Evvie Drake Starts Over

by Linda Holmes
First sentence: “Go now, or you’ll never go, Evvie warned herself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: June 25, 2019
Content: There is some talk of sex, and a handful of f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Evvvie (as in Chevy) Drake was unhappy in her marriage. She’d been with her high school sweetheart for nearly half her life, and it had gotten to the point where she couldn’t take his emotional abuse anymore. Except on the day that she decided to leave, he was killed in a car accident. No one ever knew about her decision.

Fast forward two years, and she hasn’t been able to get out from under her dead husband’s shadow. He was a beloved doctor in town, and since no one ever knew about the abuse, his memory is perfect. Which leaves Evvie wondering what that made her for wanting to get away. Enter Dean, a friend of Evvie’s best friend, Andy, who’s suffering from the “yips”: once a major league pitcher, he can’t throw a game anymore. He moves into the apartment in Evvie’s huge house, and the two of them set about figuring out each other. And maybe — just maybe — healing in the process.

Oh this was a delight. Seriously. Even if you don’t listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour (why don’t you?), there is reason to pick this up. It’s sweet and charming, with just enough depth to keep it grounded and from being too saccharine. I adored all the characters, from Evvie’s and Andy’s relationship (they’re really Just Friends, yay!) to the way Evvie and Dean developed. And the fact that Evvie got some female friends along the way, too. It was so incredibly satisfying watching Evvie blossom through the course of the book. And the love story was charming and sweet and oh-so-satisfying as well. I’ve always thought that Holmes knows her stuff when it comes to romance, and this just proves that she knows how to write is as well as she knows how to write about it.

An absolutely perfect summer book.

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Love from A to Z

by S. K. Ali
First sentence: “On the morning of Saturday, March 14, fourteen-year-old Adam Chen went to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Zayneb is a senior in high school in Indiana, and she’s dealing with an Islamophobic teacher. He’s constantly bringing up ways in which Muslims are backward and how the religion is repressive, even though he’s white and doesn’t know nearly as much as Zayneb, who is actually a practicing, hijab-wearing, Muslim. Which makes her a target. So, one day, right before spring break, she’s had enough: and starts passing notes with a friend about the teacher and needing to take him down. He intercepts the note and reports her to the principal, and gets her suspended.

Which leads her to spending time with her aunt, who is a teacher at an international school in Doha. And that’s where Adam comes in. His father is the director of that school, and Adam’s home from spring break at college in London. Except he’s dropped out: he just got a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, which his mother had and died from complications connected to, and he’s determined to make as much art as he can, while he still can. He’s also Muslim: his father, who is a Chinese-Canadian, converted to Islam after the death of his wife, and Adam and his younger sister Hanna soon followed.

Adam and Zayneb have an instant connection, and while this book is dealing with heavier stuff like racism, people’s perceptions of Islam, and dealing with a diagnosis of MS, it is, at its heart, a rom-com. There’s a meet-cute in the airport, there are several meetings, a setback or two, and eventually, they fall in love and are super happy together. It’s a good Muslim story: they don’t actually hold hands or stay out all night, or even have sex in the back of a car. They enjoy talking and connecting and do everything properly and by the book. And the physical stuff doesn’t happen until the Epilogue, after Zayneb graduates from college and they get married. It’s really quite sweet.

I loved seeing a really religious rom-com, because there isn’t many of those out there. And because I’m an outsider to Islam, I appreciated the glimpse into that religion. There’s this one scene where Zayneb is face-timing with a friend, who has another friend (who is a white girl) with her. Zayneb says something to the effect how white feminists want to free Muslim women from wearing the hijab, because it will free them from oppression, and that’s not what it means. I have to admit that I was one of those white feminists for a very long time, but I’m coming to realize that it’s just an expression of their religion, and just because it’s different from me, doesn’t mean it’s oppressive or wrong. I appreciated that reminder.

In short: it was a unique YA romance, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Valiant

by Lesley Livingston
First sentence: “The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.”
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Content: There’s violence, obviously, and some references to naked people and drinking. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Fallon is a chief’s daughter of one of the Celtic tribes back in Roman times. They fought off the Romans, once, but her father was captured and her sister was killed rescuing him. Which means, Fallon’s not allowed to join the warriors (even though she’s an amazing fighter) and is being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. So, in fit of pique, she storms off only to be captured by Roman slavers. She’s sold — for an exorbitant price — to a gladiatrix training school, one that Julius Ceasar owns, and has to decide: will she fight in warrior games for a country she despises? Or will she become target practice?

I didn’t expect to like a book set in Roman times about a female gladiator, with a side love story with a Roman soldier, but you know what? I did. Livingston knows how to propel a plot and I really enjoyed the female relationships in this. Fallon wasn’t the only girl the slavers captured, and I liked how Livingston developed those relationships. They learned to work together and care for each other, and while she did have some women (once Fallon got to the academy) who were operating out of jealousy, it was mostly a supportive environment.

