by Liz Lawson and Kathleen Glasgow Read by Sophie Amoss, Holly Linneman & Mehr Dudeja Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Or listen at Libro.fm Release date: May 30, 2023 Others in the series: The Agathas Content: There is some mild swearing, talk of out-of-wedlock babies, violence (both domestic and other), and talk of murder. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.
Spoilers for the first one, kind of.
Iris and Alice have developed a pretty solid friendship since solving Brooke’s murder four months ago. Their parents and Alice’s old friends don’t really understand it, but it’s harmless, as long as they refrain from solving any other crimes. But at the winter dance, which takes place at the Levy Castle, Alice stumbles upon another crime: Rebecca Kennedy lying in a pool of her own blood, with Helen Park standing over her. While Rebecca’s not dead, she’s severely injured enough to not say what happened, but the evidence is clear: Park stabbed her. Right?
Well, Alice and Iris think the police are wrong (again) and take it upon themselves to figure out what happened. It takes them on a twisty path involving family (there’s a genealogy project that lurks in the background), old movie stars, the things people will do for money and fame, and will test the bounds of both Iris’ and Alice’s parents.
I liked The Agathas, but I think this one is better. I liked the twisty mystery, and how all these disparate parts come together in the end. And while there were twists and turns, I never felt like anything was out of left field. Lawson and Glasgow are good plotters, dropping enough hints and foreshadowing that nothing felt out of place.
And the narrators were fantastic. They all kept me engaged, helped me figure out who was who and kept the mystery from getting sluggish. This is a smart, fun series – who doesn’t love a couple of kids outsmarting the cops and figuring out mysteries? I’m here these as long as Lawson and Glasgow want to write them.
by J. Ryan Stradal Read by Aspen Vincent Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Or listen at Libro.fm Content: There was some mild swearing (maybe one or two f-bombs?) and a lot of death/hardship and mention of abuse. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.
In northern Minnesota, there’s a restaurant – the Lakeside Supper Club – that has been family owned for nearly a century. It’s managed to stay open in the face of unhappiness on the part of the owners, meddling kids, and upstart chain restaurants. Sure, it could use a bit of a facelift, but it still has that down-home, family quality to it that it had when it opened all those years before. This is the story of some of those owners, and how the last one, in a long line, came to sell it.
Sure, it’s about more than that: it’s about making choices and having the freedom to make choices. It’s about parent-child relationships, and how those shape our lives. It’s about owning a small business in the ever-encroaching world of fast food and chain restaurants. It’s about life in Minnesota. It does follow several generations of characters, through time, as they make their choices and mistakes – and I came to realize that they were happier having chosen the restaurant rather than having it forced upon them. Maybe that’s a metaphor for life?
The narrator was fantastic, and I enjoyed every minute of listening to her read this book. I don’t know if I want to go out and read another Stradal book (though several of my coworkers love his stuff), but I liked this one quite a bit.
by Alyson Derrick Read by Natalie Naudus Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Or listen at Libro.fm Content: There is homophobia, overt racism, mention of teenage drinking, and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.
Stevie and Nora are in love. They have been secretly dating for two years – secretly because they live in a conservative town, in conservative families, who – they know – would kick them out for being gay. So, they date in secret and have made a plan to get out and go to California, so they can live together, out in the open.
But, as they were together in the woods one day, Stevie has a bad fall, with a bad head injury, and after two weeks in an induced coma, she woke up with no memories of the past two years. Which means she has no memory of her relationship with Nora.
When I first started listening to this one I thought it was super contrived: who loses just two years of their memories? But the more I listened, the more I got it. Derrick is exploring some interesting things here. Like: if you were acculturated to believe you were straight, and forgot about your discovery of your sexuality, will you be straight or gay? It’s gay, of course, but I thought it was fascinating how Derrick got there after the accident. Also: I felt so much for Nora – the one person who knew everything, and yet couldn’t say anything. I also found it interesting the way Derrick portrayed the parents. Stevie’s dad is a Fox-news watching mechanic, so I formed Opinions about him. He didn’t do much to refute that, until the end. I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s there. It was a fascinating exploration.
