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.

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.

Under the Whispering Door

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Patricia was crying.”
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Content: There is some mild swearing and talk of death. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Wallace is a partner in his own law firm, successful, powerful, demanding. He is not well-liked, but that doesn’t bother him. He is determined to milk the most out of his employees and works twice as hard as he demands they do. And yet, one weekend, he finds himself strangely outside his body. That’s odd, but what is even odder is when he finds himself at his own funeral, and the only person who can see him is a woman who calls herself his Reaper. That sets Wallace on a very interesting path as he lands at Charon’s Crossing Tea and Pastries with Mei, the Reapers, and Hugo, the ferryman. Wallace sets about trying to figure out his (after)life, and learning how to live and love better than he did when he was alive.

Oh, my heart. I picked this one up when it came out in October and I have been just waiting to have a chance to sit and savor it. And it was just as wonderful — heartfelt, funny, poignant, bittersweet — as I was hoping it would be. Seriously: if you haven’t given Klune’s books a try, do. His storytelling is incredibly affirming, and you can’t help but be happier having read them. I loved his vision of the Afterlife, of what it means to come to grips with your life and death, and just the overall love and care he put into this story.

I will most definitely be reading everything he writes from here on out.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1, Volume 1

by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
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Content: Aside from it being a manga, which is kind of tricky to learn to read, there’s nothing. It’s in the manga section of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Urano is a college student who loves books. Loves them so much that she surrounds herself with them. And, unfortunately, that is her downfall: she dies in a book-related accident. And then wakes up, reincarnated into 5 year old Myne, as a peasant in a world with a low literacy rate. It becomes Urano/Myne’s goal to find a book, and when she can’t find one, to make one.

My youngest told me that I would really like this manga series, and she’s right: it’s bookish, it’s cute, it’s fun. And unlike other isekai manga, this one is centered on a girl with a goal is really quite fun. I adored the fish-out-of-water aspect as Urano tries to figure out how to operate in this new world and body. And her focus on inding and then making a book is completely relatable.

So, yes, I have picked up the next few volumes of this one. I have found a magna that I like!

King and the Dragonflies

by Kacen Callender
First sentence: “The dragonflies live down by the bayou, but there’s no way to know which one’s my brother.”
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Content: There is some parental abuse, and kids run away. It’s in the middle grade section of the bookstore.

King’s brother Khalid recently died, and he and his parents are struggling to adjust to the new reality. It doesn’t help that King things his brother has come back as a dragonfly. And that his old good friend, Sandy, has come out as gay. In their small, conservative Louisiana town, and with Sandy’s abusive father as sheriff, that doesn’t bode well. Not for Sandy and not for anyone who wants to be his friend.

King spends the book coming to terms with both his brother’s death and with Sandy’s revelation (and the realization that he might be gay as well). It’s a quiet book, but it’s captivating. Callender is a phenomanal writer, and the feelings and emotions they invoke are incredible. They capture not only grief but friendship and parents struggling to do what they think is best. It’s a journey, one that is not readily summarized in a plot, but that is incredibly moving all the same.

Definitely deserving of the National Book Award it won, and highly recommended.

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.”
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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.

Dear Universe

by Florence Gonsalves
First sentence: “You know that moment when it happens?”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, teen drinking, and talk of teen sex (though none actual). It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Chamomile (call her Cham, please) is a senior at the Gill School, a private school she transferred to after she got kicked out of public school in 8th grade for fighting. She has friends, she has a boyfriend — Gene Wolf, track star and super cute — and everything is Perfect.

Except it’s not, because her father is in denial about his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and doesn’t want anyone to know. So Cham is trying to keep her worlds separate. Of course, that doesn’t work terribly well. Which puts her two worlds on a collision course.

I didn’t dislike this book; I thought Gonsalves balanced the “sick parent” (and “stressed parent” — Cham’s mother is the sole wage earner and is also trying to take care of Cham’s dad mostly alone) with “high school ending” pretty well. I even kind of liked Cham and her attempts to be “normal” by obsessing about sex and prom and spending time with her friends.

But. (And you knew there was a but.) I don’t know. None of the characters had hardly any physical descriptions – Cham had “frizzy” hair, her friend Abigail was a bit overweight and could dance, Brandon had a “man bun” — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone what white. I’m not sure I would have noticed that a few months ago, but I did now. And it bugged me. (I get that authors do this so that people could see themselves, but my default is white, so there you go.) It bugged me that she wouldn’t tell her friends about her dad’s illness. Are they really your friends, then? It was little things like that (like school ended in April for seniors. Really?) that pulled me out of the story.

I guess I just wanted to like it more than I did, and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I hoped.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

by Cynthia Hand
First sentence: “The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It would be in the Christmas section if we carried it, but I’d also shelve it in the YA section (grades 6-8).

Holly Chase is dead. She was the recipient of “Project Scrooge” — which is based on A Christmas Carol, going around and finding callous individuals who need redemption — and failed. Miserably. She didn’t believe it was real, she didn’t believe she would die (granted: she wasn’t quite 17), and she ignored all the warnings. And ended up dead.

Now she works for Project Scrooge as The Ghost of Christmas Past. For the past five years, she’s stayed 17, and gone into peoples’ memories, searching for moments of good that could change them. But this year is different. The target is Ethan Worthington III who has a lot of similarities to Holly (and is super attractive too!): they both can pinpoint their increasing materialism and callousness to the point when they lost a parent.

I’m going to leave the rest of the story for you to find out. It was incredibly enjoyable; I liked how Hand echoed the Dickens book without coping it outright. It’s not a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but more a riff on it. Which makes all the difference. I enjoyed Holly as a character, even when she was being a brat, and Hand genuinely surprised me with the direction the story took.

An excellent addition to the world of Christmas books. Maybe not an instant classic, but very, very good.

Gideon the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
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Content: It’s violent and it’s sweary (including many f-bombs). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

So, this one is hard to describe. The short pitch is lesbian necromancers in space, though that doesn’t really begin to touch on what really goes on in this book. The slightly longer version is that Gideon is an orphan raised by the Ninth House, which (in this world) is tasked with guarding the Locked Tomb for the Undying Emperor. However, when the heirs to each of the nine houses are called to the emperor to compete to be one of his Hands, Gideon is dragged along as the cavalier to Harrowhawk, the Ninth heir, into a world of intrigue.

But that doesn’t even give you a glimpse into the total awesomeness that is Gideon the Ninth. Not just the book, either: Gideon the character is so very awesome. Full of snark and sass and grit and just plain awesomeness, she’s a marvel. And I adore the relationship that grows between her and Harrow. Muir is a marvel of a writer, and the world that she has built is unique and brilliant and wild.

I can’t wait for the rest of this trilogy.

The Toll

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “There was no warning.”
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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.