I didn’t particularly like the romance, though, and it all felt a bit too modern for me at points, but that’s forgivable. I don’t know if I’m going to go on to read the other two in this series, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 7, 2019
Content: There is implications of sex (but none actual), some teen drinking, and a few instances of f-bombs plus other language. It will be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Freddy has a problem: her girlfriend, Laura Dean, keeps breaking up with her. It’s more complicated than that: Laura will be super cute and lovey and want Freddy to do all sorts of things with her and Freddy will feel wonderful, and then Laura Dean will take off, or Freddy will find her kissing another girl, or she’ll just disappear and leave Freddy hanging.

This roller coaster ride of a relationship is taking its toll on Freddy, too: she’s become a crappy friend to her actual friends, whom she stands up often because of Laura Dean. And she’s questioning whether or not it’s her fault that Laura Dean keeps taking off.

I loved this. Seriously. I loved that it was a lesbian love story, that everyone was so accepting, but that Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell used this to talk about abusive relationships. Because, as the reader probably figures out before Freddy: Laura Dean’s super abusive. In fact, that’s the whole arc of the story: helping Freddy figure out that even though Laura Dean is popular, and even though she might enjoy the time she spends with Laura Dean, that doesn’t mean they have a healthy relationships. But they also tackle other issues: one of Freddy’s friends is in the closet to his family, and his boyfriend is upset he can’t go to a family party, and Freddy loses the connection with her best friend, right at the time when she needs Freddy the most.

This book is messy and complicated, but it’s also glorious and compelling. And I hope people read it because it’s fantastic.

Finale

by Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “Scarlett Dragna’s bedroom was a palace built of wonder and the magic of make-believe.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Caraval, Legendary
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 7, 2019
Content: There is some violence, some mild swearing, and some off-screen sex (plus a bunch of passionate kissing). It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the other two, obviously.

The Fates have been released from their cards, Legend is set up to be emperor, and all Scarlett and Tella want is for their mother to wake up. But when she does… she sets off a series of events that lead Scarlett and Tella into their most dangerous game yet: the game for their lives.

All the characters are back: Julian, Legend, and Jacks of course, and there are a huge number of new characters — the Fates — that come into play. On the surface, its a lush, magical, dangerous romp. But, underneath, I think Garber has always been exploring what people will do for love, and the difference between love and obsession. It’s especially clear in this book, and I think it’s stronger for it. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the second in this series, but I think Garber has pulled it together and put out a strong, fascinating, good conclusion.

Field Notes on Love

by Jennifer E. Smith
First sentence: “Mae wakes, as she does each morning, to the sound of a train.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a romance, but there’s really nothing objectionable. Some mild swearing and a lot of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Hugo is one of a sextuplet, and so he’e never really been alone. He’s never done anything extraordinary (unless you count being born) and he’s never really had an adventure. So, when his girlfriend Margaret breaks up with him, and begs off of their planned American cross-country train trip, Hugo is left aimless. That is, until he hatches a plan: find another Margaret Campbell and still make the trip.

Mae (aka Margaret Campbell) has applied to the USC film school, but when they reject her, she’s left aimless. That is, until she sees Hugo’s advertisement for someone named Margaret Campbell to go on this train trip with him. She jumps at the chance: why not go on a bit of an adventure before school starts? Maybe, then, she can find her direction again.

Since this is a romance, of course Hugo and Mae fall in love. Of course there is a falling out moment. Of course they (kind of) (mostly) end up together in the end. Of course it’s sweet and wonderful and all that.

Smith is excellent at writing charming, sweet, lovely romances, though. And this hit all the notes. Hugo and Mae were endearing and sweet, and I loved the cross-country train trip, which was something a little different. It’s completely unobtrusive and utterly delightful.

Audiobook: Finding Yvonne

by Brandy Colbert
Read by Maya Barton
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, pot smoking by an adult, some teenage drinking and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yvonne is a senior at an LA prep school, and has been putting her heart and soul into her violin playing ever since her mother left when Yvonne was seven. Now, though, she’s at loose ends: her violin teacher dropped her because she wasn’t “good” enough, and she feels like she has lost her passion for playing. But, without playing, who is she?

On top of that, Yvonne hardly sees her father, a successful chef. And she’s wanting to take the next step with Warren, who’s hesitant because of their age difference and because he works for her father. And so, when Yvonne meets a street musician, she explores a relationship there, mostly to see if it can help her figure things out.

I liked this one, but mostly because I think the narrator was really good. She kept me engaged in the story, and helped propel the narrative — which is super complicated, but then again, so are many senior kids’ lives — forward. I liked that Yvonne was a musician and a cook, and that she was looking for connection anywhere. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it wasn’t terrible either.