Super Fake Love Song

by David Yoon
First sentence: “Every superhero has an origin story.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing and in the older brother has a drinking problem. It’s in the YA section (grade 6-8) of the bookstore.

Sunny Dae (yes, that is meant to be punny) is a Nerd. Not only self-declared, but declared by the student body of his super rich California high school. Which is fine with Sunny. He and his friends Jamal and Milo have their own thing: a DIY FX YouTube channel for people who want to make their own cosplay outfits. It’s a perfectly fine existence, and aside from the fact that Sunny’s older brother Gray won’t talk to him and his parents are always working, one that Sunny is happy with.

Then Sunny meets Cirrus Soh, who accidentally thinks that Gray’s old room — full of guitars and “cool” things — is Sunny’s. And Sunny leans into that lie: yes, he plays guitar. Yes, he fronts a band. Yes, he’s “cool”. And all of a sudden, he has to make good on his lie. He ropes his friends into it, and gets the girl. The problem is: he’s kind of liking the “new Sunny” but he’s letting his friends down. Can he find a way to balance everything?

This book was super fun! Okay, so the romance part of this book wasn’t the best; Sunny and Cirrus were a bit forced and their romance never really felt real to me. What I did love, though, was Sunny. I loved his grappling with being nerdy and realizing that not everything or everyone fits neatly into boxes. I loved his family and their relationship to each other. For me, that was where the most interesting drama took place. I adored Milo and Jamal, and thought the three friends were brilliant together. And loved passages like this:

“My two best friends wore what they normally wore, which was to say a combination of low-performance joggers and blank polos that were so normcore, they went though dadcore and into weekend dadcore beyond.”

And this:

“The cynic would say Sunset [Boulevard] was like any other street in the godforsaken post-apocalyptic wonderland. But it wasn’t. It was a twenty-some-odd-mile-long serpent behemoth whose head had no idea what its tail was doing.”

No, it’s not brilliant fiction. But it is a lot of fun! And right now, that’s what really matters.

Audio book: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything

by Raquel Vasquez Gillliland
narrated by Inés del Castillo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including many f-bombs and description of sexual assault as well as almost-sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

It’s been three years since Sia’s mom disappeared in an ICE raid that sent her back to Mexico, a place where she had never been, having been brought to the US by her mother when she was young. Sia’s mom since disappeared, and was presumed to be dead. By everyone. So, for three years, Sia has been harboring grudge and aching for revenge on the sheriff who turned her mother in.

And… here’s where everything gets a little weird. I was enjoying this book about a girl who was dealing with her mother’s death, with the inherent racism in her town, with trying to keep her best friend together, with liking a new boy who just happens to turn out to be the estranged son of the sheriff. And then the book slants sideways and there are aliens? An Sia’s mom is not dead, but instead has spent the past three years being tested on in a secret government conspiracy? And it took half the book to get there?

I don’t know. I wanted to like this one more than I did. I adored the narrator; I think, in the end, she is what kept me listening (that, and I wanted to see just how far this alien thing would go) because I was annoyed. Annoyed that the jacket blurb gave away the aliens. Annoyed that they didn’t show up until halfway, and yet were so vital to the plot. Annoyed because it was a good book about a girl who was dealing with grief and loss and moving on, and all of a sudden: ALIENS AND YOUR MOM ISN’T DEAD.

I know there are people out there who liked this one. I’m just not one of them.

Return of the Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “Unlike others who claim to be well-informed, I am an eye-witness to the events I describe, and I write this history so that future scholars will not have to rely, as do so many staring into the past in my day, on secondhand memories passed down over the years, their details worn away by time and retelling.”
Suppor your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Thief, Queen of Attolia, King of Attolia, Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves
Content: It’s long, it’s political, and the characters are mostly adults. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore but only because that’s where the others are.

This book is really a book and a half. In the first part, we are introduced to Phares, the grandson of disgraced Baron Erondites (from King of Attolia), who is disfigured and mute, who is sent to live in the palace as the attendant to the King as a joke. Gen, however, sees through this ploy, and keeps Phares on, as he witnesses events that occur in both Conspiracy and Thick as Thieves. In many ways, this first part is to catch us up on what was going on in the palace while those books took place away from Attolia. And while it’s not a bad section, it does lack a plot — aside from the fate of Phares and more insight into Gen’s character — and the pace is slow.

The second part is where the book picks up and everything really begins. Costis (who left with Kamet at the end of Thick as Thieves) comes racing back to the palace with one message: the Medes have invaded over land. It is, in fact, war. And the rest of the book is Gen, Irene, Helen, and Sophos figuring out how to unify their three countries and head to war. Gen is Gen, and there are political maneuverings, and it’s a sweeping book as the countries try to fend off the invaders.

