SOCIAL DISTANCE. READ TOGETHER.

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There are two reasons I don’t link to big box stores or book sellers when I recommend a book. Of course, I hope my readers will borrow from their local public libraries (as I do!). But I also hope that when readers purchase books, they’ll support independent book shops.

Patronizing local small businesses is more important now than ever. To find a local bookstore near you, check out this handy search: https://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder

UNDER A DANCING STAR by Laura Wood

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Beatrice quite enjoys shocking the vicar. Certainly, it’s more interesting than sitting at her parents’ dinner party, ignoring the fact that they’re trying to marry her off to a boring family friend and not talking about the most interesting development in her life, namely the recent copulation of glowworms by the lake.

But her rudeness at table is the final straw for her parents, who promptly ship her off to stay with her uncle Leo in Italy. Upon arriving, she is surprised to discover that her uncle is hosting a group of artists for the summer, the most infuriating of whom is Ben, a young man with a terrible reputation. But Bea soon realizes she could put Ben’s terrible reputation to good use. They make a pact to conduct a scientific courtship so that Bea can learn about sexual congress in practice, as well as in theory. The one rule is that neither must fall in love with the other. It seems like an easy agreement. But as tension grows among the artists and whispers of Mussolini’s sinister intentions circulate around them, Bea begins to worry that her summer with Ben will be far from easy and scientific.

Although this novel is marketed as “an adaptation of” MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, it is more accurately a prequel, a depiction of the “merry war” between Benedick and Beatrice that Leonato references in Act I, before the action of the play begins. While you won’t find a point for point pairing with MAAN in the plot, the novel is true to the spirit of the characters and the tone of the play–raucously funny but with serious, heart-wrenching undercurrents (in this case, the insidious rise of fascism in 1930s Italy). For this reason, it would work well in a classroom, with the caveat that Ben and Bea do have sex (off-stage) which I know would be an automatic disqualifying factor in some school environments.

Shakespeare parallels aside, there is a lot to love in this book simply as a YA historical fiction. Beatrice is a nuanced, feminist character; Ben has emotional depth; the romance builds authentically; and the historical backdrop has the right balance of lush world-building and thought-provoking social and political commentary. Highly recommend this one for YA historical fiction readers, book clubs, and (where possible) classrooms!

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood: 9780593309575 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING by Nicola Yoon

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Evie used to love romance novels. But that was before she caught her dad cheating on her mom. As she brings a box of her once-beloved books to the library to donate, she’s stopped by an old woman who offers her a weather-beaten copy of a ballroom dance manual in exchange. And on the way home, Evie is horrified to discover that the woman gave her something else, too: the ability to see the future.

Not just any future. Whenever she sees a couple kiss, she gets a vision of the heartbreak that awaits at the end of their relationship. Desperate to cure herself, she goes to the ballroom dance studio listed in the back of the old book. But instead of finding the woman who cursed her, she meets X, an aspiring rock star who basically checks every box on the stereotypical perfect hero of a romance novel list. As Evie and X become dance partners, then friends, Evie wrestles with the question: is love worth a future broken heart?

A truly exceptional, must-read YA romance! There are too many strengths to list, so I’ll stick with a few of my favorites:

First, these characters breathe. All of them are so alive, so real, so packed with genuine human emotions and motivations. No secondary character is neglected.

Second, this is a romance about heartbreak and loss (don’t worry, there’s an HFN) but it also made me laugh out loud. As with the characters, the plot and prose are packed with the full range of human emotion.

Third, there is a chapter where the narrator summarizes a bunch of romance novel tropes, and it is amazing.

And finally, this sentence: “Sometimes I think love is the reason language was invented.”

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Amazon.com: Instructions for Dancing (9781524718961): Yoon, Nicola: Books

THAT WEEKEND by Kara Thomas

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When Claire’s ex cheated on her, her dreams of a fun prom weekend evaporated. Maybe that’s why she accepted her best friend Kat’s offer to join her and her boyfriend at her grandmother’s lake house in the mountains. She should have said no. A weekend away with Kat and Jesse would either be torture or another opportunity for her to let it slip how in love with him she’s been all these years.

But Claire could never have imagined the horrors that would actually occur that weekend. In fact, she can’t even remember them. She was the only one who descended the mountain at the end of it–with a head wound and amnesia and covered in someone else’s blood. As the days pass and her closest friends change from “missing” to “presumed dead,” Claire is the only one who might be able to uncover the truth of what really happened on the Saturday that’s missing from her memories.

