You Brought Me the Ocean

by Alex Sanchez, illustrated by Julie Maroh
Support your local independent bookstore: buy the book there!
Content: There is some kissing and some bullying. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jake has always had a dream to study the ocean. Except, he lives in New Mexico with his mom — his dad disappeared when Jake as born — and no way of getting out.

It doesn’t help that he feels different: not just because he’s not sure if he’s gay (spoiler: he is), but because he’s always had these weird “birthmarks” on his body. It doesn’t help that his best friend, Maria, wants to take their relationship to the next level, either.

It’s less a book about superheroes, though it is set in the DC universe, and more about one kid coming to own his own truth. He comes out, he finds out who his dad is and what his marks mean. All of this, while falling into a relationship with Kenny.

It’s nice that the adults are fully formed; you understand Jake’s mom’s paranoia, and Maria’s parents are incredibly supportive. Kenny’s disabled father had the biggest arc: he starts out seeming unacceptng and homophobic but turns out to be supportive of his son.

It’s an incomplete story: I thought Jake would have a chance to face his father or at least move forward, but no: this book is about Jake fully becoming who we was meant to be.

And that’s a good thing.

Beach Read

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “I have a fatal flaw.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are swear words, including multiple f-bombs. There are also two on-screen, but not overly graphic, sex scenes. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

January Andrews has a problem: she’s a romance (sorry: “women’s fiction”) writer and has hit a roadblock in her writing: she no longer believes in happily-ever-afters. Her dad died and at his funeral, January found out he’d been cheating on her mom. And then her long-time boyfriend broke up with her. In a hot tub. So, she moves back to her dad’s hometown in Michigan (the upper part of the lower peninsula) into the house her dad bought to share with his mistress. Not fun, but also cheap. As it turns out, she moved in next door to her college writing nemesis: Gus Everett. And (of course) they reconnect. This leads to (after a bad evening) a bet: Gus, who writes Literary Fiction, will take on writing a Romance book, and January will write a Novel. In order to help facilitate this, they will take the other one on excursions as “research” (definitely not dates). The catch: Absolutely NO falling in love.

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way (it is Women’s Fiction, after all). But it’s incredibly fun getting to the end of this book. Henry’s dealing with more than just falling in love: she’s dealing with grief and loss, grappling with the idea that parents aren’t always who we think they are, and with perceptions (or misperceptions) of other people. In between all this, there is a smart love story, with some fun, sassy moments, and I felt like the development of the relationship between Gus and January wasn’t contrived. It was defiantly a happy-making book. Perfect for a, well, beach read.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “I miss knowing exactly what time it is.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some moments of violence and mild swearing It’s in the teen section of the bookstore.

This picks up where the first book in the series left off: Rhen and Harper have put off their enemies to the north in Syhl Shallow, but that seeded unrest in Emberfall. There are rumors that there is another heir, someone more suited to the crown than Rhen, and that his former Commander of the Royal Guard, Grey, knows who it is. But, Grey is refusing to tell. Meanwhile, one of the daughters of the Syhl Shallow queen, Lia Mara, would rather have peace than war, but instead of negotiating, Rhen imprisons her. She and Grey fall in together (after a series of incredibly vicious circumstances) and try to broker peace between the two countries.

It’s been forever since I read the first in this series, and from what I can gather over at Goodreads, that’s a good thing. This book follows Grey and Lia Mara, leaving Rhen and Harper to be background characters. I think if you read these two too close together, you get invested in Rhen and Harper’s story and there’s a bit of backlash with the change in narrators. As for me, I didn’t mind. I liked seeing the growth in Grey and Lia Mara’s quiet strength. I liked following their stories and learning more about characters where were background in the first book. I though it was an interesting development in the story, moving away from the fairy tale retelling and becoming its own thing. It’s probably not perfect, but I found it entertaining and am curious to see where the next book takes these characters.

