The Door of No Return

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “There was even a time… many seasons ago… when our people were the sole supplier of the purest and most valuable gold in the world…”
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Release date: September 27, 2022
Content: There is some violence, some of which is kind of graphic. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this novel in verse, Alexander follows, Kofi, a young man in an African village in Western Africa. He has a good life: he goes to school and is being taught English, even though he doesn’t think he needs it. He has a girl he likes and a cousin with who he’s antagonistic. It’s not a bad life. Things start going badly when Kofi’s older brother accidentally kills the prince of a neighboring village in a contest. He didn’t mean to, he feels bad about it, but his village elders absolve him of any wrongdoing. But, the neighboring village doesn’t see things that way and eventually men from the village take Kofi and his brother hostage.

This is the first of a trilogy, following Kofi (I assume through his experiences. So, it’s slow to start. We get to know Kofi and his family and village, all the better to feel it when Kofi is captured. It’s historical, so you can guess that where Kofi ends up is on a slave ship. it’s laying the groundwork to show that those who were enslaved were people, with lives, dreams, and desires, and Alexander does a fantastic job showing that. It’s showing the slave trade as less simplistic, not to say that there are any White saviors here (there aren’t), but that it wasn’t as simple as White people kidnapping Africans and taking them from their home and family. LIke much of what Alexander does, it’s done excellently with short poems that are evocative so that a reader gets an emotional punch when Kofi is taken.

It’s excellent, but I wouldn’t expect anything else.

Bravely

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “This is a story about two gods and a girl”
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Content: There is some violence, a pretty intense fire scene, and a small amount of romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will admit that when I heard Maggie was going to write a book set in the world of Brave, that takes place after the movie, I was a bit skeptical. I mean Disney is a huge corporation, and corporate fiction isn’t always, well, good.

This book takes some time after the movie, and Dun Broch has gotten stagnant. When, on a Christmas Eve, merida captures the god of change and ruin, Feradach, at her house, she knows something bad is about to happen She makes a bargain with him and the Cailleach (the goddess of renewal): give her a year to get her family to change, and prove that they are worthy to be spared.

I shouldn’t have doubted: The journey Maggie takes readers on is amazing. Fllowing the seasons, as Merica and her family visit three other neighboring kingdoms, is full of heartbreak, laughter, and yes, change. Maggie explores the need for change, and the difference between natural, renewing change, and the destructive change that humans bring. Merida ries so hard to make Feradach into the “bad guy”, but he’s not. There is a balance to all things, and maggie explores that as well. Brave is one of my favorite movies, and to have a book that is set in this world and is so compelling and complex makes my heart sing.

I will read anything Maggie writes and I will proabably love it. So, I’m biased, but truthfully: this really is a great book.

Forging Silver Into Stars

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “This was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”
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Others in the series (sort-of; it’s a spinoff, but reading these helps):  A Curse So Dark and LonelyA Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Content: There is some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section grades 9+) of the bookstore.

So you know: this book picks up four years after the events in “A Vow So Bold and Deadly”. There will probably be spoilers for the first series.

Friends Jax and Callyn live in a small village, a few hours outside of the main city in Syhl Shallow. They’re just a blacksmith and a baker and are a bit wary of the idea of magic being in their country in the form of the king. so, when an opportunity to earn some silver ones their way, they jump at the chance. Little did they know they were getting into an organized insurrection, one that was determined to overthrow the king. There’s more to the story, one that involves Tycho, who is a friend of the king and a courier between Syhl Shallow and the neighboring country of Emberfall. There’s also some romance, betrayal, and a lot of riding horseback through the country.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t absolutely love it either. Kemmerer has a good storyteller, but maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this. Even so, i might be interested enough to finish the story when th enext book comes out.

The Honeys

by Ryan La Sala
First sentence: “My sister wakes me with a whisper.”
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Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and descriptions of sexual assault and rape. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Mars is a twin, the undesirable twin, the one who lives in the shadow of Caroline, the Chosen One. He/they is gender fluid, doesn’t quite fit the norms of the rich, societied life his parents set out for him. Especially when it comes ot the summer camp, Aspen. Mars had a falling out years ago at the camp, when he pushed back against the gender norms and roles at the camp and hasn’t been back since. So when his sister unexpectedly shows up in the middle of the night, crazy and delious, attempting to kill Mars and then dying herself, he knows something is up. And that something has to tdo with the Honeys.