I’d recommend this one to readers who like thrillers that are driven by twists and suspense and care less about character development. Most of the interesting character building starts about 50% of the way through, when Claire finally makes the jump from amnesic victim to amateur investigator. Since I prefer character-driven narratives, it wasn’t until that halfway point that I really connected with the story, and even then, some of the twists weren’t founded enough for me. But there were lots of twists, and because the novel started with full-throttle suspense, thriller readers who don’t need that character connection will be sucked in immediately.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

That Weekend by [Kara Thomas]

FIERCE AS THE WIND by Tara Wilson Redd

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Miho was heartbroken when her boyfriend broke up with her, but she assured him she understood. He’d gotten drunk, he’d gotten his ex pregnant, and he had to take responsibility. What other option was there?

Of course that was before she went on the ex’s Instagram and realized that he’d been dating her all along. The ex wasn’t the Other Woman; Miho was.

As she’s on the beach burning all of the gifts he gave her, she sees a banner advertising the Ironman triathalon, a Hawaii tradition, and it feels like a sign. She’s never been much of a runner, but she can swim, and she can bike. 140 miles sounds like a lot, but Miho is determined. With her friends as her support team, Miho starts training for the race, hoping that by proving she can do this one, impossible thing, she’ll find a way to believe in her future.

The core of this book is community. Every scene with Miho’s friends is bursting with love and laughter. And this community gives the reader–and Miho, though she doesn’t realize it at first–a hopeful support to lean against as she works through some very dark feelings of worthlessness springing from the actions of her ex and the casual racism and classism she encounters everywhere. It’s impossible not to root for Miho as she builds her self-esteem along with building her physical and mental endurance for the triathalon. Recommended for fans of YA contemporary fiction.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Fierce as the Wind by Tara Wilson Redd: 9781524766917 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THE WISTERIA SOCIETY OF LADY SCOUNDRELS by India Holton

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When Cecilia learns that Lady Armitage has hired a pirate to assassinate her, she is pleased. Her late mother would be terribly proud that she finally merited an assassin. In fact, she is shaping up to be a fine pirate herself. She knows how to fly a house, how to pick a lock and a pocket, how to fight with knife, gun, or sword–in short, everything a lady needs to be a successful member of the Wisteria Society of Victorian pirates.

But as it turns out, her assassin isn’t as keen on killing her as Lady Armitage expected. In fact, Ned, as he insists she call him, warns Cecilia of a plot by her murderous father to kidnap her. Though Cecilia doesn’t trust Ned, when the rest of the Wisteria Society is shanghaied, she has no choice but to ally herself with him in order to effect a rescue. But while Cecilia may be well-versed in the art and science of piracy, she is in no way prepared for the feelings she begins to have toward Ned, and even less prepared for the feelings he seems to have toward her.

I’m pretty sure this book was written to delight me. I started laughing at the “Table of Significant Characters” and never stopped. But in addition to humor, it also checked all my boxes on what I want from a historical romance: a hero and heroine who I actually like, both independently and as a couple; a meaningful project not directly related to romance on which they can collaborate; and of course a healthy dose of swoon-worthy sexy-times. Still, as you can probably guess from the house-flying pirates, this won’t appeal to all historical romance readers. I would describe it as Sherry Thomas meets Gail Carriger. If that doesn’t help, read chapter one, and you will know if it’s for you. (And if this book is for you, we should definitely be friends. Because like I said, delighted…)

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels (Dangerous Damsels): Holton, India:  9780593200162: Amazon.com: Books

THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy

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Izaveta and Asya have always known their destiny. As twin princesses, Izaveta will succeed their mother as queen and Asya will become the Firebird, keeper of the magic of the firestone, tasked with exacting a blood-price from anyone who misuses magic. But when their mother is murdered, Asya and Izaveta are swept into their new roles much sooner than they expected, and if they have any hope of achieving justice, they will have to put aside their long-instilled mistrust of one another and uncover the darkest secrets of their imperiled queendom

A lot to love in this lush high fantasy, including an F/F enemies-to-lovers romance! Slavic folklore runs deep in the world-building and the consequences of magic are both weighty and believable. Recommend to high fantasy fans who don’t mind some bloodshed in their books!

Amazon.com: These Feathered Flames (These Feathered Flames, 1)  (9781335147967): Overy, Alexandra: Books

SMOKE by Darcy Woods

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Honor’s dad has suffered from flashbacks since he returned from Iraq before she was born, but lately they seem to be getting worse. When she discovers a letter in his dresser announcing a change to his benefits–and a loss of money they count on to make ends meet–Honor is horrified to imagine losing the house. Or worse, losing the greenhouse business that’s their livelihood. Honor doesn’t want to burden her older brother, who already takes it upon himself to protect her from bullies, so she comes up with a plan on her own. If she could set up her own grow-room, she could sell marijuana, just until she earns enough money to pay off the family’s debt. But breaking into the drug business has its dangers, and when she begins to suspect that her bullies aren’t behind all of the mysterious harassments she’s been facing, Honor has to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice–and who she wants to be.