Audio book: The Worst Best Man

by Mia Sosa
Read by: Rebecca Mozo and Wayne Mitchell
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: This is super sweary including a lot of f-bombs, and there’s on-screen sex several times. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore (yes, we have a romance section now!).

Lina Santos has worked hard to get where she is: the owner of a reputable wedding planning business. Sure, she was left at the altar by her fiance four years ago, but she hasn’t let that get in the way. Now, she’s got a shot at the job of a lifetime: wedding coordinator at a prestigious hotel chain. The catch? She has to work with her ex-fiance’s brother, Max, on the presentation. The double catch? They’re totally attracted to each other.

Oh this was so much stupid fun. It’s that sort of smart and sexy romance with a dash of Brazilian flavor (the author identifies as Brazilian-American) that is just fun to read. And this was definitely enhanced (*cough*) by the narrators. Mazo was delightful to listen to and if it’s possible to have a very sexy and sassy voice, Mitchell definitely has it. I think a good two-thirds of the fun of this one was in the delivery of the book. Not that the book itself wasn’t full of that great push and pull (*ahem*) of a well-written romance (and the sex scenes were definitely steamy!), but the narrators brought it to life and made it pop.

Not for everyone, obviously, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

Crush

by Svetlana Chmakova
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Awkward, Brave
Content: There’s some bullying and general middle-school romance. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

Jorge is the Big Kid at Berrybrook Middle School, the one that’s head and shoulders taller than everyone else. He doesn’t mind; he uses people’s assumptions of him (that he’s a Heavy) for good, making sure that bullies don’t pick on other kids. He’s got a group of friends he’s been friends with forever: Liv, the outgoing popular one, and Garrett, who just transferred to Berrybrook and is trying to fit in. Jorge is fine with the way things are.

But then Garrett decides to get in with the starting quarterback James’s group, and Jorge develops a crush on Liv’s friend Jazmine, and Drama breaks out in the middle school halls.

I really enjoyed this one. I think that Chmakova gets middle schoolers, and the everyday ups and downs of friendship, crushes, and belonging. I liked Jorge as a character, how he used his size to help others and how he wasn’t afraid to be an individual rather than going along with the crowd. This one was less about crushes, though, and more just about relationships, and what it takes to have a good one, whether it be friendships or romantic. Jorge wasn’t the character with the growth arc; rather, he was the rock that everything in the book revolved around, which was perfectly fine by me.

Really very, very good.

Operatic

by Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying and a wee bit of romance. It’s in the middle grade graphic novels section of the bookstore.

It’s near the end of middle school and Charlie is trying to figure herself out. Her music teacher, Mr. K, as assigned the class to come up with a presentation on a song that “speaks” to them. As part of that, he’s introducing a lot of new stuff to the class. And when he hits opera — Una voce poco as sung by Maria Callas — Charlie is smitten. She does a lot of research about Maria and decides that maybe being a Diva isn’t a bad thing.

There’s also Emile, a boy Charlie likes; Luka, the super-talented, yet super-awkward guy at school that is bullied; and Charlie’s three friends, Addie, Rachel, and Mayin. It’s a bit of personal drama as they all make their way through the last couple of months before the end of school.

On the one hand, the art in this is gorgeous. It’s all done in sepia tones, except for the bits about Maria Callas which are done in reds and pinks. I loved the use of insect imagery and the use of music (though I wish it had a playlist with artists in the back; I kept trying to look the songs up!).

I had a hard time following the story though. Does Charlie end up ditching some of her friends? I think so? But I’m not entirely sure why. I couldn’t quite follow who was who, and the story just felt like it was lacking something. Maybe I really am getting to old for this.

The Authenticity Project

by Clare Pooley
First sentence: “She had tried to return the book.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 4, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It starts with a green notebook, with the words “The Authenticity Project” on it, that gets passed from one person — a depressed former artist named Julian — to another — a stressed cafe owner named Monica. From there, we learn their stories, their fears, and as they form a friendship and pass the book to other anonymous people, a community of people. The plot is simple: everyone needs friends, but we don’t really know how to Truly make them anymore, and maybe being honest about our Truths will help.

