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

THE MANY MYSTERIES OF THE FINKEL FAMILY by Sarah Kapit

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Lara started FIASCCO (that’s Finkel Investigation Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only) because she wanted something that was her thing. Everyone else in the family is good at something–or more than one thing in the case of her infuriatingly perfect cousin Aviva–and Lara just wants something that’s hers and hers alone. Why can’t her younger sister Caroline understand that?

But Caroline doesn’t understand. Why won’t Lara let her help with FIASCCO–especially considering that when they’re at school and Caroline desperately wants to be left alone, Lara won’t stop hovering? It’s Caroline’s first year of middle school–and her first year of attending school without an aide. She doesn’t need one; with her tablet, she can communicate just fine. She knows Lara is trying to help–and that since her sister has autism too she can predict some of the challenges Caroline might face–but how is she supposed to make friends when Lara keeps scaring them off?

When a blossoming friendship drags Caroline far out of her comfort zone, however, she might need her sister’s help after all. And when Lara’s detecting leads her to discover their dad has been fired, she realizes that some crimes are too “consequential” to be solved alone.

Though the premise may snag some mystery readers, at its heart, this novel is contemporary realistic fiction; rather than solving suspenseful mysteries, the girls “detecting” leads them to learn more about each other–and themselves. THE MANY MYSTERIES… is sweet, funny, and impactful, with family and friendship predicaments that will be immediately accessible to any 4-6th grade reader.

Both protagonists have autism, and the book features other neurodiverse characters, as well. All of the characters have realistic and well-developed personalities, giving readers in the Autistic community a chance to see their experiences reflected and normalized–and giving neurotypical readers the chance to “get to know” a diverse group of kids with autism and see a story unfold through their perspectives.

An excellent read and a must-buy for your MG fiction collection!

THE PRINCESS SPY: THE TRUE STORY OF ALINE GRIFFITH, COUNTESS OF ROMANONES by Larry Loftis

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Though Aline Griffith’s contributions to the war effort in 1940s Europe were entirely clandestine, her life after leaving the OSS was anything but. She married into Spanish nobility, attended parties with stars like Audrey Hepburn, and published a series of sensational memoirs about her time as a spy.

But how much of Aline’s memoirs was sensationalism, and how much (if any) was truth? Larry Loftis set out to answer these questions and in THE PRINCESS SPY, brings the real Aline Griffith to light. Though there were fewer murders and death-defying feats than her memoirs suggest, Aline’s impressive fieldwork, her involvement in a lesser-known theater of the war, and her courtship with various bullfighters and noblemen make her a fascinating figure by any measure.

Though Aline’s story anchors the narrative, Loftis includes deep-dives into the overall work of the OSS in Spain, especially where it involves her recruiter, Frank T. Ryan, and colleague Edmundo Lassalle. For this reason, I would recommend THE PRINCESS SPY not only to biography readers but also to any WWII or military history enthusiast who enjoys narrative non-fiction.

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF AIDAN S. (AS TOLD TO HIS BROTHER) by David Levithan

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When they first discovered that Aidan was missing, they thought he was playing hide and seek.

By the end of the first day, they were in a panic.

By the end of the week, they were looking for a body.

So the last thing Lucas expected when he went up to the attic was to find his big brother lying on the floor in front of the old dresser–alive, disheveled, and muttering about visiting another world.

Aidan’s story is so absurd that no one believes him. His parents are frustrated that he won’t tell them where he really was. The town is furious that their search efforts were wasted on a liar and a runaway. His classmates mock him, calling him Unicorn Boy. Only Lucas seems to wonder if Aidan might be telling the truth–and if knowing might be less important than believing.

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF AIDAN… sits near the intersection of thriller, mystery, and magical realism, but it might find most of its readership among fans of contemporary fiction. Though the suspense brought by questions of “what really happened” and “what is true” drives the plot, thriller fans might be disappointed by the slow-boil plot–and mystery fans by the lack of clues and investigation. But contemporary fiction readers will relish the deep exploration of themes of acceptance, trust, bullying and community. By drawing these themes out of a fantastical event (Aidan’s story of visiting another world), Levithan gives readers an opportunity to connect these themes into their own lives without pigeonholing any specific real-life scenario. (Though one of the most beautiful moments in the book is the casual, matter-of-fact introduction of Aidan’s boyfriend near the end; that way, the world of the story is thoroughly inclusive–Aidan never judged or bullied for his sexuality–but the parallel between the need to accept Aidan’s truth (about the fantasy world) and the need to accept people in general for their true selves (e.g., sexual identity) is difficult to miss.) It’s a highly literary and masterful way of exploring these complex themes. A great book for book clubs and classrooms (but possibly not for your mystery/thriller fan).

