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.

Heartstopper Volume 4

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
Content: There is a handful of swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up almost immediately after Volume 3: Nick and Charlie are still in the first parts of a relationship, one where they love spending time together. It’s still summer, and Nick is going to go on vacation soon. But Charlie is anxious: he wants to tell Nick that he loves themhim, bu twonders if the timing is worng. Nick has his own concerns: he cares about Charlie, and has noticed that Charlie has issues about eating. It’s a lot to handle, and Nick isn’t sure what he should do.

This one covers a lot of time: from the initial few days and then the weeks that Nick is gone on vacation, it skips ahead: first to New Year’s Eve, where nick catches us up on the previous few months, and then to March, where Charlie takes his turn. It doesn’t have s solid resolution, but rather a very hopeful one.

I like that while this is a book full of queer people it’s not a book that dwells on its queerness, but rather its a fact of life. It was remarkably matter-of-fact about it all. Charlie and Nick have an incredibly healthy relationship, and it shows them dealing with problems and issues in a mostly healthy manner. It’s delightful andcute, and very resfresting. I adore this series, and can’t wait for volume 5!

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.

The Legend of Auntie Po

by Shing Yin Khor
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Content: There is a death, but nothing graphic. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mei bakes the pies for the loggers and workers in a camp in the Sierra Nevadas in 1885. Her father runs the kitchen, and the two of them make a good team. She’s happy enough, even though she’s Chinese and knows that she won’t have the same opportunities as her best friend Bee, who is white. That doesn’t stop her from trying to learn more, from telling stories of the legendary Auntie Po, and from being the best person she can be.

That makes it sound trite because this was a really solid graphic novel. I enjoyed the historical context, knowing that the conflicts that existed between the white people and the Chinese workers were real. But I also enjoyed the larger-than-life feel of it, as well. Is Auntie Po real? Did he help the loggers? Did Mei see her? I also thought the adult characters were pretty great from Hels the foreman to Hao, Mei’s dad.

A really solid book from Khor. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms

by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise, lettered by Oscar O. Jupiter
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Content: There is some bullying and a boy who won’t take no for an answer (though nothing “bad” happens). It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I’d say 5th grade and up would enjoy it.

Annie is smart, but has a problem: she’s often antagonistic and her high school counselor thinks she needs to join something to show colleges that she can actually work with other people. She suggests going out for the cheerleading team. Bebe is an out trans girl, the captain of the cheer squad, but her parents are unhappy with her grades. The two of them form a team: Annie will help Bebe with her grades, and Bebe will help Annie become, well, more likable.

I went in thinking this was going to be a “cheerleader” book – yes, I have some deeply ingrained biases against cheerleaders — but came away absolutely loving this one. I liked the diversity on the team, not just ethnicities, but also shapes and sizes. It defied the expectations that a cheerleader has to look one certain way. I also appreciated how the cheerleaders were allies — the book very subtly teaches allies how to be better ones — and accepting of Bebe. It’s a simple story, but there are complex emotions and the art is good at reflecting what the characters are feeling.

I hope there is more in this series; I would love to spend more time with these characters.

Audiobook: A Spindle Splintered

by Alix Harrow
Read by Amy Landon
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some mild drug use (marijuana) and a few f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Zinnia Gray is dying. She has known her whole life that she won’t live long past her 21st birthday, so as it arrives, she figures she is doomed. Her best friend, Charm, throws a Sleeping Beauty-themed party in a tower for Zinnia’s birthday. But a rip in the continuum opens up and Zinnia finds herself in the actual Sleeping Beauty story. Or at least one version of it. The princess’s name is Primrose, and Zinnia has disrupted the curse. Together they need to figure out how to break the curse and get Zinnia back to her world.

It sounds like a pretty basic fairy tale retelling, but I did appreciate Harrow slightly subverting it. Primrose is gay, which is why she doesn’t want to marry the boorish prince. The Wicked fairy is.. .not. The tale and everyone’s impending death/sleep can’t be changed. And yet, Harrow keeps the reader pulled in and intrigued in the story. It helps that Landon is a fabulous narrator, keeping me intrigued. It also helps that it’s a short read: only 4 hours– so I didn’t feel like Harrow padded the book with anything but the bare necessities.

All this to say that it was a delightful diversion, and an enjoyable listen.

Under the Whispering Door

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Patricia was crying.”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
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.

The Heartbreak Bakery

by A. R. Capetta
First sentence: “The splintered crack of my egg of the counter sounds like an ending.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition

by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some mention of sex. It’s in the Graphic Novel section in the bookstore.

It’s the 1960s, and Hazel has met and fallen in love with (over the course of four years) Mari. The problem, it’s the 1960s, and being a Black lesbian isn’t the most accepted thing. So Mari and Hazel break up, go their separate ways. And marry men, have children and grandchildren. But 50 years later, when Mari shows up back in Hazel’s life, they both realize that being true to who they really are is the choice they need to make. They get divorced from their husbands — their families aren’t terribly happy about that — and end up marrying each other, living out their days together.

I really appreciated a positive portrayal of Black lesbians. I appreciated the historical aspect of this: LGBTQ+ people have never had an easy time being out in public, and this was especially true in the past. I appreciated the positive portrayal of someone who was overweight her weight was never an issue, and it was something that contributed to making her beautiful.

I just didn’t particularly like the story. Perhaps it’s because I’m cis/het, but the whole story fell kind of flat for me. Let’s just say I wanted to like thi one more than I actually did.

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.