Tarnished Are the Stars

by Rosiee Thor
First sentence: “There was nothing quite like the first tick of a new heart.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some death — but not violent death — and some romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s the future, and Earth has become inhabitable for reasons unnamed. A group of settlers have made it to a new world — Earth Adjacent — and have put up a settlement there. The Queen is still orbiting the world in the “Tower”, but the ruler of the earth is the Commissioner, who has issues with technology. So a splinter group of settlers have moved out to a hidden city, determined to use tech, mostly because they need it to survive. Something is making hearts stop working.

Enter Anna, the settlement’s most wanted criminal: The Technician. She defies the Commissioner’s edicts, in order to help people survive. And then one day, she runs across the Commissioner’s son, Nathaniel, who has a TICCER — an artificial heart — just like she does. That opens up a whole world of questions. Which only get more complicated when Emma, the Queen’s personal spy — arrives from the Tower, in order to marry Nathaniel and carry out the Queen’s will.

I started listening to this one on audio, and it was a complete fail. I just didn’t like the narrator, and there were enough moving parts that I couldn’t keep it in my head. Note to self: I don’t do fantasy on audio well (this isn’t my first fantasy audio fail). That said, I was interested enough in the story to pick up the physical book and finish it. And… it’s not bad. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of romance, and that the focus of the relationships were friendship and family. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, but it didn’t take away from the clever premise of a new world and what it takes to settle and populate one. And hooray — it was a stand-alone! I appreciate that Thor was able to wrap the story up in one book.

I solid debut, I think.

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
First sentence: “The Royal Astrologer, Baphen, squinted at the star chart and tried not to flinch when it seemed sure the youngest prince of Elfhame was about to be dropped on his royal head.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Others in the series: The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King
Content: There’s a lot of violence, some mild swearing, and one tasteful sex scene. It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Before I get started: if you are one of those sorts of people who like to wait until the whole series is done, then now is a good time to read this. It’s the final one in this trilogy, and it wraps the story up beautifully.

If you’ve been reading this series as it comes out, this is more of the lush yet fierce storytelling that Black has given us in the past two books. It feels tighter than the other ones; it comes in under 300 pages, and doesn’t have many side trips. Jude — who has been exiled by her husband, the High King Cardan — gets into faerie, nominally to save Taryn from the inquest involving her husband’s murder (which was brushed over… maybe Black will write a book about Taryn sometime; she turned out to be more interesting than I originally thought), but ends up in the middle of the court politics as her faerie foster father Madoc challenges Cardan for the crown.

It’s a compelling story, as Jude tries to stay a step ahead of the magic and Madoc and her feelings for Cardan, and it’s a tight ending to a fantastic trilogy. I loved the ending that Black came up with; it fits with the characters and was satisfying enough that when I finished I didn’t feel like she cheated me out of something. It’s a gorgeous trilogy and I will definitely miss spending time with Jude and Cardan and their friends and family.

Call Down the Hawk

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “This is going to be a story about the Lynch brothers.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence (and a pretty high body count) and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Some non-spoilery things about Call Down the Hawk:

  1. You don’t have to have read the Raven Cycle to enjoy this one. (But why haven’t you?)
  2. It’s very much a first in a series book. There’s a LOT of set up, which takes most of the book, as Stiefvater lays down the groundwork to this world that’s similar to, but more expanded than, the one in the Raven Cycle.
  3. Which means she’s introduced new elements into the Dreamer world. It’s made it a more realistic source of magic, I think.
  4. She promised adventure, and by the end, there is tension and suspense and adventure.
  5. Ronan-and-Adam are fine, if not physically together.
  6. My favorite pages are 253-255.
  7. Her writing is So. Damn. Beautiful. Even when writing about horrible things.
  8. I liked the new characters — especially Hennessey and Jordan.
  9. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind spending a whole book with Ronan (I was a bit worried about that) and I really liked Declan. A lot. He was always probably not a prick, but Ronan just thought he was so readers did too.
  10. I’m curious to see where the next one goes.

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi
First sentence: “If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some violence against women, some inference to sex, and drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Fabiola has just arrived in America from Haiti, nominally because she and her mother are finally joining her mother’s sister and family. Fab’s Aunt Jo has failing health and her mom is going to come take care of everyone. Except that the last time Fab’s mom was in America — when Fabiola was born — she overstayed her visa. So, she was flagged at customs and now is in detention, and so Fabiola has to face her aunt and cousins — whom she’s never actually met, though they’ve talked on the phone — and the new and scary America alone.

It’s not an easy transition; although Fab has been going to an English private school in Haiti, that’s not the same as a private school in Detroit. And she has to deal with the cultural differences between Haiti and America. And it doesn’t help that her cousin Donna’s boyfriend is a drug dealer, and a cop has approached Fab in order to get information.