The book — the whole series really — is exploring the ideas of a small nation/state verses a larger one, and the ways politics play into it. It’s perfect for people who are interested in historical fiction, even if the “histories” in these books are not real. But, really: it’s the characters who are the most important part of these books. The way the are loyal to each other, the ways in which they betray and frustrate each other. It’s delightful winding our way through the world and even if her narrative is slow, it’s never uninteresting.

It’s not my favorite of the series, and I think it’s a good ending. She wrapped up most of the threads (to be honest: I was expecting something with the volcano, which never happened) that were hanging around throughout the series. I will miss having new stories in this world, but I am glad for the stories we do have.

The Queen’s Thief Series

I recently reread the series in anticipation of reading the new book (I figured I’d need a refresher). And then I thought I’d update my thoughts on each book. Plus: pretty covers!

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Original review (also reread review)
Content: There is some intense moments, and it gets a bit slow for impatient readers (I haven’t been able to convince any of my kids other than M to read these). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Quick thoughts: Ah, Gen. Seriously. I adore this one. And it works as a stand alone. Even if you don’t read the rest of the series. Read. This. One.

The Queen of Attolia
By Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “He was asleep, but woke at the sound of the key turning in the lock.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Original review
Content: There is some graphic(ish) violence and trauma. It’s in the YA section (Grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Quick thoughts: I think I liked this better this time around. I didn’t remember hardly anything about it, and the trauma happened much earlier than I thought it did. I don’t know if I buy the love story part, but it’s not gushy. It’s very plain, an aside to the actual story — how Eddis can end the war(s) she didn’t mean to start, and how the countries of Attolia and Eddis (and Sounis) can keep the Medes off their shore. It’s a political book, but one in which people are underestimated and use that to their advantage. That said, I found myself unable to put it down.

The King of Attolia
First sentence: “The queen waited.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there
Original review
Content: There is some violence, and it’s long. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

The thing that struck me this time around is that Turner tried to make the reader believe — as the Attolians did — that Gen was a fop and a waste as a king. It really is about Gen coming to accept his role as king — a throwaway line the Eddis ambassador says to the queen: “He didn’t marry you so he could become king. He became king so he could marry you.” While this is Gen’s story, it’s also Costis’s — how his derision of the king (the book opens with Costis punching Gen in the face) turns into loyalty, respect, and love. Turner masterfully gives us just enough information for us to guess at what is going on, without it seeming obvious. It really is a delight rereading these.

A Conspiracy of Kings
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: ““The king of Attolia was passing through his city, on his way to the port to greet ambassadors newly arrived from distant parts of the world.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Original review
Content: Like the others, it’s very dense and political. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I knew this was more Sophos’ story than Gen’s, but I had forgotten how much. The thing is: the plot blurb on the back isn’t correct. It’s 1/3 Sophos’ telling the Queen of Eddis the story of his year after being kidnapped (which happened during the King of Attolia, if I remember right; there’s a brief mention of it in passing), a little more than 1/3 of Sophos being re-acclimated to royal life and the compromise swearing loyalty to Gen as Attolis. And then the last bit is Sophos becoming king in his own right. It’s political and twisty, with lots of machinations and back-handed dealing. And it’s brilliant. Really. I love the subtle details: how the book switched from first person to third person and back. And the small things, like the way Turner uses names. And, at the center of it all, sits Gen, who is wonderful and infuriating, and definitely worth swearing fealty to. I liked this one the first go-around, and I still think the first half of this series is stronger, but I found myself enjoying this one all the more for having read the others in quick succession.

Thick as Thieves
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence:  “It was midday and the passageway quiet and cool.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Original review
Content: The main character is an adult, and there is some violence. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

This one is the outlier of the series. Gen is really not there for most of it, with the main character being the slave of a former Mede ambassador (back in The Queen of Attolia). He was a minor character there, so it might seem, at first, a bit weird to have a book entirely from his perspective. But. He’s a fascinating character and over the course of the book his relationship with “the Attolian” (from The King of Attolia) grows. It’s an interesting narrative all the way through, but it’s the end that really makes this one worth it.

All this to say, if you haven’t given this series a try, you really should!

Audiobook: Instant Karma

by Marissa Meyer
Read by: Rebecca Soler
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some kissing, and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore (though it’s LONG and may turn off some of the less enthusiastic readers).

Prue Daniels is one of those students who is always on top of things. Punctual, efficient, responsible. Her lab partner, Quint Erickson, is not. Which absolutely infuriates Prue. And so, when they get a C on their end-of-the-year biology project, Prue is LIVID. She wants a redo. But, Quint is not letting her get one. Except, through a series of weird coincidences (including a sudden mystical ability of Prue’s to give instant karma — both good and bad) Prue ends up volunteering at the Sea Animal Rescue Center that Quint’s mom runs. Which gives her ample opportunity to convince Quint to redo their project.

But what starts out as a simple thing to get a better grade slowly turns into a passion of Prue’s. And maybe, just maybe, Quint isn’t that bad either.