“I loved Netflix’s BRIDGERTON, but will I like the books?”

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If you are anything like me and had already read Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, halfway through the first episode you had Questions…

Her debut season? A diamond of the first water? Daphne?? And why is Anthony being such a tool about her suitors? (And in general?) And wait–Daphne and Simon don’t like each other? And why is the queen involved in any of this? And who the heck is Marina Thompson? Oh her–but isn’t she…? So why…? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?

Of course if you are like me, you also believe that “different from the book” does not mean “worse than the book,” so you quit with the comparisons and settled in to enjoy the show on its own merits.

But if you are one of the many Bridgerton viewers who had not read the book, but who watched in the series three times in a row and are now going though Bridgerton withdrawal and wondering if you should get the books… this post is for you!

The answer to your question depends on why you liked the series. So I will give a breakdown of the big picture similarities and differences (NO SPOILERS beyond Episode 1 in case you haven’t finished) so that you have an idea of whether the books will be for you.

If you love Daphne, read the books! She is if anything more lovable. Daphne is in her second season in the Marriage Mart because too many of the “good” men view her as a friend. And though the show plays on the “enemies to lovers” trope, in the books she and Simon are BFFs from the moment they meet (when they bond over Daphne punching a suitor in the face). She has turned down several suitors she wasn’t keen on by the time she meets Simon, and Anthony (who is much more likable in the books) is wholly supportive of her wishes. If he weren’t, she’d punch him in the face…

If you love Simon, you should know that he is less likable in the books. Not that he’s awful, but some of the events that happen in the book were changed slightly but deliberately in the show to make Simon look better. BUT that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the books. Each book has a different hero (and heroine) and honestly, Simon and Daphne aren’t my favorite couple. So if you find yourself disgusted with Simon in The Duke and I, you should still read The Viscount Who Loved Me because Anthony and Kate are awesome. (If you don’t like The Viscount Who Loved Me, you probably won’t like the rest either.)

If you love Penelope and Eloise you’ll have to wait for books 4 & 5 or skip ahead. And in the meantime, you might be annoyed at some moments of Eloise as Generic Girly Younger Sister. Don’t worry. She’ll come into her own.

If you love the whole Bridgerton family dynamic, read the books! The in-depth exploration of non-Daphne Bridgerton characters is saved for each of their specific books so don’t expect any subplots from Anthony, Benedict, Eloise, etc., but the camaraderie, affection, and FUN is there from book one. Speaking of which…

If you love the drama, be advised that there is less in the books. There are fewer subplots, and the overall tone is just lighter.

If you love the social commentary, you might like the books. The Netflix series draws on and deepens some themes that are present in the book. For example, the theme of a woman’s options and agency is present in The Duke and I, but Daphne is more confident from the start. Anthony gives Daphne her choice of suitors (acting more as a messenger to turn down proposals as she rejects them); Lady Bridgerton is head of household in all but name and Anthony defers to her; Lady Danbury is never shown as subordinate to anyone. Marina Thompson isn’t in any of the books, (though her absence plays a role in a later book). My point: though the chains of the patriarchy and societal expectations limit and direct the characters’ actions in the book, there is much less straining against the bonds.

But if you love the show specifically because of the alternate history and commentary on racism, give the books a miss. The reinvention of the racial make-up of the ton extrapolated from the historical Queen Charlotte’s possible African ancestry is exclusive to the show. In the books, you will not find the racial overtones that accompany Marina Thompson’s reception by her “elite” relatives or Simon’s view of his position in society. But you will find an occasional (unrepudiated) casual racism from the characters, like this moment in The Duke and I:

“Now look here,” Simon said hotly, “I’m not some sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of your mother.”

“You have spent a lot of time in Africa, haven’t you?” Colin quipped.

Though likely historically accurate, such remarks will disappoint readers looking for meaningful commentary on racism either yesterday or today.

