Audio book: Once upon a QuinceaƱera

by Monica Gomez-Hira
Read by Frankie Corzo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are a number of swear words, including multiple f-bombs, teenage drinking, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+ of the bookstore)

Carmen Aguliar has one goal this summer: finish an internship so she can graduate high school. Except her internship is being an assistant for a woman who runs a knock-off Disney princess-for-hire outfit. And, she just hired Carmen’s ex-boyfriend from when she was 15. Who just happens to be behind the reason Carmen’s quinceaƱera got canceled and she and her mami fell out with her mami’s family. What was going to already be an unbearable summer gets even worse when the “Dreams” get hired to perform at Carme’s cousin’s quince. The same cousin that Carmen and her mami haven’t talked to in three years.

It’s a silly , light romance, one you can see coming from a mile off (lovers to enemies to lovers, gotta love tropes!) but it’s got some heart and soul to it. I liked the portrayal of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Spanish was effortlessly woven through, as was an exploration of stereotypes and expectations (or lack thereof) of Latine women. I adored the narrator; she made Carmen and her friends and family come alive in a way that made me want to keep listening.

Definitely a fun late-summer read.

Heartstopper Vol 2 and 3

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore buy it there! (volume 2, volume 3)
Others in the series: Volume 1
Content: There is a lot of swearing and talk of sex but none actual. It’s in the Graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Oh my heart.

I am totally on team Nick and Charlie. Their romance is the cutest, sweetest thing ever.

In volume 2, Charlie and Nick officially get together, but Nick — who has realized that he’s bi — isn’t quite ready to go public with it yet. That is quite all right with Charlie, because he was bullied last year when he was accidentally outed, and doesn’t want the same for Nick.

It’s super cute, full of clandestine kisses and Nick and Charlie slowly telling everyone that they’re together.

Volume 3 is a summer trip to Paris, learning about Nick’s family, and finally being comforanble being out together. Oh, and Charlie may have an eating disorder.

It was absolutely delightful to read these, even with the high school angst and the bullies and the homophobic families. Nick and Charlie have a fantastic relationship, and I am here for it.

Bring on Volume 4!

Life’s Too Short

by Abby Jimenez
First sentence: “Wailing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:There is lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. There is also on-screen sex and talk of penis size. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

Vanessa Price is a pretty famous travel blogger, and so when she landed in St. Paul to help her sister give birth (its an unplanned an unwanted pregnancy), the last thing she expected was to end up taking care of the baby full time. But, here she is, without content, not having showered for ages. Coming to the rescue is Adrian Copeland, defense attorney, eligible bachelor, and surprising baby whisperer. As the weeks go on, Vanessa and Adrian grow closer together, figuring out life and babies and family and ultimately how to live your life to the fullest.

I absolutely devoured this one. It’s fluffy and fun, but it’s also got depth as Vanessa is dealing with a family history of ALS as well as a parent who is a hoarder and a half-sister (the baby’s mom) who is a drug addict. Mostly, though, it’s a lot of flirting and will they/won’t they and a lot of spending huge amounts of money on wine and home furnishings (Jimnez knows that a man cleaning is sexy!) and ultimately a very satisfying romance. I read it in a weekend afternoon, and then found out it was part of a “series”, so I picked up the first one.

I can’t wait to devour that one, too.

Flash Fire

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Nicky, yes,‘ Seth Gray groaned, and Nick had never been prouder of himself in his entire life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Extraordinaries
Content: There is a lot of talk about sex (a lot!) and being horny, but no actual. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but might be uncomfortable for some in that age group.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

Picking up a few months after The Extraordinaries left off, Seth and Nick are in a happy, healthy relationship. Seth has embraced his role as Pyro Storm, and Nick is trying to figure out how to control his powers. Things are looking good, and it feels like the only major decision they will have to make is what to wear to Prom.

But, of course, things are not meant to be easy for our heroes. There are some new extraordinaries in town, some of which may be good, but others… not so much. And, of course, Nick and Seth and Gibby and Jazz are going to have to deal with things that are way out of their league.

I think Klune is my new favorite writer! there is something about his writing and his storytelling that just makes me smile. It deals with serious issues — there are bis in here about police brutality as well as being open to admitting, owning, and rectifying one’s mistakes. I love that there are supportive adults in the book, that the kids are allowed to (mostly) be kids. It’s a joy to read and laugh with. It helps that Klune is brilliant at writing all sorts of relationships, as well as action scenes (important in a superhero book!).

I am definitely glad I picked up his books this year. I can’t wait for the next one!


Heartstopper Volume 1

by Alice Oseman
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying and a scene of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I had seen this around the bookstore, and picked it up on a whim when we were in Chicago earlier this summer, with no idea what to expect. Turns out, it’s a very sweet love story between two boys – Nick, grade 10, and an out gay kid at the school; and Charlie, grade 11, a rugby player, who is not entirely sure about his orientation (is he gay? is he bi?) but knows that he really likes spending time with Nick.

There isn’t much story-wise: Nick has been having a secret romance with another kid, Ben, who is pretty toxic. He develops a friendship with Charlie when they are placed next to each other in class, and the friendship develops into a crush, but he thinks Charlie is straight. Charlie becomes a really good friend to Nick, but is struggling: he likes Nick as more than friend, but has always assumed he was straight. What did all that mean?

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! I liked that Oseman highlighted that boys can be on the receiving end of sexual assault, I liked Charlie’s open questioning (rather than shutting everything down), I liked Nick and Charlie as characters. The art isn’t super sophisticated, but it gets the job done, and doesn’t detract from the story.

It’s the first of at least a trilogy, and I will definitely be checking those out.

