Pumpkinheads

by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
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Content: It’s a friendship story and a little bit of romance, but it’s more sweet than anything. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 6-8th graders, if they were interested.

I picked this up because of the authors, and because it looks, well, cute. And it definitely lived up to that: Josiah and Deja are “seasonal best friends”: every fall, they work at the local pumpkin patch attraction through Halloween. They’ve been working in the succotash barn since freshman year, enjoying time together. Except Josiah has always gone on about the “Fudge Shop Girl” that he’s had a seasonal crush on every year. This year is different: it’s the last night of their their last fall; next year they’re off to college and won’t be able to work the pumpkin patch. So Deja decides: Josiah is going to talk to the Fudge Shop girl, and let her know how he feels.

Except, things get derailed: everyone is moved around, and Josiah and Deja spend the evening taking in the pumpkin patch for the last time as they reminisce about their years at the pumpkin patch.

It’s homey and sweet and cute and just a warm pumpkin spice hug of a book. Nothing spectacular (except that Deja is not your typical rom-com lead: she’s black and tall and not slim at all!) but it is charming. And worth picking up.

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Red, White & Royal Blue

by Casey McQuiston
First sentence: “On the White House roof, tucked into a corner of the Promenade, there’s a bit of loose paneling right on the edge of the Solarium.”
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Content: There’s lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some tasteful sex scenes. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

The 30-second pitch for this one? In an alternate reality, a woman has become President, and her 21-year-old son has fallen in love with Prince Henry (not Harry…) of England. Of course they keep it secret for a while, of course there are bumps and fights, and highs and lots of steamy kisses in cloakrooms. Of course this creates an international incident (sort-of, but not really) and of course this is super fluff.

It’s fun and smart super fluff though. I enjoyed Alex and Henry’s relationship, how they went from arch-nemesis (but they were never, not really) to lovers and I liked Alex’s mom and how smart a president she was. I liked the world that McQuiston imagined existed (can we live in that one instead of this one?).

There’s really not much more to say. It was fun. And maybe that’s all that matters.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

by E. K. Johnston
First sentence: “Helena Marcus had not given much though to her marriage.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+ section of the bookstore).

In the world of this book, the British Empire has taken over the world (mostly, except for the States, which has basically dissolved into ruin), and the way marriages are made are done by entering genetic codes into the computer. (At least, that’s the way I understood it.) There’s room for love matches, but mostly the society wants the best genetic diversity, so most people match through the genetic system. I was never really able to pinpoint time — the girls were still “debuting” into society, there were corsets and balls, but there was also an internet-like thing, airplanes, trains and cars. It was a weird mashup of historical and futuristic.

There are three characters — Helena, who’s basically promised to August, the son of some sort of shipping mangnate, and Margaret, who’s the crown princess, but she’s in disguise. It’s set in Canada, whichi is nice… but nothing really happens. I read about 2/3 of this, and got frustrated with the lack of things happening — I think she was going for an Austen-like feel, but it just wasn’t doing it for me — and then skipped to the end. I’m not sure I missed much.

I liked the idea of this, but the execution just fell short.

Audiobook: The Reckless Oath We Made

by Bryn Greenwood
Read by Alex McKenna, Kirby Heyborne, and a full cast
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some drug use and drinking, and one tasteful sex scene. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Zee hasn’t had the best life: her mother is a hoarder, a habit only made worse by her father being sent to prison for a robbery gone wrong when Zee was eight. For most of her 26 years, it’s been her and her sister against the world. And Zee — whether by waiting tables or by running marijuana from Colorado for the wrong sort of people — is going to make it work. Somehow.

But then, she meets Gentry. An autistic man who speaks in Middle English and abides by a Code of Chivalry who was told by one of his voices — the witch — that he is to be Zee’s Champion. It doesn’t make much sense to Zee, but when her sister is kidnapped from the El Dorado prison during an outbreak, Gentry is the only person Zee can turn to.

From there starts a heartbreakingly sweet and tender story of the love that grows between Zee and Gentry. But it’s more than a love story (which it is, at its heart), it’s a story of trust and family and forgiveness. The audio is wonderfully done; I loved both of the main narrators — Zee and Gentry — but also all the side characters that got chapters in this wild, compelling story. And yes, the ending made me cry. There was so much heart and acceptance and love in this book that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters. Maybe it was an “I wouldn’t have liked it if I had read it” book (the audio really is excellent), but I think it’s just a really good story. Or at least my kind of good story.

