Alex, Approximately

by Jenn Bennett
First sentence: “He could be anyone of these people.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of drug use (by a minor character), some teenage drinking, and some non-graphic sex. There is also some mild swearing and two f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Bailey has just moved to California to live with her dad, and it just happens to be in the same northern California surfing town as her on-line BFF (and crush), Alex. He’s everything she thinks she wants: they share the same taste in movies, they love to banter… the only thing is that she doesn’t know who he is.

And then she meets Porter Roth. He’s everything Alex is not: annoying, irritating, and a surfer. And Bailey’s stuck working with him at her new summer job. But then, she finds herself falling for him and starts to wonder whether or not she needs Alex after all.

That kind of sounds lame, doesn’t it? But, truthfully, it’s the perfect mix of retro, sassy repartee, and romance (with a few steamy bits). There’s California surf culture (though it felt more southern than northern, but that’s nit-picky), there’s a bad egg of a former best friend to keep things exciting. There’s a friendship story as well as a boyfriend story and it’s summery and just perfect. And yeah, the “big” reveal at the end is pretty obvious (you can figure it out a mile away), but you know what? I didn’t care.

It hit the spot.

The Light We Lost

by Jill Santopolo
First sentence: “We’ve known each other for almost half our lives.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 9, 2017
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including a bunch of f-bombs. Plus sexytimes, though tasteful. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

When she was 21, on 9/11, Lucy met the person she thought would be her True Love. Her one and only. The person she would spend the rest of her life with. And for a while, she and Gabe were happy. They were together, enjoying each other, being in love. And then their interests diverged: Lucy was working on a children’s TV show based in New York, and Gabe got a job with the Associated Press to travel the world into war zones and take pictures. And suddenly, their lives weren’t headed in the same direction.

Lucy was heartbroken.

But then she met Darren, someone who she realized she could build a life with. She’s moved on. Until, Gabe shows up again in her life. And something drastic happens, and she has to make a life-altering decision.

I’ve had a difficult time writing this one. Partially because it left me without words. It’s well-written, but it’s not brilliant, partially because it’s cut through with New York-ness, which wore on me after a bit. It does hit all my buttons, and Santopolo does know how to write about heartbreak and loss and captured the excitement of first love, and how difficult it is to let that go.

But even so, it’s not something that will stay with me.

Strange the Dreamer

by Laini Taylor
First sentence: “On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s inferences to rape, but none action. There’s violence, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Lazlo Strange, a peasant orphan from nowhere, has a dream. It’s about a long-gone city, that probably is mythical, and definitely is of no interest to anyone scholarly. And yet, he is drawn to them.

It was more of the same from Taylor, but that more is excellent. I love falling into her world building, and I love her language. So, while it wasn’t a wholly original story (it did feel a lot like Daughter of Smoke and Bone), it was still a delightful one to read.

 

Geekerella

geekerellaby Ashley Poston
First sentence: “The stepmonster is at it again.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it now!
Release date: April 4, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some emotional abuse, and some mild swearing (a couple of s-words). It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Elle Wittimer’s mother died when she was little, and her father remarried to a woman with two daughters. He died a few years after that, leaving Elle alone with her step-mother and -sisters. She lives for the show that she and her father loved, Starfield (a sci-fi TV show that got canceled). It’s being rebooted into a movie, starring a teen heartthrob (do people even say that anymore?) Darien Freeman, whom Elle doesn’t think is a worthy replacement for the ship commander, Carmindor.

Darien has his own issues: he’s a geek himself, adoring Starfield. But, his acting career (managed by his father), has gone the way of teen soaps, and he’s garnered a legion of screaming, swooning fans. Which, of course, means that that Real Fans of Starfield are suspicious.

It’s not coming through yet, but this is an incredibly clever retelling of Cinderella. There’s no magic, just pure and simple fun. But it’s also incredibly clever the way Poston wove the familiar elements of the tale in. From the vegan taco truck, The Magic Pumpkin, to the glass slippers, it’s all there. Some of the characters are stereotypes, but others are surprising, and I loved the world and the show that Poston created.

It’s such a fun, fun book.