It’s a tough book to read — I had to read in small snippets, and I was never fully immersed, but I admit this is not a book that reflects my life. That said, I think Zoboi did a remarkable job capturing the difficulties that not just immigrants face but class divisions and the things that people do just to stay afloat. The family connections that come up between friends, and the ways in which people — no, black people — who are struggling will keep an eye out for each other because there just isn’t anyone else. There’s a lot here about racism and class, and immigrants, and family. There’s a slight bit of magical realism; Fab practices Vodou, and I’m glad that Zoboi included that because it’s nothing like the representations I’ve been exposed to (yeah, in the movies). I appreciated that education.

I’ve read Zoboi’s other books, but had never read this one, and I’m glad I have now. It’s excellent.

The Toll

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “There was no warning.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Scythe, Thunderhead
Content: It’s very violent, but much of it is mass violence, which somehow doesn’t have the same impact (for me) on the page as it does on the screen. There is one f-bomb and some mild swearing.

Spoilers for the first two, obviously. If you haven’t read this series yet, you NEED to.

I’m going to try and do this with minimal spoilers for The Toll. It’s not easy. Especially since there’s SO MUCH going on in this one.

Endura has sunk and Citra and Rowan with it; the Thunderhead is only talking to Greyson, which makes him a “prophet” for the Tonists; Goddard has taken over as Overblade of the whole Merican continent, except for the Lone Start state; Faraday and Munira think they have found where the “fail safe” that the original scythes created is being housed. I think that’s it.

From there, though, this book winds its way through multiple timelines — sometimes I felt like I needed a chart to help put all the events in relation to each other. Sometimes I lost track of what was happening when. It was a lot to keep track of.

But, I think Shusterman juggles all his balls really effectively. He really is a master of revealing just enough information at just the right time in order for you to put all the pieces together just before he reveals what you just put together. It’s a good ending, too: he wraps up all the plot lines (even though K thinks it was a bit silly) and did one in such a way that made me tear up.

And because all good science fiction is a commentary on real life, this one has shades of what it would be like to live under a narcissistic dictator with unlimited power and funds. And the ways in which the public reacts (or doesn’t react) to that. It’s illuminating. And about halfway through I realized the brilliance of the title as well.. (Not going to spell that one out for you; you have to figure it out.)

It’s a solid ending to a fantastic series.

10 Blind Dates

by Ashely Elston
First sentence: “Are you sure you won’t come with us?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is kissing and some inference to sex (but none actual). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Sophie’s parents are off to take care of her older sister as she’s bedridden with pregnancy issues, which means Sophie gets the run of the house over Christmas break. She’s supposed to be in Shreveport with her grandparents (and huge Sicilian family), but what she really wants to do is hang out with her boyfriend, Griffin. That is, until she overhears him saying he wants to break up with her.

So, she takes off for Shreveport, and once there her Nonna hatches a plan: 10 blind dates, each set up by a different member of the family, in between December 21st and 31st. Sophie may not find her perfect man, but it will at least take her mind off of Griffin, right?

This book is, at turns, super hilarious (oh my goodness, some of these dates!) and super sweet (okay, so the boy next door, Wes, holds a lot of appeal). But what I loved best about it was that Elston caught the huge family dynamic super well. They were loud and somewhat oppressive, but super supportive of Sophie and just a really great family overall. I loved the way the cousins and aunts and uncles all bounced off each other, had fun with each other, and humiliated and loved each other in turn. It was sweet and wonderful and made a very very cute YA romance that much better.

A great Christmas romance. Or anytime romance.

The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
First sentence: “They stand in line for blood.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 1, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, and some talk of sexual assault and affairs. It will probably be in the Teen section (grades 9+) for more “mature” themes than the YA section usually holds.

The one thing that Sepetys does better than any other person writing historical fiction out there is finding the stories underneath the major events, and focusing in on what the decisions of dictators – in this case, General Francisco Franco of Spain — have done to ordinary people. (Well, she did write one book that didn’t head in that direction, but go with me here.) She looks at the lives of the peasants — in this case Ana and her siblings, who were children of people involved in the resistance during the Spanish Civil War — and how the strict rules and the fear effect their daily lives.

It’s 1957, and Ana has gotten a job at the Castellana Hilton, a posh hotel that has opened up in hopes that Americans will go to Madrid on vacation. One such American is Daniel, the son of a Dallas oil tycoon, who would much rather be a photojournalist than go into the oil business. They strike up a friendship (romance?) as David looks into the hidden worlds under then shine that is the Castellana Hilton.

There’s more going on than that in this book: Sepetys touches on the kidnapping of children — the government would take newborns away from parents, and tell them that their children had died soon after birth — and on the general fear that the Guardia Civil inspired in the population. It’s a lot for one book, but Sepetys handles it all without letting it overwhelm the more personal stories of the book.

Very highly recommended, like all of her books.