The Peacock Emporium

by Jojo Moyes
First sentence: “It was the third time in a week that the air-conditioning had gone out at the Hospital de Clinicas, and the heat was so heavy that the nurses had taken to holding battery-operated plastic fans over the intensive-care patients in an effort to keep them cool.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some swearing, including f-bombs, and some talk of sex. It’s in the Fiction section of the bookstore.

The plot of this is kind of hard to describe. It’s a mother-daughter story — Suzanna has always lived with the shadow of her mother’s flighty-ness; she left Suzanna’s dad and ran off with a salesman, and then died shortly thereafter. And it’s about class — because of her mother, and long memories of the town, Suzanna’s always felt like an outsider in her privileged English family. It’s about relationships and choices: Suzanna’s husband, Nick, has been on her case to have a baby, which she’s not happy about. It’s about friendship: Opening up her “Peacock Emporium” in the small town where she grew up, Suzanna makes a good friend in Jessie, and discovers what it Means To Live. And it’s about new love: Argentinian Alejandro moves to town and Suzanna realizes that maybe she’s been with the wrong man for 10 years.

I didn’t dislike it; I finished it, after all. And Moyes is a good writer. This one kept jumping back and forth in time, which made it kind of difficult to tell ages and time periods, but I didn’t mind it all too much. I didn’t love it, though. I guess nothing happened for most of the book, and then everything came down in the last 100 pages and maybe it felt rushed? I’m not entirely sure. I read this in bits and pieces over several months, which also may have contributed to me not really getting into the book.

Or maybe it’s just that adult fiction, sometimes, just doesn’t do things as well as it could. Not the best book out there, but not the worst either.

Hope and Other Punch Lines

by Julie Buxbaum
First sentence: “Tuesday, the least descriptive day of the week.
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of teenagers drinking and hooking up, but none actual. There are two f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Abbi Hope Goldstein has a terrible claim to fame: On 9/11, a photographer snapped a picture of her, at age 1, being rescued by a worker from the Twin Towers, running away from the destruction. She was named “Baby Hope” by the media, and her picture splashed across the country as a sign of hope and reliance. Which meant, over her seventeen years of living, she’s had a lot of awkward encounters. Mostly, though, this summer — especially as she’s developed a worrisome cough that’s probably linked to the 9/11 attacks — she just wants to be a normal teenager.

Except there’s Noah: his dad died in 9/11 (they’re both from New Jersey), and Noah’s mom — though remarried now — has always been reluctant to talk about his dad. This summer, though, Noah wants to get answers from what he’s always suspected: his dad was in the background of the Baby Hope picture, and he wants to know what happened. And so when he runs into Abbi at a summer camp they’re both working at, he thinks it’s Fate and goads her into helping him contact all the people in the photo.

It sounds like a lot, and in some ways it’s a heavy book. It deals with loss and survivors guilt and grief — and not just the overarching 9/11 loss; there’s also loss of friendships, as Abbi has dealt with the dissolution of her friendship with her former best friend (nothing malicious; they just grew apart). But, in many ways, this is a typical teen romance. Noah is sweet and dorky and charming (and who doesn’t love a lovable guy in a teen romance) and his best friend, Jack, is the best. Abbi’s problems don’t seem too heavy; she is dealing with a lot but Buxbaum doesn’t ever let that control the narrative.

It was definitely a charming read, one with depth and heart.

Audio book: Three Sides of a Heart

Stories about Love Triangles
Edited by Natalie C. Parker
Read by Almarie Guerra, Bahni Turpin, James Fouhey, and Lulu Lam
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are some stories with f-bombs, and some talk of sex and drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The idea behind this short story collection was “love triangles”, but as Natalie Parker mentions in her introduction, that was interpreted in many different ways. Many of the stories were standard two boys one girl or two girls one boy, but I think I liked the unusual ones best. I only skipped two: “Work in Progress” by E. K. Johnston and “The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman” by Lamar Giles. I don’t know if it was the story or the audio narration, but I found myself tuning out and so I just skipped them. As for the rest, my favorites were Parker’s story “Cass, An, and Dra” which not only played with Cassandra as as seer, but had a lesbian couple and a gender fluid person as the love triangle. I also really enjoyed Brandy Colbert’s “Hurdles” because the character is making a difficult choice between two good things and Colbert ends the story with the choice unmade. I also thought Brenna Yovanoff’s story, “Vega” was clever: it was between a girl, a boy, and the city of Las Vegas, which is an interesting look at a love triangle.

The collection was uneven, but to be honest, that’s the way I often feel about short story collections. I thought the idea behind the collection was an interesting one — definitely good for summer! — and I enjoyed where some of the authors went with it.