THE RUNAWAY DUCHESS by Joanna Lowell

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

Lavinia had no choice but to marry the elderly, lecherous duke–not after the duke she was supposed to marry jilted her, exposed a family scandal, and had her father arrested. With her family disgraced and no skills to earn money except by marrying it, she grits her teeth and trudges down the aisle. But it’s what the wedding night holds that she truly dreads: not only being forced to share a bed with her loathsome husband but what that husband might do when he discovers he is not her first lover. So when a young botanist stops her on the train platform, mistaking her for a new colleague, she flees her honeymoon–and her past life.

Neal’s future wife is nothing like he expected. She more closely resembles a Society debutante than an intrepid explorer; he can hardly imagine her doing all the daring feats she describes in her memoirs. But he still fully intends to ask her to marry him after their stint collecting plants in Cornwall is complete. Surely she, too, will be looking for a like-minded, intellectual spouse. And if she agrees to be his bride, they can be married to fulfill his mother’s hopes for him before she succumbs to her cancer. As his professional relationship with his bold explorer deepens, however, Neal is in for more surprises, perhaps the biggest of which is that he is falling in love–and for reasons he never would have imagined.

Lowell made a bold choice to cast one of her previous book’s villains as her heroine–but it payed off! She matched her deeply flawed heroine with a seemingly perfect hero, only to subvert our expectations for both and somehow make us love them more. With this book, Lowell proves that the acclaim her debut earned was not a fluke. She is a new star in the historical romance genre.

VINYL MOON by Mahogany L. Browne

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

It’s been five weeks since Angel’s mother sent her to the live with her uncle in Brooklyn, and Angel knows it’s her own fault. Her fault that she had to leave California. Her fault that her arm is in a sling. Her fault that Darius, the first boy who called her beautiful, the boy who loved her so much he couldn’t help but hurt her, is in jail.

Angel isn’t eager to share her past–or her guilt–with the other girls in her advisory class at her new school or with her teacher, however cool she might seem. But when she rediscovers the poetry of Maya Angelou, which she had loved to read until Darius tore up her book, the words of Angelou and soon other Black artists take root in her soul. And as she confronts the darkness in her past, she begins to open herself up to love: the love of a boy, the love of a friend, the love of her uncle, and most incredibly, the love of herself.

Exquisite poetry and prose intertwine in this uplifting novel about a Black trauma survivor finding herself through the powerful voices of BIPOC artists. Writers like Cisneros, Morrison, and Angelou influence both the character on her journey to becoming a musical artist and the style of narration, a combination of vignettes, poems, and conversations. Browne also surrounds her protagonist with a community of Black women and girls, each with her own developed identity and arc, who flesh out not only the world of the story but the message about the strength, resilience, ingenuity, and above all value of Black girls, despite how society teaches them that they don’t matter or can’t achieve. This book is an essential purchase for any YA collection and an emotional, uplifting literary read for teens and adults.

PREMEDITATED MYRTLE by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Posted on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Myrtle Hardcastle is not at all surprised to see the constable at the manor across the road. After all, she was the one who phoned the police after noting that the science-minded spinster next door, Miss Wodehouse, and her cat had not undertaken their usual morning routine (a future detective must be Observant of such things if she hopes to uncover Crimes-in-Progress). Alas, Myrtle was too late to help Miss Wodehouse, who was dead in her bathtub when the police arrived, but she is determined to solve the murder–for it is a murder no matter what the police might say to the contrary. No obstacle will stop the intrepid young detective–not the inexplicable vanishing of Miss Wodehouse’s life’s work, not the weary attempts of her prosecutor father to reign in his unconventional daughter, and certainly not the fact that the only witness to the supposed murder is a runaway cat.

Funny, quirky, and thrilling in exactly the right balance, the Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries will delight middle grade fans of Enola Holmes, Flavia de Luce, and even more modern girl detectives. A deserved Edgar Award-winner, PREMEDITATED MYRTLE is an excellent mystery with an even more excellent protagonist and the promise of thrilling series to come.

LOVE AT FIRST SPITE by Anna E. Collins

Posted on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

Dani does not regret playing paintball in her wedding dress on the day that should have been her wedding. She does regret running into Wyatt Montego, the most intimidating architect at the firm where she works, while drunk at the bar afterward and managing to get paint on his probably-expensive shirt. And of course that wouldn’t have happened if she had realized how self-centered, controlling her ex was before getting engaged to him, buying a house with him, and then suffering the humiliation of being cheated on with their realtor.