THE DUKE WHO DIDN’T by Courtney Milan

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Chloe Fong’s greatest ambition is to help her father get revenge on the men who stole his sauce recipe.

That and to forget Jeremy Yu.

It’s been three years since she’s seen or heard from him. So when he shows up for the village’s annual week of games–now, when she and her father are so close to perfecting their new recipe and launching their vengeful sauce empire–her annoyance and heartache crystallizes into fury.

Jeremy knows that if he told Chloe his true identity–the Duke of Lansing, the man with the power to turn her whole community out over decades of unpaid rents–she would want nothing more to do with him. And anyway, how could he ask perfect, ambitious, shy, intimidating, wonderful Chloe Fong to take in the burdens of being a duchess?

But though he’s tried, he can’t live without her. So he enlists her to help him make a list of qualities he will require in a wife. And hopefully by the end of it, she’ll realize that there is only one woman in the world that list could describe.

This historical romance is everything you can expect from Courtney Milan: funny, sexy, layered, and chock full of interesting characters who both challenge and support the heroine and hero. It unfolds at a slower pace than some of Milan’s earlier books, so it may not snag all Brothers Sinister fans, but I personally found it a relaxing comfort read.

YESTERDAY IS HISTORY by Kosoko Jackson

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On the way back from the hospital, Andre’s dad asks him if he’s in pain. Of course he’s in pain. He may be cancer free, but he’s still got a new liver, and after living with it for six months, he’s pretty sure the dull ache in his gut is his new normal.

But what happens when they get back to the house is definitely not normal. He lies down for a nap, and wakes up in the 1960s. It’s still Boston, but not his Boston. Still his house, but not his house. In fact, it seems to belong to an attractive and somewhat odd boy named Michael who isn’t quite curious enough about how a boy from the 21st century ended up on his front lawn. As it turns out, the young man who donated Andre’s new liver belonged to a family of time travelers. And as Andre grows increasingly attached to Michael in his past, in the present, he must navigate the fraught relationship with Blake: his donor’s brother who is still grieving and resents being assigned to help Andre acclimate to time travel.

An original premise, heart-fluttering romance, thought-provoking themes, a funny and spirited narrator–this novel is a winner from page one. A true delight to read. The humor and quirky sci-fi angle cushion the heavier themes and subject matter. But the sci-fi is more than a gimmick. The shifts from past to present mirror symbolically Andre’s internal struggle to figure out what he wants from his future. Though it likely won’t satisfy hard sci-fi readers, fans of YA literary and realistic fiction will definitely want to pick this one up.

THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ by Cory Leonardo

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Marcel the hedgehog has spent six months living in the Emerald City Movie Theater. He passes the time by nibbling popcorn off the floor, chatting with the two hens in the balcony, and of course watching the Wizard of Oz matinee every afternoon. But really he’s waiting for Dorothy. His Dorothy, who adopted him from the animal shelter, who he lost one afternoon at the park, and who he is sure will come find him someday. But instead of Dorothy, it’s an animal control officer who comes for Marcel. And when he’s released into the wild, he finds himself in Mousekinland and further from Dorothy and home than he’s ever been before. With the help of a reckless mouseling, a grumpy elderly squirrel, a terrified baby raccoon, and a cocoon named Toto, Marcel begins the journey back to the Emerald City Theater where he’s sure his Dorothy must be waiting.

THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ begins with slapstick humor but develops into a heartwarming–and occasionally heartbreaking–tale. In a twist on the classic, Marcel learns to trust his own ingenuity, compassion, and courage as he leads his new friends through the wilderness. And in the end, he realizes he must stop waiting for Dorothy to come to him and find his own way home. It will resonate most with readers who are familiar with the Wizard of Oz story, either from the movie or the books. (Honestly, though Marcel focuses on the movie, the extended denouement of this novel where each character finds their way back home reminded me more of the book.)

A note: I would have said this book skewed young until I got to the ending…. I don’t want to spoil, but if you’re going to recommend or read aloud to a young reader, read chapter 25 in advance so that you know whether it may upset your young reader and/or so that you can prepare for the conversations that will need to surround the reading of that particular chapter. Think CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Again, this is just a heads up if you’re reading it aloud to your kindergartener or handing it to your precocious second grader. If you’re recommending it to your typical MG reader, I don’t think it’s an issue. All of the content is developmentally appropriate and similar to content in other MG books.