I’m not making it sound all that exciting, but honestly? I loved this one. I was thoroughly charmed by the relationships and the community that grew because of this book, by the lives that were changed by friendship. And yes, there is a romance in it (which I kind of called from the beginning, but was still satisfied to see happen), but mostly it’s a relationship — all kinds of relationships! — book.

It’s sweet and charming and I loved every minute of reading it.

Of Curses and Kisses

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Just outside Aspen, Colorado, nestled between the sentinel mountains and an inkblot lake, lies St. Rosetta’s International Academy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the bookstore.
Release date: February 18, 2019
Content: There is some talk of teenage drinking and swearing, including a half-dozen or so f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid if they were okay with the language.

One of the perks of working at a bookstore is the galley shelves in our basement. All the ARCs that come in (and aren’t nabbed and never returned) are put on these shelves for booksellers to pilfer through. I was down there a week or so ago, looking for something new to read (because it’s not like I don’t have enough on my shelves; it’s just that there was nothing on my shelves I really felt like reading. You get that, right?) and I stumbled across this one. I’ve read her before, and enjoyed it well enough, so I took this one home.

And was I glad I did! Jaya Rao is a “princess” of a small state in southern India. She’s basically the ruling class, and takes her responsibility of being the heir incredibly seriously. Grey Emerson is the son of a British lord, whose family used to be part of the British Empire in India. In fact, the Emersons stole a precious ruby from the Rao family temple when they left India in 1947. And Jaya’s great-great grandmother cursed the Emerson line.

So, when Jaya and her sister Isha are forced to go to a new boarding school because of a scandal involving Isha, a couple of boys, and Isha’s desire to be a mechanic (which is not a very princess-like thing to do), and they end up at the same school as Grey Emerson, Jaya decides to get revenge: make Grey fall in love with her and then break his heart.

Of course (of course!) it’s not that simple or easy. But it is thoroughly delightful. Switching between Jaya’s and Grey’s perspectives allowed the reader to get the full perspective, and the fact that both Grey and Jaya are conflicted about their position in their respective families as well as their future helped deepen the characters. And even though they were surrounded with the children of the rich and elite, Menon made pretty much everyone Jaya came into contact with a three-dimensional character. It’s a fluffy romance book, sure, but it’s a fluffy romance book with LAYERS. Which is the best kind.

Absolutely a delightful read.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

by Cynthia Hand
First sentence: “The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Throw Like a Girl

by Sarah Henning
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 7, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, mostly mild, and kissing. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’m not a huge aficionado of sports books for teens, but I have read some. Most are geared towards boys (like Kwame Alexander’s books or Stupid Fast), but every once in a while, I get a good sports book, especially a football book, that has a girl as the main character, and embraces the idea that girls, yes, can play football too. (Honestly: the last one I remember is Dairy Queen, which I loved.) In fact, Henning doesn’t dwell on the “can she play football?” issue here. Our main character, Liv, is actually scouted out by the starting quarterback, Grey, primarily because he’s seen her play softball (the sport she excels at) and mess around playing football with her brother, and he needs someone who can be a backup, since the freshman who is actually his backup is a bit weak.

There’s more going on in the plot than that — Liv lost her scholarship to the elite private school where she was playing softball for punching another player (with good reason) and there’s a nice romance between her and Grey — but it’s mostly about being on a team and working hard and just being able to play a game that she loves.

Henning was a former sports writer, and it shows: she’s able to not only give play-by-plays of the games (both football and softball), but she is able to portray the work it takes to be a good athlete, as well as the feelings that come from being a part of a team and from being on the field. (Not that I’ve ever been any of those things, but I feel like she gets it!) And she’s good on the romance front too: Liv and Grey’s relationship didn’t feel contrived, and it wasn’t perfect. Though there were some incredibly swoon-worthy parts.

It was a fun read, and one that will do well as part of the YA sports cannon.