Audiobook: Rubi Ramos’s Recipe for Success

by Jessica Parra
Read by: Karla Serrato
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Content: There is some kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Graduation is fast approaching and Rubi Ramos has everything all planned out. She is going to go to Alma college and study pre-law, and do Great Things. The only problem? She’s been waitilsted at Alma. And what she really wants to do is bake. However, for her Cuban immigrant parents who own two bakeries, baking for Rubi isn’t an option. So, Rubi has a plan: she’s going to get a math tutor to help pull her class standing up (who turns out to be really cute), and she’s going to compete in the Bake Off (without her parents knowing) and hopefully win – which comes with a trip to Cuba.

Of course, things don’t go smoothly, and there are bumps along the way.

This was a delightful romp. It’s got a baking competition! It’s got a surfer dude! It’s got immigrant parents! It’s got Cuban heritage! I liked the relationship Rubi had with her parents; they were firm and wanted a lot for Rubi, but in the end weren’t unreasonable about working with what she wanted. I loved Rubi’s friends, and the support system she had. And the whole baking competition – which was quite definintly a reference to the Great British Bake Off – with it’s baking puns and Johnny Oliver judge, was charming and silly.

The narrator was quite good as well, and I enjoyed the time I spent listening to this one. A good, fun, summery YA book.

Audiobook: Darkhearts

by James L. Sutter
Read by Ramon de Ocampo
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Release date: June 6, 2023
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including quite a few f-bombs, talk of sex, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It will be in the Teen section of the bookstore.

In middle school, David started a band – Darkhearts – with his friends Eli and Chance. They had some success playing gigs in the Seattle area, where they lived, but after a while, David got annoyed with Eli and Chance hogging the spotlight and so quit the band. However, after he left, Darkhearts got huge. Like super huge. And David’s held a grudge ever since because he feels he missed out. 

But, Chance is back in town – Eli died of an overdose, and Chance came for the funeral and to regroup – and wants to reconnect with David. At first, David goes along with it grudgingly, but after a while he realizes something: he really likes Chance. Like really likes Chance. Is he going to be able to get past everything else – Chance’s fame, his own resentment, his father’s concern – and be able to throw himself into this relationship? Does he even want to? 

This was so incredibly delightful. The characters, the depection of a teenage boy band, the cool things they went. David’s best freind, Rachel. The fluidity of his sexuality, and the total non-issue that it was. The romance – and while it kind of followed the beats of a romance novel, I appreciated David’s growth over the whole thing. De Ocampo was a fabulous narrator as well; pulling me into a story that I may have dismissed in print. 

Highly recommended.

The Seven Year Slip

by Ashley Poston
First sentence: “‘This apartment is magical,’ Aunt Analea once said, sitting in her wingback chair the color of robin’s eggs, her hair twisted up with a silver dagger hairpin.”
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Release date: June 27, 2023
Review copy sent to me by the publisher rep who has definitely got a bead on what I like to read.
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and a couple of on-screen sex scenes. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Celemtine’s favorite aunt has just died and left Clementine her apartment. She’s having a hard time with her aunt’s death, and it’s difficult to go home to a place where her aunt had filled with so much life. That is until she opened the door one day to seven years in the past when Iwan was staying in the apartment. (Poston tells you in the first sentence, that the apartment is magical. She meant it!) Iwan is an up-and-coming chef, someone who wants to make it big in the culinary world. But Clementine’s aunt had two rules about the apartment: 1) always take off your shoes. And 2) never fall in love. When you’re in love with someone seven years in the past, finding them in the present is an impossibility. Isn’t it?

Oh, I adored this. I sat down to read just a bit one day and when I came up for air, I was nearly done with the book. Clementine and Iwan are fantastic characters, and I liked how, while this was a romance, it didn’t follow your typical romance book tropes. When you’re playing with time like Poston is here, you open up a whole lot more possibilities and I enjoyed that.

It just was a perfect book to sit and read on a lazy day. And I’m so glad I did.

Don’t Call Me a Hurricane

by Ellen Hagan
First sentence: “‘Grab your board,’ Isa shouts, throwing open the screen door letting sunshine and cool breeze into our living room.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at work
Content: There is mention of teenage drinking and some intense moments with a natural disaster. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Eliza’s life hasn’t been the same in the five years since the hurricane hit her island off the Jersey shore. Sure, her family’s still living there, still scraping by, but the island itself has changed. Developers have come in, and bought up houses, knocked them down, in the name of progress. The latest example? They want to build out the marshland. And Eliza – and her friends – don’t want to lose that much of their island.