It helped that Naudus is an excellent narrator, keeping me engaged and propelling the story forward. This one would be a good book for a book group; there’s a lot to think about and discuss here. And I quite liked it.
by Holly Black First sentence: “A passerby discovered a toddler sitting on the chilly concrete of an alley, playing with the wrapper of a cat-food container.” Others in the series: The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, The Queen of Nothing Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: There is some disturbing violence, child abuse, and swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.
Wren thought she was a mortal, until the day when her faerie parents came an violently took her from her mortal family. From there, they kept her in the Court of Teeth, abusing her and trying to make her as vicious as she was. But, she escaped back to the mortal world, prefering to live in the forest, scrounging for food, and breaking faerie spells instead. That is, until the heir of Elfhame, Oak, comes to ask Wren’s help going north to the Court of Teeth to overthrow her mother and rescue his father.
Of course, their quest isn’t that simple. There is a lot of mistrust and backstabbing, and some close calls, and some very tense moments. Black is not afraid to hurt or kill off characters, and there were moments that I was genuinely worried about Wren and Oak. And then the end… let’s just say, well, now I’m going to have to read the next book.
I’ll venture to say that no one understands the fae with all their charms and vicious nature, and no one writes better faerie books than she does. And this is an excellent addition to the Elfhame books.
Lost in Taiwan by Mark Crilley Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Release date: May 23, 2023 Content: There are some intense moments and the untranslated Chinese might deter some readers. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.
Paul has been sent by his father to live with his older brother, Theo, in Taiwan for a couple of weeks. It’s the last place Paul wants to be, and he’s more than content to spend it on Theo’s couch, playing video games. But then Theo leaves on an overnight trip, and Paul is alone. An online friend convinces Paul to go find an exclusive device, and Paul sets out with his phone’s GPS. He walks through winding streets and open fields, but when he gets to the store, he drops his phone in a puddle and is now stuck, somewhere in the city, with no way of getting back. Thankfully, he met a Taiwanese girl who did a study abroad in England and can speak English. They set off on an adventure to try and find Theo’s apartment. It takes all day, and on the way Paul learns that 1) putting the games down and getting off the couch is a good thing and 2) maybe his view of the world is pretty narrow.
It’s another beautifully drawn graphic novel from Crilley, and in this one, he manages to tackle both American exceptionalism and the beauty of Taiwan. It’s a fun read, not only for kids but for anyone who wants to experience what a day in Taiwan might look like.
The Faint of Heart by Kerilynn Wilson Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Release date: June 13, 2023 Content: There are some disturbing themes in this one. It will be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.
At some point in the future (in this world at least), “The Scientist” has discovered a way for people to remove their hearts and numb them, thereby making them immune to all emotions. Pretty much everyone has done this, except for June. She clings to her heart, because she wants to feel, and wants to continue to draw. But, the pressure mounts, and her parents decide that June needs to go through the procedure. June fakes it though, wandering around the city, and finds a heart in a jar. This sets off a chain of events that will lead June to change the future.
This was such a gorgeously drawn book. It was the art that drew me to it in the first place. I liked the use of black and white, with June being the only pop of color. But the story was odd. Yes, I know it was all metaphorical, and it was an exploration of why we need feelings and art and why solely relying on our unemotional analytical side is not a great way to live. But I did get hung up on people living WITHOUT THEIR HEARTS. How did they function? How did the blood go through their bodies? I couldn’t let that go while I was reading.
Which may be a me problem, actually. Otherwise, it’s really good.
A-Okay by Jarad Greene Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: It’s a very “middle school” book, with crushes and friendship issues. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.