BE DAZZLED by Ryan La Sala

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Raffy practically drags May from the car to the convention center. He can’t risk being photographed before he finishes gluing moss onto May’s face. All the other cosplayers got dressed at home, but they didn’t havr famous artists for moms–artists who for some ridiculous reason don’t consider crafting an art and don’t want their sons to go to art school. But Evie is not going to stop Raffy from entering–not entering, winning–the biggest cosplay competition in Boston. And once he does win, he won’t need Evie’s support for art school. He’ll have sponsors. Fame. He’ll finally be out of Evie’s shadow and surging into his future as a crafter.

But Raffy never thought about the one other person who could throw him off his game: his ex-boyfriend Luca. And when Luca doesn’t only show up but shows up in a costume Raffy designed, it’s impossible for him to keep his cool. Is it possible that Raffy’s hopes for the future could self-destruct as violently as their relationship?

This rom com is adorable and uplifting. By alternating between past and present, La Sala threads the suspense of the competition through the build-up and collapse of Raffy and Luca’s relationship. It’s definitely a page turner! I loved the evolution of Raffy’s relationship with his mom (and Luca’s!) and the depth given to the secondary characters (May and Inaya especially). A well-written, engaging, funny book for fans of YA realistic fiction and/or romances.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Enchanted needs to sing like she needs to breathe. The white girls at her school say she sounds like Beyonce, but that’s only because they don’t know many Black singers. Enchanted’s passion is the classic singers–the ones she and her grandma used to sing along with–Gladys Knight, Aretha, Nina Simone.

When she auditions for Music LIVE, the judges aren’t impressed with her dated sing choice or her timid performance, but 28 year old superstar Korey Fields is. He convinces her parents to let Enchanted tour with him, his newest protege. But there’s a darkness to Korey that Enchanted didn’t see at first, and the whirlwind that she thought would lead her to fame and love instead carries her down into terror, abuse, and ultimately a pool of blood on the floor of Korey’s penthouse.

I cannot adequately express how powerful and moving this book is. Enchanted’s voice is so strong. Even with the immense power her abuser holds over her, even when she is confused and heartbroken and doubting herself, she holds on. She fights when she’s able (and when she isn’t able to fight emotionally, mentally, the author makes it very clear that it is NOT her fault that she is in this situation). And she survives.

And the community around her! Reading this book as an adult and a parent, I wept at some of the scenes where her parents defend her. Jackson incorporates their voices directly through police interview transcripts and minutes of mom group meetings to provide a deeper perspective on how a whole community is affected by and responds to the violent abuses of a powerful man. Not all adults react in a positive way, but many do–from the parents, to the psychiatrist, to the flight attendant who notices something amiss. A reader will come away from this book knowing that there is help out there. That they are not alone in their experiences and they do not need to be alone in their rescue and recovery. As dark as the subject matter is, a reader will come away from this book with hope.

TW: This book could definitely trigger survivors of sexual violence and/or abusive relationships, but FWIW it didn’t trigger me. I think it was the strength of Enchanted’s voice and the knowledge from Chapter One that she will escape–that there will be some form of justice–that kept me from going to a dark place. But every survivor’s journey is different, so definitely exercise caution.

GIRL, SERPENT, THORN by Melissa Bashardoust

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Soraya has spent most of her life in hiding in the palace. While her twin brother prepared for his future as shah, Soraya tended her secret rooftop garden, watching the poison in her veins flow beneath her skin, wishing she had never been cursed. But when a captured div, or demon, reveals that her mother lied about the nature of the curse–that it wasn’t a punishment for her mother’s carelessness, but rather a poison the shabanu requested the div bestow upon her daughter, Soraya leaves her isolated garden and accepts the help of a new guardsman to find a cure. Unfortunately, her plan backfires. With her brother deposed and her own power drained, Soraya hopes there is enough monster left inside of her to defeat the div that now holds the key to her freedom.

An exciting fantasy in a masterfully-built world, GIRL, SERPENT, THORN plays with the tropes of the princess and the monster by combining them into one, intertwining poison and strength and exploring the gray area between good and evil. Highly recommended to YA fantasy fans who like fast-paced yet character driven adventures.

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