It also doesn’t help that a new boy – Milo – is from New York City, is one of those rich summer-only island visitors and that Eliza seems to be falling for him.

This one had all the elements I like: it’s about the ocean and island living! It’s got a strong female character! It’s a novel in verse! There’s a strong environmental message! But it fell completely flat. Not so flat that I didn’t finish it, but flat enough that I found myself skimming the chapters, just enough to get the information. I wanted to like this one so much more than I actually did. Not sure where it went wrong: Eliza is a good character and Hagan does a good job of showing the trauma after a natural disaster (though she did amp up the stakes by almost killing Eliza’s brother in the storm), but I just didn’t connect with it.

Audiobook: Ander & Santi Were Here

by Jonny Garza Villa
Read by: Avi Roque
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, marijuana use, and mention of sex (it’s not quite on-screen, but not entirely off- either)

Ander is taking a gap year after they graduated high school to figure things out. They’ve been accepted into a prestigious art school in Chicago, but for right now, they’re doing an internship with a non-profit in their hometown of San Antonio. But then their parents and grandmother hire Santi at their taquira, and Ander’s world turns upside down. But it’s not just first love: Santi is an undocumented immigrant, which poses all kinds of complications for their relationship.

I really enjoyed this one, especially on audio. The narrator was fantastic, and kept me interested the whole way through. But, it was also about art and finding one’s voice (can you find a voice in art?) and expressing the true version of oneself. It’s about this country’s messed-up immigration system. But it was also about family, and being there for and supporting each other.

I loved how effortless that Latinx elements were, and how much Villa just sprinkled it with Spanish. it felt very authentic and real, and I could just imagine Ander and Santi at different places around San Antonio. An excellent read.

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes

by Sarah Adler
First sentence: “Rose McIntyre Nash died peacefully in her sleep at age ninety-eight, and now I carry part of her with me wherever I go.”
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Release date: May 23, 2023
ARC pilfered from the shelves at the bookstore.
Content: There swearing, including a few f-bombs, talk of sex, and some very on-screen sex scenes. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

The plot: Millicent Watts-Cohen has a mission: she is going to reunite some of her dead neighbor’s/friend’s ashes – the Mrs. Nash of the title – with the woman that she fell in love with in the 1940s, who is currently living in an assisted living center in Key West.

She’s at the airport, all set to fly down there, when the flights all get grounded (the reason doesn’t matter). She ends up pairing with Hollis Hollenbeck, a former classmate of Millicent’s terrible, arrogant, back-stabbing ex-boyfriend, and they end up driving from DC to Key West. The way is not smooth – oil spills, suicidal deer, broccoli fests, and lots of paint-by-number Jesus portraits stand in Millie’s way. But, also, along the way she might just learn how to love again.

Oh, this one was delightful in so many ways. I adored the push-and-pull between the ever-optimistic, and slightly weird, Millie and the grumpy, pessimistic Hollis. I loved their banter – and laughed out loud more than once. I’ve often said that I don’t mind sexytimes in a book (and they were very good in this book), but I need to have a plot and some characters that I can enjoy to actually enjoy a romance book. And while this fits the formula of a romance, it was excellent in its execution. It was so very funny, and yet tender and heartbreaking at times. I enjoyed having Rose’s story interspersed with Millie’s adventures, and it made the ending bittersweet and that much more fulfilling. This is Adler’s debut novel, and I’m excited to see where she goes from here.

Audiobook: Nora Goes Off Script

by Annabel Monaghan
Read by Hillary Huber
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Content: Oh, well, it’s a romance book. Infer what you will. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

Nora is fine. She has a fairly successful career writing scripts for romance movies for the Romance Channel. When her husband left, she was sad, but he was also an asshole, so it wasn’t that bad. And then she wrote a script about their story and sold it to an actual movie studio and it got made into a movie. The studio spent a couple of days filming at her actual house – and the star, Leo Vance, is charmed by her home. After the filming is done, he sticks around, wanting to experience normal life for a bit (in order to process his mother’s recent death). He helps Nora with the shopping and cooking and with her kids… and eventually, they fall in love.

But things are not perfect; when Leo has to jet away to deal with a film contract, he promises he will come back. But he doesn’t. Nora’s heart breaks, and life goes on, and suddenly those romance movie scripts with predictable outcomes seem trite. Will Nora be able to get her life back on track after the second man in as many years has walked out on her?