Jay is starting 8th grade with a face full of acne. This is a problem, mostly b because he is very self-conscious of his looks, and he thinks that his friends won’t like him anymore. He tried everything, but nothing seemed to work until he goes to a dermatologist and got on a heavy course of medication. The only problem is that it gives him mood swings and makes him sweat a bunch. On top of that, his best friend is more interested in hanging out with his new band members and Jay feels alone. He tries to make new friends, but it doesn’t go terribly well. And one more thing: he’s just not interested in a couple of his classmates the way they are in him.
I liked that this book dealt not only with the way boys feel about their appearance but also with the lack of feelings of attraction to people. I think there are more of these coming out now, normalizing not “liking people”, which I really appreciate. It’s not a really great graphic novel, but it is a good one, and one that I think kids will find valuable.
The Flamingo by Guojing Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: there are very few words, so this works as a beginning chapter book, a picture book, or a graphic novel. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it can definitely go younger.
The simple story of a city girl who goes to visit her grandmother in an unnamed (but presumably Asian) country. They spend days on the beach, and at night, her grandmother telles==s her the story of how she came to have a flamingo wing. It’s a simple story, one that is meant to delight as well as entertain, and when the girl returns home to the city, she draws the flamingo adventure for her grandmother.
There is not much to this book, but man, it was absolutely gorgeous. The art is so so evocative, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters from the girl and her grandmother to the flamingo. It’s absolutely stunning.
Living with Viola by Rosena Fung Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: It talks pretty frankly about anxiety, and implies suicidal thoughts. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.
Olivia is a sixth grader, and her parents have transferred her to a new school, one with a better reputation so she can get a better education, which means starting completely over. That’s shared enough, but Livvy has pretty bad anxiety, which she personifies as “Viola” Sometimes Livvy can keep Viola at bay, but often Viola becomes so big that it’s overwhelming. Livvy does make new friends, but there are friendship struggles and struggles with her immigrant parents as well as with her extended family. Overarching it all is Viola, and her insistence that Livvy is just no good.
This is an excellent graphic novel for a couple of reasons. First, it’s great that it shows anxiety as something “other” – it was a little weird to get used to at first, but eventually, I did. I think it’s beneficial because kids will realize that anxiety is not “them” but something outside of their control. At least by themselves. At the end of the book, Livvy goes to see a therapist who gives her some tools to help keep Viola at bay better. The book doesn’t get into medication, but it does provide hope that anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed or afraid of. I liked that Livvy felt like a sixth grader, aught between friends who want to “grow up” and Livvy wanting to carry around her cute plush unicorn. That pretty well sums up sixth grade. I also enjoyed Fug’s exploration of Livvy’s Cantonese heritage, from the microaggressions of kids at school (why does your food smell, why don’t you speak Chinese) to Fung choosing to make every time a character speaks in Cantonese in red. It’s a clever, good, well-drawn graphic novel and I enjoyed it quite a lot.
Button Pusher by Tyler Page Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: There is some domestic violence, as Tyler’s dad has a temper. There are also allusions to swearing (but they are @#!!). It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.
In this graphic memoir (sort of), Page relates his history of having ADHD during his childhood, and his path to his parents not only getting him diagnosed but also the ups and downs of medication. There is also family drama: Tyler’s dad has an explosive temper and is pretty misogynistic towards Tyler’s mom (and his boys, too, really). Page doesn’t sugarcoat the contention at home, and even recalls the times when his mother had had enough and wanted to leave (but chickened out). There is a lot of “it gets better” in this book as well, as Page is looking back on his childhood.
It’s well-drawn, and I liked that Page spent time trying to explain what ADHD is, and how the brain of a person with ADHD works (and doesn’t work). It may be a bit advanced for kids, but I found it fascinating. And I think the purpose of the book is to not only try and illustrate what a kid with ADHD looks like (though, as Page notes near the end, it’s different for everyone), and to create awareness. I don’t think the problems at home had much to do with the ADHD (except maybe Page’s dad was undiagnosed? I felt like he was bipolar, but that’s me being an armchair doctor), but Page was trying to be as honest as possible about his childhood. A really good graphic novel, though maybe not as much for kids as it is for their caregivers.
by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson First sentence: “Alice Ogilvie is crazy.” Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there. Content: There is some swearing, including 3 F-bombs, some mention of teenage drinking, drug use, and sexual activity.
