Sky in the Deep

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “”They’re coming.'”
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Content: There’s violence, off-screen sex (a brief mention), and a couple of mild swear words. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

Eelyn was raised to be a warrior: her people, the Aska, have had a generations-long feud with a neighboring clan, the Riki, where they meet in battle to honor this feud (which, to be honest, didn’t make much sense?). Eeyln lost her brother in the last battle, five years ago, and has mourned him ever since. Except in this battle, she sees something she didn’t think she would: her brother, alive, fighting alongside the Riki. It shakes Eelyn to her core, and is part of the reason why she ends up captured by the Riki and taken prisoner/hostage/slave. However, there is a larger threat — a bigger, more vicious tribe to the north — and it’s up to Eelyn to put aside her pride and help join the Aska and the Riki for their own survival.

I liked this well enough. I enjoyed the Norse-ish elements, and the world that Young has created. She’s not great at the romance, though: this is a problem with all the books I’ve read by her (which is almost all of them, now). She tries to do a slow build up, enemies to lovers here, but it really just comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden characters are kissing and professing undying love, and I’m like: where did this come from? But that’s just me.

And that’s really my only complaint. I liked the book as a whole. It was a fun, quick read, and Young is a talented world-builder. It’s worth checking out.

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger
First sentence: “
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Content: There are a couple instances of mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’s appropriate for younger readers, if they’re not turned off by the length.

Ellie is an Apache living in an alternative Texas where there are monsters, fairy rings to travel in, and she can raise ghosts. It’s an old family gift, and they only use it to raise the ghosts of dead animals. More specifically, for Ellie, the ghost of her beloved dog, Kirby. When her cousin, Trevor, appears to her in a dream saying that he’s been murdered, Ellie takes it upon herself to go down to the town where Trevor is and try and figure out what happened. However, there are secrets in Willowbee. Ones that could put Ellie and everyone she holds dear in danger.

I really liked the premise of this one: ghosts and monsters and vampires and fairies all superimposed on the current United State, plus a murder mystery? Yes! However, this one lost me when it just couldn’t figure out who the audience is. Ellie is seventeen, but she acts like a 13 year old. It feels like a middle grade book: illustrations, short chapters, simpler language. The only reason Ellie is 17, I feel, is so she can drive. There’s no romance, the swearing is pretty mild… it’s not really the YA that YA readers have come to expect. But, it’s also not really a middle grade book, either.

I did finish it, and it was a good story with a decent ending. But, it’s not one of my favorites.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

by Douglas Adams
First sentence: “This time there would be no witnesses.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (though it may not be in print anymore?)
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It would be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section if we had it at the bookstore.

Dougas Adams, I have decided, does not really do plot. I mean, really: what Is the plot of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the the Galaxy? Right? So, to say that Dirk Gently doesn’t have much of a plot, but rather Stuff Happens is pretty on par for Adams. It’s Enjoyable Stuff. Sometimes it’s even Funny Stuff. But it’s not Plot.

There are characters — Richard McDuff (who is our Arthur Dent in this book), Dirk Gently (the holistic detective who specializes in believing the impossible), Reg (the forgetful old Cambridge professor with a Secret), Gordon Way (who really just is the reason to try and have a Plot), and his sister Susan (and the girlfriend of Richard, who really doesn’t do anything). There’s an Electric Monk, too. But he’s not really of much importance.

I spent the book thinking — now that I’ve read a lot more Pratchett than when I first read Adams — that Pratchett does what Adams was trying to do — societal satire with witty observations and quirky characters — but a whole lot better. For one thing, Pratchett’s books have a Plot. But, in talking to Russell, he pointed out that it’s probably because Adams was a radio guy. He came up with Sketches (how influenced was he by Monty Python?), and maybe there was an over-arching story, but what he really wanted was a clever idea and a punchline. Which is what this book is. A clever idea — of the Holistic Detective Agency that investigates, well, Weird Phenomena — and a bunch of sketches that were sometimes funny.

Still. It’s not a bad way to pass some time.

Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler
First sentence: “I had my recurring dream last night.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, some frank talk about sex and rape, and some mild swearing (with one or two f-bombs). It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

It’s 2024 and the world has gone to hell. Climate change, drugs gone rampant, violence due to poverty and desperation, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives with her father, step-mother and three-half brothers in a walled and gated community that isn’t rich, but is surviving pretty well. Lauren’s biggest obstacle is her hyperempathy — a condition that allows her to feel and experience another’s pain if she sees it — which makes her extremely vulnerable. And then, as the years and book goes one, things get worse. Lauren finds herself in the open, trying to survive the growing chaos, and finds, among other things, a birth a of a new faith.

I remember reading an Octavia Butler ages and ages ago, or at least trying it. I wasn’t successful. I’m not sure which one it was, but it just didn’t connect with it. But this one? Maybe it was the time — it begins basically in our present — and my awareness of our current political situation, but this felt not just like fiction, but, well, prophecy. It’s less about the characters, though I did care about them and what happened to them, and more about the way the characters interact with the world. It’s a survivalist tale, it’s a dystopian — though it’s in the early stages of being a dystopian — it’s a book about trusting each other and yet not making oneself vulnerable. It was disturbing, thought-provoking, harsh, brutal, and very very hard to put down. I went out and picked up the sequel because I need to now how this story ends.

I’m so very glad I read it.

Cemetery Boys

by Aiden Thomas
First sentence: “Yadriel wasn’t technically trespassing because he’d lived in the cemetery his whole life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and some violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yadriel is a trans Latinx boy and a member of a family of brujx. It took him a while to come out as trans, and make the transition, and as a result, some of his extended family have resisted him becoming a brujo like he was meant to be. So he decides to go through the ceremony in secret… and inadvertently raises the ghost of Julian Diaz, a kid from Yadriel’s school. Except that Julian really shouldn’t be dead. And Yadriel’s cousin Miguel has gone missing as well.

So Yadriel and Julian team up to figure out what’s going on. And in the process, Yadriel hopes that her family will accept him as a full-fledged brujo.

I liked thine one a lot. I liked it for the representation; Thomas is a transgender Latinx and I thought the traditions and language came through seamlessly. I loved the push-and-pull between Yadriel and Julian and I adored Yadriel’s cousin Maritza. I liked the mystery, even if I guessed it a bit before Thomas revealed it. And I liked that it was centered around Dia de los Muertos.

I didn’t love the chemistry between Yadrial and Julian, and the ending kind of threw me off. It was fine and all, but kind of felt like fan service rather than true to the story, but that’s just the way I reacted. It’s a really good book, and not justs for the representation.

Down Comes the Night

by Allison Saft
First sentence: “Wren had never seen a worse radial fracture.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some medical gore, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The neighboring countries of Danu and Vesria have been at war for centuries. So much so, that it has decimated the population, and wrecked the economies of both countries. The current queen of Danu was forced by the parliament to accept an uneasy truce, and so when soldiers on the border between the countries go missing, the uneasy truce seems ready to collapse.

Wren is the bastard niece of the queen, and all she has wanted to was to be useful. Thankfully, she has healing magic, and, because she also takes a scientific approach to medicine, she is one of the best in Danu. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really made the queen like her anymore. So after a quick series of events that leaves Wren even more on the outs with the queen, she ends up in another neighboring country (that doesn’t have magic, but has technology) commissioned to heal a patient. Except, that patient is the Reaper of Vesria, Hal Cavendish, and someone that Wren’s queen would love to capture. Which side of Wren is going to win out: the one that needs the queen’s approval, or the compassionate healer?

This one was recommended to me by a customer who shares the same taste in books as I do. And, I really enjoyed it for the most part. When I was about halfway through I described it as a cross between Leigh Bardugo and Mexican Gothic, and it was. There was good creepy plus magic, and I thought it would dissolve into full-on Gothic weird horror. But, Saft didn’t go there. There was a lot of good in the second half of the book, especially between Wren and Hal, but it pulled back and became a (admittedly good) treatise on the futility of war. Which isn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted from where the first half of the book was taking me.

Even so: it’s a good book and a standalone (though I suppose we could have more adventures of Wren and Hal), which is always refreshing. A solid debut.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Oh dear,’ Linus Baker said, wiping sweat from his brow.”
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Content: There are several mild swear words and some illusions to abuse. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section but I’d give it to any kid who doesn’t mind reading about a couple of 40-something men.

