Audiobook: The Charm Offensive

by Alison Cochran
Read by: Vikas Adam, Graham Halstead & Cassandra Campbell
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including multiple f-bobms. There are also some steamy scenes. It’s in the Romance setion of the bookstore.

Dav is a producer on this reality Bachelor-eque reality TV show, Ever After. he’s still pretty into the premise: finding that magical fairy tale love. But, when he’s suddenly switched from being the handler for the women to being the handler for their newest “prince, ” Charlie, Dav starts to wonder a bit about this whole “Truve love” thing. Wealthy, tech-giant Charlie is everything Dav is not: sophisticated, handsome, awkward, intense, and on the show just to get a job in tech again. Things start out on the wrong foot between the two fo them, but as the season goes on, they find out that maybe they have more in common than they thought.

I think my favorite trope is when the thing is commenting on the thing while being the thing. In this case, Cochrun comments on the toxicity and overall hetero-ness of reality-TV love shows, while the story is set on a reality-tv love show where two gay men absolutely fall in love. It’s sweet, it’s fun, it’s smart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrators are brilliant and propel the whole book forward, definitely keeping me engaged the whole time. I couldn’t put it down!

Forging Silver Into Stars

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “This was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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!

Book Lovers

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “When books are your life — or in my case, your job — you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: Oh. Well, there’s a LOT of sexytimes. And swearing. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Nora has grown up in New York, a pair of sisters of a single mother who passed away when she was in her early 20s. She has worked hard, getting a job at a literary agency and working her way up to be a respected and successful literary agent. The problem is that she hasn’t really ever taken time out for her social life. Sure, she has boyfriends, but they never last: inevitably going the “small-town romance cliche” route having their lives changed by a woman they met while on a trip in some small town somewhere. So Nora’s sister, Libby, put together a “small-town romance” checklist, convinces Nora to go to a small town in North Carolina for a month, and proceeds to try to get Nora to have a small-town romance experience of her won. Except, the first person Nora bumps into is Charlie Lastra, an editor from the city who is not Nora’s favorite person.

You probably know where it’s going to go from here. My favorite thing about this — aside from the palpable chemistry betwen Nora and Charlie — is that this is book is perfectly aware of what it is. Henry takes all the small-town romance cliches and satirizes them while absolutely being them at the same time. It made for a smart, fun, thoroughly enjoyable book. And yes, all the sexytimes were very swoon-worthy, adding to the tension between Nora and Charlie. I also liked them as characters, though: Henry gave them each a complex and believable backstory that made them interesting characters to spend time with.

I’ll put it this way: I have enjoyed all of Henry’s romances, but I think this one is my favorite.

Cheer Up: Love and Pompoms

by Crystal Frasier, illustrated by Val Wise, lettered by Oscar O. Jupiter
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

The Matzah Ball

by Jean Meltzer
First sentence: “She just needed one more.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the romance setion of the bookstore.

Rachel is the daughter of a well-regarded rabbi, but she has a secret: she is a famous author (under a pseudonym, of course) of Christmas romance books. Jacob is trying to find his way back to Judaism after his mother’s death and is throwing the biggest party of the Season (on the eighth night of Hanukkah, no less). They knew each other, one summer at Jewish day camp, and had a brief fling (they were 12), but never kept in touch. But when they are thrown into each other’s orbit — Rachel’s publisher is demanding Hanukkah romance, and Jacob invites her parents to the Matzah Ball (yes, that is what the party is called). Sparks fly, of course.

On the one hand: I picked up this book because the title made me laugh. It hit all the right “Hallmark movie” moments; no one reads romances expecting them to be anything but predictable. There was even the added bonus of a disabled main character; she has chronic fatigue, which defies much of her life.

But. I didn’t buy that Rachel and Jacob had been holing on to 1) first love at age 12 and 2) a grudge because they had a misunderstanding at age 12. That’s silly and pushed the edge of suspension of disbelief. Also, there’s a throw-away line that’s anti-Palestinian, which I have to confess I didn’t realize was there until I read reviews after I finished. People were also concerned that the author used language around coming out as LGBT when describing Rachel’s “shameful” obsession with Christmas. I have to admit that I found her obsession with keeping it secret weird, but then again: I’m not Jewish.

IN the end, it was fun and cute, but nothing earth-shattering.

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.

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Alire Saenz
First sentence: “And here he was, Dante, with his head resting on my chest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There is much swearing, including many f-bombs, teenage drinking, and some tasteful sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Ah, Aristotle and Dante. I remember liking the first book when it came out, but not loving it. I’ve read Saenz’s stuff since then (like one other book?) And I have respect for his observations on life and living. This is no different.

Picking up where the first book left off, Aristotle and Dante are together, but because it’s 1987, they are not telling many people. Their parents, of course, but really that’s it. See, it’s dangerous to be gay in El Paso in 187. Dante got beat up, as do other characters for being too flamboyant, not “manly” enough. But Ari and Dante learn how to be together, Ari learns how to have friends and be a part of the group, they grw up and graduate, suffer loss, and basically Live.

It’s a beautiful book, full of Love of all kinds, full of Life and Heart. It’s gorgeously written; Saenz knows how to put words that Mean Something on a page. It’s probably a bit long, and the Tragic Event the back cover copy alludes to takes place nearly 2/3 of the way through. But, those re minor complaints. Saenz is a gorgeous writer and this is a gorgeous book.