Oh this was cute! At first, Prue was a bit insufferable, but she grew on me over time, and I really enjoyed her dynamic with Quint. I also enjoyed that this was about MORE than a romance (which I didn’t mind; it was cute). Meyer went heavy on the environmentalism and the animals are wonderful, and I didn’t mind that at all. It added a layer to the story and made it more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

And the narrator? She was amazing. I might have liked this well enough reading it, but I LOVED it listening to Soler read it. She absolutely made this book for me. She made it absolutely delightful.

Definitely worth reading.

Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn
First sentence: “The police officer’s body goes blurry, then sharpens again.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is mild swearing, and six f-bombs. There is also some violence and kissing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d hand it to younger kids who like epic fantasies.

Bree has wanted to get out of her small North Carolina town, and has seen the Early College program and the University of North Carolina as her ticket out. However at the start of the program, she is dealing with the grief from her mother’s death in a car accident, which puts her in a very precarious emotional state. So when, at a party, she starts seeing things — supernatural things — she doesn’t know what to think. Is it real? Is it a hallucination?

Then (after a brief run-in with the dean) she is assigned a peer mentor, Nick. Who happens to be part of this super-secret (all-white) society of magical beings whose job is to protect humanity from the Demons. Bree starts on a path, where she comes to realize that there was a lot more to her mother — and to Bree, herself — than she ever knew.

The question is what will she do with the knowledge she has now?

Oh, this was so good. Seriously worth the hype it was getting. I loved the world that Deonn created, riffing off the Arthurian legend in some really fascinating ways. I was fascinated by the way race and class came into play, and how magic wasn’t limited to just this one society. I liked how Bree disrupted the narrative of this society. Plus the budding romance between her and Nick was amazing. It was some solid storytelling, weaving grief and loss with magic and romance. There have been some comparisons to Cassie Clare, but this is SO much better.

I can’t wait to read the next installment!

Furia

by Yamile Saied Méndez
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including two f-bombs, and some suggestive content. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camila Hassan has a lot going on in her life. On the one hand, she’s a dutiful daughter of an abusive father, going to school and learning English in her Argentinian town. On the other hand, she’s la Furia: an fútbolera, playing soccer with all her heart. The thing is: she’s got talent on the pitch. And the team she plays on has made the Sudiamericano championships. Camila wants — with all her heart — to follow the dream she has of playing soccer professionally. Possibly in the United States, even.

Complicating things (abusive an sexist father aside), her childhood friend (and possible boyfriend?) Diego is back in town after a successful season with a professional Italian soccer team. He’s the sweetheart of the barrio, and Camila doesn’t even know if he remembers her, let alone wants to have a long-distance relationship.

This is not just an excellent portrait of an ambitious girl striving to make the most out of her life in a place where the decks are stacked against her. Which it is; I loved how Méndez included race and colorism as well as sexism as part of the story, highlighting all the various things influencing Camila’s life and decisions.

It’s also a swoon-worthy romance, but one in which the relationship isn’t the main focus of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed having it be a part of the book, but not the main focus. On top of everything, I think Méndez is a fantastic writer and definitely one to watch. I’m looking forward to reading more books from her.

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
First sentence: “Umi gave birth to me”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Amal Shamal was growing up in New York City, attending a school specializing in art. He had friends. And, yes, he had a temper. But, one fateful night, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up starting a fight with a white boy. A fight that ended — Amal didn’t end it — with the white boy in a coma in the hospital. And Amal ended up in prison for something he didn’t do.

It’s a quick(ish) read, but a heavy one. Based somewhat on Salaam’s experience (he was part of the Exonerated 5), this is mostly a story of how Shamal gets through the hell that is prison. He’s technically in juvenile prison, but even in there it’s a lot less hope and a lot more despair. The book is Amal fighting against the expectations of the (white) world, trying to find a space for himself and his art. Trying to find hope and a will to go on in the face of oppressive and systemic racism.

If you think that prison is a good thing, that it keeps criminals and “thugs” off the street, this is a book you need to read. It drives home that the prison system (and by extension, the justice system) is not only flawed, it’s racist and corrupt. And it’s erasing futures.

Definitely a must-read.

Audio book: Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
Read by  Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a scene of sexual assault and one of almost-rape. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic, where her father — who lives in the US — vists every summer. Yahaira Rios lives in the US with her parents, except every summer her father goes to the Dominican Republic for “work”. And then, one fatal day, the plane that their father is on crashes into the ocean, killing everyone on board.

What follows is a story of loss, of grief, of forgiveness, of finding. Told in verse — and beautifully narrated by Acevedo and Marte — it follows the two months after the plane crash, as Camino and Yahaira find out about each other, and come to terms with their beloved papi’s other family, and find their way through their grief in the aftermath of a tragic accident.

Acevedo brilliantly captures not only the grief, but the differences between growing up in the US and growing up in the DR, and the challenges that each one brings. I loved the way both Camino and Yahaira had things they loved about their father, but they also had to come to terms with his deception and imperfections.

Truly an amazing book.

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.