was followed by my first drink of rye.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Fable
Content: There are a couple of mild swear words and some insinuations to off-screen sex. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Fable, obviously.

Fable has been kidnapped by Zola, a merchant/mercenary and rival to both her father, Saint, and her lover, West. It turns out she’s been kidnapped for one reason: as a ransom for Zola to gain favor with Holland, the most powerful trader in the Unnamed Sea. But, as in Fable, everyone is playing a long game, and nothing is as it seemed. And so Fable and West find themselves as pawns in a game they don’t quite understand but have to read.

Much like Fable, this is a lot of fun. I liked the world that Young has built, with its ships and traders and gems and dredgers and a very very slight bit of magic. I liked that Fable was able to hold her own against people more powerful than she (except the end, in which people come in and save her, which was slightly disappointing). I didn’t get much in the way of the romance that was so central to the story — and I kept getting annoyed that West would go out of his way to “protect” Fable, when she really didn’t need it. IN the end, though, they worked better as a team. I do like Young’s world building though, and I wouldn’t mind following other stories set here.

In the end, it was fun, which is really all I wanted out of this one.