Sometimes, you hear about a book for a while before it really seeps into your head that you ought to read it. This was one of those books. I’d seen it around the store — maybe not in hardcover, but definitely in paperback in December. I have to admit it was the cover that first drew me in (well, that and hearing about it on bookish Instagram) but eventually I heard about it enough that I picked it up on a whim. (Read: I needed to shelf a couple of books and there wasn’t enough space, so I bought this one to make space. Bookseller side effects,)

The plot isn’t really what the book’s about: Linus Baker, a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, spends his days observing the orphanages that DICOMY has set up to take care of, well, magical youth. He observes the conditions these children are in, and makes his objective recommendations. And then he gets assigned an orphanage with highly classified children out in the middle of nowhere (on an island in the sea, actually). And once Linus has meet Arthur Parnassus, the headmaster, and his six wars, his life will never be the same.

This has all the charm of a Pratchett novel with a heavy Arthur Dent-ish vibe. It was so so so delightful, Watching Linus come out of his shell.. The children. Oh, the children. Silly, hilarious sentences, but with the underlying point: we are all children, we should all be valued for what we are rather than what society wants to see us. It’s got deep themes, but at its heart, this is a deeply, wonderfully, happy, joyful book.

And I am so so glad I finally read it.

When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller
First sentence: “I can turn invisible.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few heavy subjects, like a loss of a parent. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore if it hadn’t won the Newbery. As such, it’s in the Newbery section of the bookstore.

Lily has always been the quiet one in her family. It’s her older sister, Sam, that is loud and opinionated and always in trouble with their mom. But when their halmoni (their grandma) gets sick and the sisters and their mom move in with her to help, things change. Lily is convinced — by a magical tiger — that her halmoni stole something from the tigers god and if Lily just gave it back, her halmoni would get better.

This is such a lovely little book. A testament to the power of stories and passing those stories on. And not just book stories, but the stories of family, of Home (whether it be spiritual or ancestral). There are no stories that shouldn’t be told; even the sad ones have merit. It’s also a sweet book about family connection, surviving loss, and being strong and brave and what that means. Plus, it’s incredibly well-written and feels just perfect; not a single word or scene that’s out of place.

Definitely earned that Newbery it won. Excellent.

The Bees

by Laline Paull
First sentence: “The old orchard stood besieged.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is exactly one swear word used. There is some graphic violence, but nature is graphic, I guess. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Flora 717 isn’t your normal, average sanitation worker bee. She can speak, for one, and she’s incredibly curious. So, she breaks the norms of the hive and instead of working in sanitation, drearily cleaning up after more important bees, she goes to take on the jobs of several other of the kin clans, working in the nursery, serving the male drones, foraging for pollen and nectar, and even serving the Queen herself.

This book was simultaneously really really weird — anthropomorphizing bees is not something I’d ever think needed to be done — and also really really compelling. I was fascinated by the way that Paull depicted the hive (do bees really act like that? — not the speaking and everything, but the actions — How much, exactly, is rooted in science and observation?) and the interactions between Flora and the different classes of bees. For not a lot happening — it basically follows Flora through the year of her life (how long do bees live, anyway?) — it was incredibly captivating to read about.

Weird as all get out, though.

When I was telling the family about it, they mentioned that it sounds a lot like Watership Down and I think that’s a super apt comparison. Which is also a pretty good marker for whether or not you’d like a book about an odd little bee in a beehive.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down fro the moutnains and sneak under the lather and fur of my jacket.”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely, A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Content: There are two sex scenes, both off-screen. And there is a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Things look bleak for our characters: Grey is in Syhl Shallow, trying to convince them that he’s not going to turn traitor and kill the armies when they march on Emberfall. Lia Mara is trying to find a balance between having her people respect but not fear her, and still maintain control. Rhen feels increasingly like he’s pinned into a corner by Lilith, the enchantress who initially cursed him. And Harper’s just trying to forgive Rhen (or at least move past) for imprisoning and beating Grey. As the two countries head toward war, everything looks like it’s going to come crashing down around everyone.

This was a really good conclusion to a series that started out as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It became something much more: a treatise on violence and when it’s warranted, and the choices that we make because we feel we have to or are forced to. I did enjoy spending time with the characters, and while I didn’t necessarily find it swoon-worthy, it was fun. Which is all you need, sometimes.

It’s a good, solid series, and now that all three are out, there’s reason not to read them.