 

Traitor to the Throne

traitortothethroneby Alwyn Hamilton
First sentence: “Once, in the desert kingdom of Miraji, there was a young prince who wanted his father’s throne.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Rebel of the Sands
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some almost off screen sexytimes and a lot of violence. It’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been a bit since Amani has joined the Rebel Prince to try and claim the throne from his father, the Sultan. Things aren’t going so great for them; they’ve had several setbacks and it’s starting to seem hopeless. Then Amani is kidnapped by her aunt and sold to the Sultan. Suddenly, it looks like things might be turning around for the rebellion.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems: the Sultan is crafty and conniving, and Amani finds herself more than under his control; she’s stuck in the haram trying to find a way out. And all she can hope is that she comes out on the winning side.

It took me a bit to get back into the world, to remember what I really liked about Rebel of the Sands, but once I got going, I found I couldn’t put this one down.  I loved Amani’s fierce style, her problem-solving, and the way she was able to make plans, even under the direst of circumstances. There wasn’t as much of her and Jin, and he was more in the background of this book, but I did enjoy the moments when he did show up.

Mostly what this book was about was the politics of leadership: what makes a good ruler, how firm or fierce one should be, and the reasons subjects do or don’t follow one. I found that part fascinating.

I am definitely committed to the story line, and curious about where Amani and her rebel friends will go next.

Caraval

caravalby Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “It took seven years to get the letter right.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 31, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some domestic abuse and an almost-rape. If the reader is sensitive to those topics, then this probably isn’t for them. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will say this straight up: this one is a hard book to sum up. There’s devoted sisters, the older — Scarlett — of which will do anything for the younger — Tella. There’s a controlling and abusive father who uses the sisters’ devotion against them. There’s a traveling game, Caraval, that is invitation only and that Scarlett has wanted to attend for years. There’s a history between Caraval’s master, Legend, and Scarlett’s grandmother. And then there’s Scarlett’s impending marriage.

And then Scarlett and her sister get invited to the game, the week before her wedding. And it turns out that finding Tella is the POINT of the game. One in which Scarlett must be prepared to risk everything to win.

I loved this. Seriously. No, it’s not lyrical and the writing isn’t the grandest, but it’s good, solid storytelling with an epic story to be told. I loved that the stakes were high. And the chemistry between Scarlett and Julian? When it was on, it was ON. I liked the use of magic in the game and the way it kept me in suspense about what was real and what wasn’t

I liked that the story wrapped up, mostly suitably, even though there was a bit left undone for a sequel. Definitely worth reading.

Undertow

undertowby Michael Buckley
First sentence: “You can hear them coming from blocks away, a low thrum like the plucking of a bass string.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher (I think).
Content: It’s violent. There is an attempt at a sex scene, but it doesn’t get off the ground. There is some domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d be wary about the 6th grade end of the scale.

In this alternate not-so-distant future, there are these humanoid creatures called the Alpha, which have come out of the ocean and onto the shores near Coney Island, sending the community — and the country — into a tailspin. The Alpha aren’t exactly like humans — they have scales and different coloring, and sword-like things coming out of their arms. It’s not been an easy adjustment for the humans in Coney Island and the surrounding area. In fact, many of them haven’t adjusted at all, choosing instead to fight the “intrusion” of the Alphas on their territory.

For Lyric and her family, the appearance of the Alpha has caused some conflict, because Lyric’s mom is one of them. Sure, she’s been “passing” for 20 years, pretty sure her people abandoned her. But, since their appearance, the other Alphas that have been passing are being targeted. They’re outcasts among their people, and they’re outcasts among the humans as well. And things are getting more complicated: the government is insisting that select Alpha attend school, which just complicates matters more. Especially since Lyric is tapped for one-on-one lessons with the Alpha prince. Fathom.

I’m not doing a very good job describing this one. I suppose it sounds weird, but the thing that struck me most, especially in this political climate, was the whole immigration deal. You could substitute Alpha for any ethnic group, and you’d have a story that’s reflective of the way America currently reacts to immigrants. Sure, it’s exaggerated, but the hate and the discrimination are there. I found it all a fascinating way to deal with the whole issue. Buckley’s also being clever with the Atlantian myths and I thought that the whole Alpha-mythos building was quite unique and clever.

As for the rest of it, it’s a fairly typical YA dystopian. Buckley’s fairly brutal with his characters, which adds a level of intensity. And, sure, there’s a romance and the ending is sufficiently open-ended to make room for the sequel. It was a clever take on this genre, and definitely a fun read.