But once she sobers up, Dani realizes that the house might provide her with the perfect opportunity for revenge. Since her ex-fiance refused to let her buy the adjacent lot for studio space, she could buy it now and build some giant monstrosity on it to block his view. She could use all her skills as an interior designer to make it exactly the sort of house he’d hate. She just needs an architect to design it. Enter Wyatt Montego. Apparently not bearing any sort of grudge for the paint-on-the-shirt incident, Wyatt stuns Dani by volunteering to design the house for free. Of course they’ll have to keep their relationship professional since they work for the same firm. But that won’t be too difficult since Wyatt isn’t exactly the most personable man in the world (however gorgeous he might be) and there’s no way he could be interested in Dani.

Right?…

This steamy RomCom was tons of adorable fun. The Pride and Prejudice vibe was intentional (several reverences to Bridget Jones) and well-executed, and the Spite House was an original concept with the potential to inspire vengeful glee in anyone who can relate to Dani’s frustration with being constantly undermined by her ex. I highly recommend this novel to fans of the genre and the enemies-to-lovers and workplace romance tropes.

HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVE by Jacqueline Firkins

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

Harper doesn’t believe in love. There’s nothing like working summers hemming dresses for bridezillas that will kill all dreams of a happily ever after. And then, of course, there was last summer’s fling that ended in a broken heart. No, Harper isn’t planning on falling in love ever again. Unlike her best friend, Theo, who seems to fall in love twice a week with girls who ultimately reject him. Harper decides what Theo needs is some lessons in casual dating, and who better to give them than the hardened cynic who is an expert in closing off her heart to love. To prove it, she’ll even casually ask out the hot athlete she’s had a crush on since forever and who she is definitely not going to fall in love with.

There are only two problems with Harper’s plan. First off, she starts falling for Felix almost as soon as they start dating. The bigger problem: she might be falling even harder for Theo…

I was swept away by this earnest, emotional rom-com. Harper’s voice is funny, and her experiences of love are raw and realistic. There were points in the novel when I genuinely wasn’t sure how things would turn out because of the believable complications that Firkins built into her love life. It is refreshing to have a love triangle where all three people are good humans trying to figure out what they want in the world and whether they can fit together in a relationship, and the sex-positive mom was an added bonus. I highly recommend this novel to teen and college-age romance readers! It would be an excellent addition to any YA collection.

DANGEROUS PLAY by Emma Kress

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Zoe has one goal for the year: to lead her field hockey team to the championships where she’ll have the chance to impress scouts from her dream college. It’s not going to be easy, especially since most of the team will be new players, but that’s why Zoe has been leading her handpicked new girls in middle-of-the-night training sessions, so that they really blow Coach away at try-outs.

Everything goes according to plan, except that one of the girls who makes the team isn’t one of Zoe’s picks. In fact, the only time Zoe has seen Nikki before was when she ran across the field during one of the middle of the night trainings, her shirt undone, a wild look in her eyes like she was fleeing for something–or someone. Zoe is pretty sure something happened to Nikki, just like she’s pretty sure that another teammate has been getting harassed at school while the administration does nothing, but the best option seems to stay out of it and focus on the game. But when Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, her focus begins to slip away, and suddenly she realizes: she and her fierce teammates shouldn’t be saving all their fight for the field. Their nighttime training sessions would be better spent wreaking vigilante justice against the boys who have hurt them.

This novel is packed with emotional intensity and morally-questionable heroics. Ultimately, Zoe and her friends will find a way to fight for justice without using violence, and Zoe’s fraught family relationships will settle into a supportive community. A great read for anyone wanting to vicariously take out some rage against the patriarchy with an positive and constructive message about how all high schoolers can take a proactive stance against rape culture.

THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Answelica the Goat is a demon. At least, that’s what the monks believe. She’s certainly given them enough bites and bruises over the years. So when Answelica takes a liking to a mysterious girl who showed up at the monastery with no memories, the monks can hardly turn her away–even when they find out that she can read and write, a pastime forbidden to the common people and especially to all girls. But when the girl’s memories start to come back, she realizes that the king’s soldiers are searching for her, and she can endanger the monks no longer. Accompanied by Answelica, a prophetic monk, and a village boy who is eager to learn to read, Beatryce embarks on a journey to uncover her past and change the world.