The Honeys, as he finds out when he goes back to Aspen, are a clique of girls, set apart, yet welcoming to him. At first, seems heavenly, to be accepted and understood by people who also knew and loved Caroline. But the farther he gets in, the more sinister it becomes.

I really had no idea what to expect when starting this. There’s a lot about bees and the way the hive works (most of which I knew from reading The Bees). But it’s also about societal expectations and the ways in which conforming to those hurts individuals. I have a theory that the hive/honey is Capitalism, but it could also be greed and power, both of which teen girls, even white ones from weathly families, have little of. It’s a fascinating study of groupthink and the power of suggestion, and how sometimes good things go bad.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it’s a good book, one that will lead to fascinating discussions. I will be thinking about it for a while.

Aurora’s End

by aie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I am rarely surprised.”
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Others in the series: Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning
Content: There is some mild swearing, illusions to sex, and a lot more f-bombs than in the previous two books. They’re still in the YA section (grades 6-8) though maybe they should get moved?

Things I loved about the book:

The tagline on the cover. It really is about time. And Kaufman and Kristoff play with it so well.

The way all the pieces fit together, and the characters learned and grew and it just worked.

The fact that a bawled for the last s00 pages or so. They made me care about these characters and their fates and man, it was all just so satisfying.

I can’t wait to see what these two do together next They just create pure gold.

Gallant

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “The master of the house stands at the garden wall.”
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Release date: February 2, 2022
Review copy pilfered from the ARCs at work.
Content: There’s a lot of narration, and not a lot of external action. It’s mostly an internal book, which may turn off younger readers. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This book is many things. It’s about an orphan — Olivia — being summoned to her family’s home (a family she never knew she had). It’s about standing up for yourself, and finding a place in life. It’s about found family, and belonging. The plot is simple: Olivia is in an orphanage, and gets called home to Gallant — where there are secrets she has to uncover.

What it really is, at its heart, is a Gothic Novel. I din’t realize this while I read reading it; I just felt a vague sense of being unsettled while reading. It’s not gory, it’s not “spooky”. There are monsters, but they are shadows in the night, and you don’t really understand them. No, it wasn’t until I was helping my youngest with an assignment on Gothic novels, that I realized that Schwab has capitalized on a main element of the genre: an uncertainty on the part of her main character. She keeps Olivia in the dark to help build tension (and it works) and to give the climax that much more punch (and it works).

It’s a very, very good story told by a very, very good storyteller. I loved it.

Audio book: The Storyteller

by Dave Grohl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s very sweary. Very. Sweary. It’s in the Music section of the bookstore.

I listened to this in part because it has been getting lots and lots of good buzz, making end-of-year best-of books. I remember Nirvana (yeah, he’s the guy from Nirvana) getting big when I was in college, and listening to them a lot; I was into anything I could throw my body around on a dance floor too, and Nirvana fit the bill. But I wasn’t into them enough to know who the band members were. And yeah, I know about the Foo Fighters but I didn’t realize that their frontman was the same guy. But there’s also the pull of a celebrity memoir as read by the celebrity. I seriously love those.

This one completely lives up to the hype. Grohl is engaging as a, well, storyteller, giving the book a feeling of him sitting next to you, telling you the remarkable stories of his life. He has often been in the right places at the right times, and willing to take the chances he needs to take in rder to make the most of things. That’s not to say he doesn’t work for it as well: he is completely self-taught, practicing and practicing until he get thing “right” (the story of him playing Blackbird at the Ocsars demonstartes his work ethic really well).

But more than just being an enegaging storyteller, he’s telling really cool stories.It’s roughly chronologial, though it also bounces around, if he’s got a story to underline whatever point he’s trying to make at the time. Therewere many times when I went and watched videos on YouTube, just to see the story he was telling (like how the Come as You Are video was filmed washed out and hazy partially becase Cobain was tripped out on heroin, and how Grohl still can’t watch it to this day becuase it reminds him too much of the dark times and loss; or on a more upbeat note, the hilarious Fresh Pots). Grohl mostly keeps the book upbeat, but he does talk about Nirvana’s metoric rise to fame and how that affected everyone in the band, and the loss of Cobain, as well as Grohl’s best friend Jimmy. But, he recognizes he’s had a good life, and just wants to hare the good tiems and music with you.

