The Extraordinaries

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room.”
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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
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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
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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.”
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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.

The Girl from the Sea

by Molly Knox Ostertag
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Content: There is some kissing. It’s in the teen/adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think younger kids who don’t mind a romance would like this one.

Morgan lives on a small island, where she has a good group of friends. However, this summer things are changing: her parents just got divorced, and Morgan has come to realize that she’s hiding a huge part of who she is: she’s gay. She figures just make it through high school, and get away from the small island town, and then she can live her Real Life.

Except the universe has different plans: Morgan meets Keltie, a strange girl with some secrets of her own. As the two girls get to know each other, things change a lot faster and a lot more than Morgan is ready for.

I have really enjoyed Ostertag’s other graphic novel series (there’s a third one I haven’t read yet) and this one is just as delightful. She captures the feelings of feeling isolated and different and wanting to feel like they fit in. She captures first love and trying to make it work with someone who is very different from you are. I adore her art and I think it works really well with the story she’s crafted.

Definitnely a real winner.

Instructions for Dancing

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “Books don’t work their magic on me anymore.”
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Release date: June 1, 2021
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some mention of teen drinking and mentions of sex. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore when it comes out.

Evie is done with love. Ever since she caught her dad cheating on her mom (and then the subsequent divorce and his pending remarriage), she has determined that love — especially as seen in romance books — is a sham. No one stays happily ever after forever.

And then Evie is gifted with the ability to see couples past, present, and future. This just solidifies her belief: every couple ends in heartbreak. Then she is drawn to a dance studio, gets roped into competing in an amateur ballroom competition, and meets X. It’s got her rethinking love, but in the end: is loving someone worth the inevitable heartbreak?

I have loved Yoon’s books in the past, and this is no exception. She perfectly blends fluff romance (and y’all: X is hot!) with deeper questions about life and relationships. And it’s not just romantic relationships: Evie’s ups and downs with her friends and her family — including her father — are just as important as the budding relationship with X. I loved the deeper end of the book, as Evie struggles with forgiveness and acceptance. But I also loved the fluff: Yoon is very good at writing chemistry, and Evie and X getting to know each other was absolutely delightful.

Very much another excellent book by Yoon.

Namesake

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “My first dive was followed by my first drink of rye.”
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Others in the series: Fable
Content: There are a couple of mild swear words and some insinuations to off-screen sex. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Fable, obviously.

Fable has been kidnapped by Zola, a merchant/mercenary and rival to both her father, Saint, and her lover, West. It turns out she’s been kidnapped for one reason: as a ransom for Zola to gain favor with Holland, the most powerful trader in the Unnamed Sea. But, as in Fable, everyone is playing a long game, and nothing is as it seemed. And so Fable and West find themselves as pawns in a game they don’t quite understand but have to read.

Much like Fable, this is a lot of fun. I liked the world that Young has built, with its ships and traders and gems and dredgers and a very very slight bit of magic. I liked that Fable was able to hold her own against people more powerful than she (except the end, in which people come in and save her, which was slightly disappointing). I didn’t get much in the way of the romance that was so central to the story — and I kept getting annoyed that West would go out of his way to “protect” Fable, when she really didn’t need it. IN the end, though, they worked better as a team. I do like Young’s world building though, and I wouldn’t mind following other stories set here.

In the end, it was fun, which is really all I wanted out of this one.

People We Meet on Vacation

by Emily Henry
First sentence: “On vacation, you can be anyone you want.”
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Release date: May 11, 2021
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There are a dozen or so f-bombs and some tasteful on-screen sex. It will be in the Romance section of the bookstore.

When Poppy met Alex their freshman year of college they immediately decided they were not for each other. She was loud, dressing in vintage clothing, and loved to travel and experience things. He was quiet and studious, preferring khakis and to stay at home in their Midwest hometown. So, it was incredibly unlikely that they would become friends.

But become friends they did. And one of the things they looked forward to? Their annual Summer Trip: Poppy picked the destination and made the plans, usually cheap and haphazard, and they went and had a great time.

Fast forward ten years, and Poppy and Alex have had a falling out. They haven’t talked or texted or gone on their vacation for two years, and when Poppy’s friend asks her when the last time she was truly happy, she immediately knows: the last time she was with Alex. So, she takes a risk and asks him to go on one of their old vacations again. Miraculously, he agrees.

The thing is, they’ve got a week to figure out what went wrong in their relationship. And how to get it back again.

I plowed through this book, not wanting to put it down. Not only does Henry give us a sweet friendship-turned-romance (and the payoff is SO worth it!), she gives us a bunch of little travel vignettes. I adored reading about the places that Alex and Poppy went and loved their experiences there. It’s not wholly a travel book: Poppy and Alex have an arc, and Henry deftly fills us in on not just their history but their pasts apart from each other as well. It was all deftly packaged within the framework of their trips.

No, it’s not earth-shattering, or life-changing. But it was fun. A LOT of fun. And right now, I’ll take that.

Down Comes the Night

by Allison Saft
First sentence: “Wren had never seen a worse radial fracture.”
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Content: There is some medical gore, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The neighboring countries of Danu and Vesria have been at war for centuries. So much so, that it has decimated the population, and wrecked the economies of both countries. The current queen of Danu was forced by the parliament to accept an uneasy truce, and so when soldiers on the border between the countries go missing, the uneasy truce seems ready to collapse.

Wren is the bastard niece of the queen, and all she has wanted to was to be useful. Thankfully, she has healing magic, and, because she also takes a scientific approach to medicine, she is one of the best in Danu. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really made the queen like her anymore. So after a quick series of events that leaves Wren even more on the outs with the queen, she ends up in another neighboring country (that doesn’t have magic, but has technology) commissioned to heal a patient. Except, that patient is the Reaper of Vesria, Hal Cavendish, and someone that Wren’s queen would love to capture. Which side of Wren is going to win out: the one that needs the queen’s approval, or the compassionate healer?

This one was recommended to me by a customer who shares the same taste in books as I do. And, I really enjoyed it for the most part. When I was about halfway through I described it as a cross between Leigh Bardugo and Mexican Gothic, and it was. There was good creepy plus magic, and I thought it would dissolve into full-on Gothic weird horror. But, Saft didn’t go there. There was a lot of good in the second half of the book, especially between Wren and Hal, but it pulled back and became a (admittedly good) treatise on the futility of war. Which isn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted from where the first half of the book was taking me.

Even so: it’s a good book and a standalone (though I suppose we could have more adventures of Wren and Hal), which is always refreshing. A solid debut.

Shipped

by Angie Hockman
First sentence: “Every time I collect my mail from the paint-spattered box in the lobby and see my name printed over and over in bold black ink, I’m reminded that I’m named after a rock star.”
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Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Henley Evans has big goals for her life: work really really hard, progress in her job as marketing manager at a small cruise line, and suriving her work nemesis, Graeme Crawford-Collins (who was, disappointingly, not British. I think with a name like that, you need to be British). When both Henley and Graeme are up for the same promotion, and then sent on a cruise to the Gal├ípagos islands, Henley is sure it’s going to be the worst vacation ever. But things don’t always go as expected, and not everything (and everyone) is what it seems.

I had been reading a few heavy-ish books, and I needed a light, silly, palate-cleanser, and this hit the spot perfectly. It’s a perfect rom-com, following all the familiar beats, with a side trip to the Gal├ípagos islands put in. I enjoyed Henley’s girl crew, including her sister Walsh, and I liked the push-pull between Henley and Graeme. It’s not deep, but it was a lot of fun. Which is exactly what I needed right now.