Oh, I liked this one. It was delightful on audio – Huber does a fantastic job, keeping me engaged in the story. Which was a lot of fun as well. It seems that the current trend in romance books is to be the thing while critiquing the thing, so while I knew the beats of the story, there was some depth to it. I liked how the focus was more on Nora’s ability to be resilient and vulnerable to others, as well as making her children her priority. I liked the relationship between her and Leo, and even the conflict felt real. It was a solid romance book, and I’ll be happy to read whatever Monaghan writes next.

Happy Place

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “A cottage on the rocky shoreline, with knotty pine floorboards and windows that are nearly always open.”
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Release date: April 25, 2023
Content: There are a couple sexytimes and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the romance section of the bookstore.

Harriet and Cleo and Sabrina have been friends since their freshman year of college. They’re an unlikely trio from vastly different backgrounds with different ambitions, but they make it work. As they get older they add more: Parth, whose house they moved into their junior year, and then Wyn, Parth’s friend, got folded in. Except Harriet and Wyn felt an almost-instant attraction. They eventually got together, thinking it would last forever.

Fast forward 8 years and Wyn and Harriet have broken up. Harriet’s in a medical residency in San Francisco, and Wyn just… wasn’t happy. So he left. Then he broke it off. But, they’re both at Sabrina’s family’s cottage in Maine for a week in the summer, with everyone, for one last fling. Can they pretend everything is fine, for the sake of old times?

This one is less focused on the romance, though Henry intersperses chapters of Wyn and Harriet’s getting together and falling in love, with the present week in Maine. It was an effective tactic: we got to see the fallout before we read about how they got together. But it worked. Mostly because this book is less about the Romance Tropes than it is about friendship – as important as Wyn and Harriet’s breakup is, the feeling that the friendships are falling apart because everyone is getting older, and things are Changing – and about making your own happiness.

It was the last thing that struck me the most. Harriet had spent her life trying to make her unhappy parents happy, making the choices that landed her in San Francisco. But, over the course of the novel, she realizes that she can’t do that, that the one thing she can control is her own happiness and her own choices. It was something that resonated with me.

So, while this was not my favorite Henry (that remains Book Lovers), it was a very, very good one, one that resonated with me quite a bit.

The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

by Deya Muniz
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Release date: May 9, 2023
Content: It is, at its heart, a romance. It will be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Lady Camembert just wants to live her life. She doesn’t want to marry a man, which is required in order for her to inherit her father’s lands and wealth. So she does the unthinkable: she disguises herself as a man and moves away to a distant kingdom to start over as Lord Camembert.

But then she (he? the pronoun preference isn’t clear) meets Princess Brie and is immediately taken. Brie thinks Cam is a man and is taken with him, but Cam knows it’s impossible for them to be attached because of the laws of the country. It’s a push and pull as they slowly fall in love. Until Brie discovers Cam’s secret.

It’s a cute enough graphic novel. I do love the art, and the representation is excellent. Cam is into fashion, and no one blinks an eye at a masc-presenting person being into dresses and furs and clothes. But, in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I thought the ending was rushed, and even though I believed in Brie and Cam’s romance, I thought the fight and the eventual makeup were a bit stereotypical. So, while really pretty, it wasn’t quite there for me.

Audiobook: Blood Debts

by Terry J Benton-Walker
Read by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett & Zeno Robinson
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Release date: April 4, 2023
Content: There is a lot of violence, a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, and an on-screen sex scene. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot? Clem and Chris Trudeau are practitioners of Generational magic – a branch of magic along with Light and Moon and Necromancy. But their family hasn’t had the best history with it. Their grandmother was the leader of the Gen magic council but was framed for murder and killed by an angry mom. Their father was killed after something went wrong with a spell Chris cast. And their mother was slowly dying until they found the cause: a hex doll. Chris and Clem are determined (in spite of adults telling them to stay out of it) to figure out why their family has had such a run of bad luck with magic and fix it.

Truth be told, it’s a LOT more than just that. This book has everything. Family drama? Check. Solving multiple murders? Check. Stupid white people with grudges and guns? Check. Authorities refusing to help because the Trudeaus are black? Check. Zombies? Check. (Seriously.) Wonderfully sweet gay love? Check. Complicated gay love? Check. This book has EVERYTHING. It’s so much.

That’s not to say it was bad. It wasn’t. The audio is especially good – the narrators pulled me in and kept me coming back for more, even as I wanted to cringe and pull away because it’s a LOT. But, I really liked the magic system Benton-Walker dreamed up, and I liked the way he wove the challenges and triumphs of Black people into the book. There’s surprisingly a lot to talk about. (There’s just a LOT. Period.)

In the end, I think it was good? I’m still reeling from the end, and I want to know if there’s another, so at the very least, it hooked me.