Alice Ogilvie is persona non grata in Castle Cove: last summer, she disappeared for five days. Everyone in town panicked and sent out searches for her. And then she reappeared, much to everyone’s chagrin, and refused to talk about her summer. She’s trying to get back into school – after being on house arrest for two months – and is failing at it.
Iris is trying to get her and her mother away from her abusive dad. This means she needs money. So, when the school counselor hirs her to be a tutor to Alice, she’s a little wary, but needs the $3,000 enough to take it on. But when Alice’s former best friend, Brooke, goes missing and then turns up dead, Alise is determined to get to the bottom of it. Iris is just along for the ride, and for the reward money. The question is: can two teenage girls figure out the mystery?
If you can’t tell from the title: this is really a straight-up murder mystery, the kind Agatha Christie used to write. It hits all the mystery beats: a dead body, a falsely accused person, and so on. And it did it all really well. I liked the voices of Alice and Iris, and the way the story was told through both of their eyes. I liked that the mystery was just high enugh stakes that I woudl fl a sense of danger when Alice and Iris get into questionable situatons It’s a strong story ad a fun one. Definitely recommended.
by Ryan La Sala First sentence: “My sister wakes me with a whisper.” Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! 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.
by Xochitl Gonzalez Read by: Almarie Guerra, Armando Riesco & Inés del Castillo Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Or listen at Libro.fm Content: There is a lot of sex, on-screen and off, a lot of f-bombs and swearing, and one (implied) rape scene. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.
Oh, this one is a hard book to sum up. Olga is a 40-year-old, single, wedding planner whose mother left the family when Olga was 13. Her older brother, Prieto, is a congressman for their Brooklyn district, and a closeted gay man. They’re basically trying to survive and deal with both the gap and the shadow that their revolutionary mother has created. It’s a process – Olga dealing with latent trauma and working with the ultra-rich, and she hits a breaking point when Hurricane Maria hits. As does Prieto. It’s very much a sibling book, a growing up book, a making your own way out of the shadow of your parent’s expectations book.
That doesn’t begin to cover the book, or how it held me spellbound, especially on audio. It was smart, interesting, informative (I did learn a bunch about Puerto Rico’s history), and fascinating. The narrators were all excellent, and I was completely engrossed in the story. I had feelings about the characters, and I wanted to spend more time with them (Mateo is really the best). An excellent book and one I’m glad I took a chance on.
by Lisa Fipps First sentence: “I step down into the pool.” Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! Content: It’s in verse, so good for reluctant readers. Though her mother is… not great.. which may be triggering for some. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.
This is a book about Ellie. Ellie, who has been called “splash” since her 5th birthday party, when her older sister christened her that, after a huge cannonball into the pool. Ellie, who is bullied mercilessly at school by, well, pretty much everyone. Ellie, whose mother is constantly nagging Ellie about what she eats, how much she weighs, and lamenting that Ellie’s life would be better if she was just, well thinner.
This is a book about Ellie learning — through the help of a therapist (yay!) — that she has worth as a human being, no matter what she weighs; that she can stand up for herself at school and to her mom; and that true friends will have your back always.
Oh my heart, I loved this book. I loved Fipps poetry, the way she made Ellie three-dimensional as a character, though everyone else from teachers and kids at school to her siblings and mom (except her dad; there’s probably a whole essay on why it was her mom that was always picking on her weight and not her dad) kept trying to define her by how she looked. It says so much about society that we can’t see fat people as anything but “fat”, and not as people, and I think Fipps hits upon that. It’s always age appropriate — Ellie is in 7th grade, and she feels like a 7th grader — but Fipps is dealing with bullying, self-acceptance and self-love, and confidence no matter what “people” say about you.
It’s an incredibly rewarding book, which I thoroughly loved.