So refreshing to find a book “about” PTSD that isn’t soul-crushing! The depiction of Honor’s dad’s mental illness is gritty and real–as is the anxiety Honor experiences as a result–but what this book is really about is the lengths to which a person will go to help the people they love. So despite the heavy thematic material, the suspense and thriller elements, and the nebulous shades of morality, hope and love are consistent threads. For all her questionable choices, Honor’s deep, emotional motivations compel readers to cheer for her–even at the moments where we’re watching her destroy a relationship. This book is excellent. The drug trade might preclude it from many classrooms and book clubs, but there is a lot of meat for discussion here. I highly recommend it to fans of YA contemporary and character-driven thrillers.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Amazon.com: Smoke (9780593305904): Woods, Darcy: Books

THE DUKE UNDONE by Joanna Lowell

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When Lucy stumbles upon an unconscious, drunken, and very naked man, she can’t believe her luck! Though she and the other female artists at the Royal Academy are circulating a petition to be allowed to participate in life drawing sessions, she has not yet had the opportunity to sketch a male nude. Putting modesty and Victorian propriety aside, she memorizes the features and anatomy of the gorgeous specimen–the front of him, anyway–and hurries off to paint. The resulting work is her masterpiece and the first artwork she’s been able to sell. Unfortunately, her unwitting model gets a glimpse of the picture, and even more unfortunately, he turns out to be a duke. Despite the realization that the duke is as attracted to her as she is to him, Lucy wants nothing more than to distance herself from this drunken and very possibly dangerous man and focus on her art career. But when a disingenuous politician arranges to evict her whole block from their homes, Lucy decides to blackmail the duke into helping her win over the Board of Works. It will be fine, as long as she avoids romantic entanglement. How hard can that be?

I love, love, loved this Victorian romance. Could not put it down. It has everything I look for in a steamy historical romance: an interesting and historically grounded conflict, a fierce heroine and principled if flawed hero, and so, so much sexual tension. Highly recommend to fans of Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan!

TELL ME WHEN YOU FEEL SOMETHING by Vicki Grant

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Davida has known Viv for seven years. She knows Viv wouldn’t have taken Ecstasy. She doesn’t even drink! But she can tell the cop doesn’t believe her. He just thinks Viv is another drugged up kid ended up in a coma through her own bad choices. And maybe he’s right. Davida’s seen the videos of the party. It’s obvious the pill Viv took wasn’t a multivitamin. As Davida struggles to come to terms with her own misconceptions about her friend, her own musings and the police officer’s investigation keep circling back to the hospital where Davida and Viv both worked as simulated medical patients and the unconventional relationships between teen volunteers and staff.

This one is a page-turner! A self-professed #MeToo book, TELL ME WHEN YOU FEEL SOMETHING needs a trigger warning for scenes of sexual assault. Though the rape survivor spends the book in a coma and is unable to pursue justice for herself, the heroine is also a young woman whom the sexual predator has been grooming. There’s plenty of misdirection and suspense that make the book difficult to put down, but I missed a certain amount of character depth found in other #MeToo books–even thrillers (think: GROWN)–possibly due to the split of narration between the survivor, her friend, a boyfriend, and police interrogation transcripts. But as a thriller, it delivered, and I’d recommend it to mature fans of the genre.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

Amazon.com: Tell Me When You Feel Something (9780735270091): Grant, Vicki:  Books

THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL by Candice Marley Conner

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Bea’s brother has ceased to exist.

At least it seems that way when the whole town turns out to his funeral, even though there’s no body, even though he’s only been missing for six months, even though Bea saw someone rescue him from the flood waters. But her parents and the sheriff have written her off as crazy and insisted on declaring him dead so that Bea could move on with her life.

Of course no one asked Bea what she wanted, and she has no intention of moving on. When she finds the out-of-towner who pulled her brother from the flood, she begins her own investigation into Jim’s disappearance. But her small Alabama town has more secrets than she imagined, and every clue she finds seems to complicate the case. As her detective work begins to attract attention, Bea starts to wonder whether Jim got himself mixed up in something seriously dangerous–or if maybe she’s as crazy as everyone believes.

This new title checks all the boxes you look for in a teen thriller: a kidnapping, parental drama, a supportive but skeptical BFF, a love triangle, ill-defined danger, and a protagonist you’re not sure you can trust. While it’s not in the same league as a Megan Miranda or a Karen McManus, the lower intensity and lack of violence allows this thriller to skew younger, and it might have an easier time getting past gatekeepers. (FYI, there are references to drugs, but the teens don’t use the drugs, and it felt a bit like “drugs” was the token crime the way that every Hardy Boys book seems to involve smugglers…) I’d put THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL in the hands of a thriller-hungry reader in grade 8 or above.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher to write this review.

The Existence Of Bea Pearl - By Candice Marley Conner (paperback) : Target