Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim
First sentence: “The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt, and regret.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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 Summer of Lost Letters

by Hanna Reynolds
First sentence: “I am going to try to explain.”
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Content: There is some teenage drinking and a few swear words including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Abby Shoenberg isn’t really looking forward to the summer — her best friends will be gone away to camps and she doesn’t want to bump into her now ex-boyfriend around their small Massachusetts town. Then a package of her recently passed grandmother’s letters arrives, and they’re juicy: a series of love letters from an Edward on Nantucket island. The thing is: her grandmother — who came to the US by herself in 1934 before the War, and whose parents didn’t survive the Holocaust — never mentioned this Edward, or that she had ever spent any time on Nantucket. And suddenly, Abby has a plan for the summer: find a job and go live on Nantucket, and do some digging. Maybe she could find not only this Edward but her grandmother’s family: with the war and being so young, she had completely lost track of everyone, especially after finding out her parents were killed.

The thing is: Edward is the head of a very rich business family, with a huge estate on Nantucket, and Abby finds herself reluctantly getting the assistance o his grandson, Nick. And the more they find out, the more time they spend together, the closer they become.

Oh this was just the smart, sweet, interesting teen romance I needed. I liked that while it dovetailed into World War II, it wasn’t set there, and while the war had an impact on the story, I’ m not sure it was the most important impact. I liked that the characters were Jewish, comfortable in their faith, but also honest about antisemitism. I liked the romance; Reynolds has a way with writing chemistry and tension, and I liked the push and pull between Nick and Abby. It felt real. I also liked Abby’s obsession with learning her history; she is right that our ancestors stories mean something, even if they are not always the best or most honorable.

It was an excellent YA romance, fluffy and fun but with depth as well. I loved it.

A Constellation of Roses

by Miranda Asebedo
First sentence: “My hand slips into the woman’s gaping purse like it’s my own.”
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Content: There is some teenage drinking, talk of addiction, and three f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Trix has been on her own for a while ever since her mother walked out on her. They weren’t exactly living in the best circumstances, wandering from hotel to hotel while Trix’s mom tried to scrape together money to keep them alive (and feed her addiction). Since she disappeared, Trix has been stealing and moving trying to stay alive. That is until the police catch up to her and give her an ultimatum: jail time or move in with an aunt Trix didn’t know she had in a small town in Kansas, and graduate. Trix takes the deal and heads to Rocksaw, Kansas to learn about this family she didn’t know she had.

It’s an adjustment: small-town life versus city life, a family, people who want her to participate instead of run away, and Trix isn’t always successful at making the adjustment.

It’s a sweet little book; the magic realism was light enough that it didn’t bother me, and I appreciated the way Asebeo revealed Trix’s and her mother’s past. It highlighted the good things about small towns, like how everyone cares a lot about each other (which can also be stifling). But mostly it’s a sweet little family drama about forgiveness, and one I liked a lot.

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.

Blackout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

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.

Stormbreak

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The fire crawling through Lir’s veins had started hours ago and was only getting worse.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Instructions for Dancing

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “Books don’t work their magic on me anymore.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 1, 2021
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some mention of teen drinking and mentions of sex. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore when it comes out.

Evie is done with love. Ever since she caught her dad cheating on her mom (and then the subsequent divorce and his pending remarriage), she has determined that love — especially as seen in romance books — is a sham. No one stays happily ever after forever.

And then Evie is gifted with the ability to see couples past, present, and future. This just solidifies her belief: every couple ends in heartbreak. Then she is drawn to a dance studio, gets roped into competing in an amateur ballroom competition, and meets X. It’s got her rethinking love, but in the end: is loving someone worth the inevitable heartbreak?

I have loved Yoon’s books in the past, and this is no exception. She perfectly blends fluff romance (and y’all: X is hot!) with deeper questions about life and relationships. And it’s not just romantic relationships: Evie’s ups and downs with her friends and her family — including her father — are just as important as the budding relationship with X. I loved the deeper end of the book, as Evie struggles with forgiveness and acceptance. But I also loved the fluff: Yoon is very good at writing chemistry, and Evie and X getting to know each other was absolutely delightful.

Very much another excellent book by Yoon.

Mister Impossible

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “When they came to kill the Zed, it was a nice day.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.