The Summer of Lost Letters

by Hanna Reynolds
First sentence: “I am going to try to explain.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some teenage drinking and a few swear words including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Abby Shoenberg isn’t really looking forward to the summer — her best friends will be gone away to camps and she doesn’t want to bump into her now ex-boyfriend around their small Massachusetts town. Then a package of her recently passed grandmother’s letters arrives, and they’re juicy: a series of love letters from an Edward on Nantucket island. The thing is: her grandmother — who came to the US by herself in 1934 before the War, and whose parents didn’t survive the Holocaust — never mentioned this Edward, or that she had ever spent any time on Nantucket. And suddenly, Abby has a plan for the summer: find a job and go live on Nantucket, and do some digging. Maybe she could find not only this Edward but her grandmother’s family: with the war and being so young, she had completely lost track of everyone, especially after finding out her parents were killed.

The thing is: Edward is the head of a very rich business family, with a huge estate on Nantucket, and Abby finds herself reluctantly getting the assistance o his grandson, Nick. And the more they find out, the more time they spend together, the closer they become.

Oh this was just the smart, sweet, interesting teen romance I needed. I liked that while it dovetailed into World War II, it wasn’t set there, and while the war had an impact on the story, I’ m not sure it was the most important impact. I liked that the characters were Jewish, comfortable in their faith, but also honest about antisemitism. I liked the romance; Reynolds has a way with writing chemistry and tension, and I liked the push and pull between Nick and Abby. It felt real. I also liked Abby’s obsession with learning her history; she is right that our ancestors stories mean something, even if they are not always the best or most honorable.

It was an excellent YA romance, fluffy and fun but with depth as well. I loved it.

The Extraordinaries

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of sex, but none actual, and some mild swearing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think it’d be suitable for younger readers.

Nick Bell is obsessed with Nova City’s “Extraordinaries” — read: superheroes — but especially Shadow Star. He daydreams about him, he writes fanfic about him, and Nick has decided that what he really wants is to be Extraordinary like him.

Nick’s friends Gabby, Jazz, and Seth all think this is a bad idea. However, that is not going to stop Nick from getting and becoming who he wants to be.

Okay, that’s very lame summary of a very good book.It’d hard to say what Klune’s books are really about; this one I would peg as a rom-com with superheroes. There’s some great tropes in it, from both the romance and superhero genres, but it’s got a sly sense of humor that makes these tropes fresh.

Nick has ADHD and is a very adorable hot mess. It’s really only his friends (well, and his father) that keep him together. He makes bad (well, mostly awkward) decisions that put him in awkward situations. And I adored every minute of it. It helps that the reader is a LOT more aware of situations than Nick is; I think we are meant to figure out things way before Nick does, mostly so we can shake our heads and say “Oh, Nick” at the book. It was delightful.

I think I have a new favorite author. Klune’s books are absolutely wonderful.

Audio book: One Last Stop

by Case McQuiston
Read by Natalie Naudus
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. Plus some on-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

August can’t settle down. Literally: she’s 23 years old, and she can’t seem to finish college, or find a place where she belongs. She’s transferred to New York City in yet another attempt to get out from underneath her overbearing mother and to find a place where she fits.

Enter a few quirky roommates and August begins to feel at home. And then she meets Jane Soo on the subway: Its love at first sight (kind of), except there’s a hitch: Jane can’t leave the Q Train. And August, who has been trained by her mother to be obsessive about finding people and fixing things, can’t seem to let it go.

It’s not a brilliant novel, but it’s sure a fun one! I liked how McQuiston played with time in this one, and how Jane’s and August’s relationship wasn’t a perfect one. That said, it was a combination of the narrator – she was fabulous – and the secondary characters that kept me listening to this one. I adored all the characters McQuison populated the world with; they were funny, sweet, lovable, and interesting.

It wasn’t my favorite of all time, but it was a good solid romance and it was fun. Perhaps that’s all I can ask for.

Blackout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is mild swearing and three f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic premise is this: it’s a hot summer day in New York City, and the power goes out at 5 p.m. The six different authors then set about telling six interconnected stories about what happens — romance-wise — once the lights go off. It takes place in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with both straight and gay couples, as the night goes on.

If there is goign to be short stories, I think, I prefer them when they are interconnected. Think of this as the Black, summer version of Let it Snow. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s fun, it’s swoony. People you don’t normally think of writing romance — Angie Thomas, Nic Stone — write solid stories that fit in beautifully in-between Jackson’s longer, multi-chapter anchor story. I loved the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and thought it worked together really really well. In short: It’s a brilliant concept, brilliantly executed.

Definitely pick this one up.

Rise to the Sun

by Leah Johnson
First sentence: “My best friend has always been the first person I run to when it’s time to blow up my life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs and some talk of sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Olivia is a mess. She dates a lot, but her relationships never last. And her last one ended really, really badly. She just needs to get away, so she convinces her best friend, Imani, to drive to northern Georgia to a music festival where Imani’s favorite band is headlining. A best friend’s weekend is what they need.

Toni just graduated from high school, but ever since the sudden death of her father, she’s not sure if she wants to follow the stable path her mom has set, or follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue music. She’s at the festival to figure things out.

But when Olivia an Toni collide (almost literally), everything gets thrown up in the air as they try to figure out the sparks between them.

Much like Johnson’s first book, this one simultaneously is a joy of Black girl romance while having more difficult themes – like the death of a parent, or the expectations of parents – underneath. It’s a fun, delightful, breezy read, and one I’m definitely glad is out there Johnson writes some pretty spectacular YA books, that are much-needed in this market.