In other words: I really quite loved this one.

The Heartbreak Bakery

by A. R. Capetta
First sentence: “The splintered crack of my egg of the counter sounds like an ending.”
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Content: There is talk of sex, and a couple of f-bombs with some mild swearing It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This book hits all my buttons: it’s a book about food and baking — Syd our main character, loves to bake as self-expression; it’s a book about Austin (which I really do love to visit); it’s a book about friendships and finding love; it’s a book that truly embraces the entire rainbow of LGBTQIAP+ life and culture.

The plot is simple: Syd goes through a bad breakup, and bakes heartbreak into brownies, which get sold at the bakery, and which cause everyone who eats them to break up. Syd, feeling guilty and miserable — the owners of the Proud Muffin bakery where Syd works are one of the couples — sets about with Harley, the delivery person at the bakery, setting things right. There are lessons Learned and Love along the way, along with a smattering of magical baked goods.

Syd doesn’t have pronouns, and identifies as agender, which to be honest, has made writing this really difficult. One doesn’t consider how much pronouns are a part of life until one tries to write a review not using them.

But the book is still cute and light and frothy, following the paces of a foody romance, with an LGBT+ spin. I did like that this one felt Queer in incredibly inclusive ways (I think the only cis/het characters were Syd’s parents); I felt like (as an outsider) that the whole rainbow was represented. As a baker, I love the idea of magical baking, and some of the recipes Capetta includes sound amazing.

I don’t think tis is going to be my favorite book this year, but I am so happy that a book like this exists in the world.

Cinderella is Dead

by Kalynn Bayron
First sentence: “Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years.”
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Content: There are illusions to domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In the kingdom of Lille, the story of Cinderella is not just a fairy tale, it’s fact. It’s the book by which every young woman is to live their life. Serve their family. Prepare for the ball, which happens every fall, where they are to be Chosen by one of the eligible men in the kingdom, and then live out their lives happily ever after. There are problems with this, of course: there are rules — curfews, limits on autonomy — that work to keep women and girls in line. Our main character, Sophia, isn’t interested in being chosen — she’s in love with another girl, which is strictly forbidden — and doesn’t want any part of the ball. Unfortunately, that’s not allowed. But, at the ball, she can’t take any more, so she runs off — which is a crime. She hides out in the woods, finds Cinderella’s mausoleum, and meets one of Cinderella’s only living descendants, and discovers the story that everyone in Lille is told is actually built upon a lie.

On the one hand, I’m always down for a new telling of a fairy tale. I adore retellings, and this one does have a unique spin. I liked that Sophia, in the end, was able to begin to fix the country — with help of course — and find her own version of happiness. What didn’t sit right with me was the way she got there. I didn’t like that all the men (except for the gay one) were complete assholes on one level or another. I get that you’re drilling down the misogynistic rules, but “not all men”? It sounds bad saying that, but that’s what I felt reading it. I also felt like Bayron felt she needed to have Sophia be gay because to have her in a hetero relationship would be Bad for the Message. (I just didn’t feel like this book was Queer in the way books written by LGBTQ+ authors are.) It’s not a bad book, but in the end, I didn’t love it.

When I Was the Greatest

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “‘Okay, I got one.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and talk of teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Allen — call him Ali — lives in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, and while it’s not the best place to grow up, it’s not the worst, either. He has a mom who works hard and cares a lot about Ali and his sister Jaz. And even though his dad is a bit of a loser, he also cares. The next-door neighbor kids — Needles and Noodles; Jazz game them the nicknames — not so much. They’re brothers, and Needles as Tourettes Syndrome, which makes Noodles simultaneously super protective and incredibly dismissive of his brother.

It’s basically a slice of life story; this is Ali and Noodles and Needles and their lives and interactions. The only conflict that happens is when they invite themselves to a party they are not suposed to be at, and then Needles’ has a spasm and inadvertantly starts a fight.

It’s not my favorite of Reynolds’ books, to say the least. I disliked his portaryal of Tourettes, and while i think he was trying to deal with acceptance of disabilites in the Black community, I think he fell short of the mark. It was good enough to finish, but not good enough to really like.