This medieval adventure story is funny, suspenseful, and heartfelt with the classic feel of a folktale. It is a quick read, and I loved every minute of it. I highly recommend it to upper-elementary aged fantasy fans.

FORTUNE FAVORS THE DUKE by Kristin Vayden

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

When the Duke of Wesley died, he tore a hole in the lives of his loved ones–both the remarkable, business-minded woman he had planned to marry and the scholarly brother who had to give up his position at Cambridge to succeed his brother as Duke. The first time Catherine and Quin encounter one another in Hyde Park, the meeting is marked by the mutual pain of loss. But as fortune continues to throw them together, their feelings quickly shift from grief to friendship, and then–to their mutual guilt–desire. When a meddling relative tries to wrestle control of Catherine’s finances, Quin is only too eager to help her outsmart her cousin and the crone of a chaperone he has assigned her. Unfortunately, collaborating will make it that much more difficult to keep the promises they made to themselves to honor the late Duke’s memory by staying out of one another’s arms.

This is the Brother’s Sinister read-alike I’ve been waiting for! It actually captured some of my favorite elements of both Brother’s Sinister and Bridgerton: the snarky, scholarly, Cambridge-centric friend group and the unconventional heroine from the former and the strong yet meddling female relatives and elderly eccentrics of the latter. Add hilarious banter and a few sexy moments in a library, and I was sold. I highly recommend this one to fans of Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Joanna Lowell, and Julia Quinn.

AN ACCIDENTAL ODYSSEY by KC Dyer

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

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

Gia has always had a fraught relationship with her Greek father, an emotionally distant professor and notorious philanderer. But when he has a mini-stroke, she’s at his hospital bedside immediately, even though it means blowing off the wedding cake tasting with her wealthy socialite fiance. And then when her father discharges himself from the hospital and runs off to Greece chasing down the archaeological trail of an historical Odysseus–without his medication–Gia surprises her fiance and herself by hopping a plane to chase after him.

Though her fiance was understanding about the cake tasting, he is decidedly less understanding about her unexpected trip. And following a big fight, Gia engages in something she’d never have believed herself capable of–a wild one-night-stand in the janitor’s closet of a Greek bar. When the next morning comes and she patches things up with her fiance, she starts to make plans to head back home and put the whole Greek misadventure behind her. That is, before she visits her father’s dig and discovers that her one-night-stand is in fact her father’s colleague, a young and extremely attractive archaeologist named Raj. Suddenly, Gia is unsure of everything–her relationship with her fiance, her relationship with her father, her career trajectory–and it seems like the only way to sort out her life is to continue on her accidental journey of self-discovery across the Mediterranean.

The second in a loosely-connected series, this novel sits on the border line of contemporary spicy romance and women’s fiction. To me, Gia’s own self-discovery takes the lead with the romance in step just behind, but the romance has a strong presence as well. The idyllic Mediterranean setting and travel theme was especially welcome in the midst of pandemic isolation; reading this book was like a mini-vacation in itself. This will be an excellent choice for book clubs with readers who enjoy either romance or women’s fiction (or both!), especially since the romance, though spicy, lacks explicit sex scenes if members of your book club can’t handle steam.

A SECRET SHARED by Patricia MacLachlan

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Nora doesn’t understand why her mom wants a DNA test. Isn’t it enough to know who you are and where you came from? Do you need to know who your ancestors were, too? As Nora expected, her mother’s test results don’t hold any surprises. But Nora finds a huge surprise hidden in the envelope: her little sister, Birdy, snuck a tube of her own spit into the testing envelope and her results don’t match her mom or her dad. Nora doesn’t know why her parents would keep Birdy’s adoption a secret, but as she investigates to learn more about her little sister’s past, Nora’s own secrets begin to pile up. With all of the complicated things she’s thinking and feeling, could there possibly be enough love in her family to hold her together?

This complex story about love and truth is told in MacLachlan’s spare yet meaningful prose. With the current conversation about the trauma of adoption, it might have been nice to see more of Birdy’s perspective and more complex and conflicting emotions from her character upon learning about her first mother. But that isn’t the story MacLachlan is telling here; this is Nora’s story–the older sister, trying to figure out what her family means not only because one of her siblings is adopted but because her loving, trusted parents have lied to her since Birdy’s arrival. I’d recommend this story to elementary-aged readers who enjoy literary fiction.