TREX by Christyne Morrell

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The new boy has a superpower. Mellie was watching from her bedroom window–the perfect spot for a detective to sit and observe–and she saw the blue lightning streak from his fingertips. It’s the first big mystery she’s ever encountered in the neighborhood, and even though she usually avoids school and the crippling stomachaches she often gets when she leaves her house, Mellie knows she has to take the risk. If she’s going to solve the mystery, she has to make contact with Lightning Boy.

All Trex has ever wanted to do is go to school like a normal kid. Unfortunately, the electric charge built up by his mechanical brain can lead to mishaps. For example, accidentally shooting blue lightning from his hands when he touches a metal statue. The lightning is new, and kind of alarming. Trex knows he should tell his mom, but she’ll just insist they move. Again. They’ve been on the run from the mysterious company that gave him his bionic brain after the catastrophic car accident that killed his father (and almost killed him) and she’d never let him go to school if she knew about the lightning. So Trex decides to keep his secret. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one with secrets. There’s a prowler in the neighborhood, and a gang of bullies at the school, and if Trex wants to keep his secret safe, he might have to team up with the girl who has come the closest to exposing him.

This extraordinary middle-grade sci-fi thriller is a page-turner from beginning to end. Though action and danger sometimes rise to the forefront, Morrell never neglects the character depth that drives the story and uses the sci-fi adventure as a vehicle to explore mental health issues and bullying. With a message of “you are not broken,” she creates a therapy-positive storyline for her character with an anxiety disorder and addresses the issue of mental health medication with sensitivity and nuance. I stayed up way too late reading this one because I couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend it to middle grade fans of sci-fi and/or thrillers and to book clubs.

THE HOLE STORY by Kelly Canby

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When a boy finds a hole in the ground he is delighted to put it in his pocket. But he soon discovers that a hole in your pocket is not as wonderful as he thought. In fact, holes don’t seem to be very useful anywhere. But there is one creature eager to get the hole back in the ground…

This adorable, punny picture book will delight parents as much (or more) than their children. Ideal for older preschool or kindergarten audiences, the story hinges on knowledge of common expressions involving “holes” and will get kids thinking about the flexibility of language. The simple, colorful illustrations with ample white space are eye-catching and easy to follow–with added bonus puns in shop names in illustrations of the town. Released in Australia in 2018, the charming book will be coming to the U.S. in August.

BLAME IT ON THE BRONTES by Annie Sereno

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Athena returns to her hometown confident that she can uncover the identity of the mysterious author of classic literature-themed erotica, C.L. Garland. In fact, she has to. The chair of the English department is set to boot her out of academia if she doesn’t publish a book on this sabbatical, and she promised him something spectacular. Unfortunately, her semester away is off to a rocky start, and it’s all Thorne’s fault. She has no idea why her ex moved to her hometown, why he–a wealthy, elitist lawyer and literature snob–bought the little cafe where she would be working part-time, and why no one saw fit to warn her in advance. After their disastrous and hurtful break up, she was hoping she’d never see him again. Now, they’ll be working in close quarters nearly every day, operating under a tenuous truce that might break down at any moment, especially since he seems to disapprove for her hunt for the author of a “low-brow” erotica series. But while Athena may be an open book (for the most part), Thorne has secrets, including a bombshell about the reasons for the catastrophic end to their relationship. And as the hidden parts of everyone’s lives come to light (except the elusive Garland, of course), Athena begins to suspect that her career may be in less danger than her heart.

This book is a light, quick read with just enough of an undercurrent of secret-driven suspense to keep you turning pages without getting bogged down in drama. The characters’ mutual immaturity and reluctance to trust make them a well-suited (and entertaining) pair, and after reading about the cafe’s signature sandwiches, you will be dying for a trip to the bakery. A charming debut, this will be a perfect title to bring to the beach this summer!

NEVER A DUKE by Grace Burrowes

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Lady Rosalind Kinwood has quite given up on getting married. For several seasons, now, the Mayfair Matchmakers have deemed her quite unsuitable for the most eligible bachelors–both on account of the so-called radical political opinions she sends in to the papers and the lingering memory of her childhood stutter–and she certainly won’t be consenting to marry any of the detestable elderly gentlemen that her father hopes to pawn her off on in order to settle his many debts. She doesn’t mind so much being a wallflower, or at least she wouldn’t if people would actually take her seriously rather than dismissing her as eccentric and opinionated. But when another of her lady’s maids goes missing, Rosalind is determined to find someone who will listen to her.

Former pickpocket-turned-banker Ned Wentworth not only listens to Rosalind; he sees her. Though perhaps he shouldn’t be getting entangled with a noblewoman, even only for the sake of amateur investigations (his association with a ducal family can only lend him so much status). But as he begins his inquiries into the missing maids, Ned stumbles upon a true conspiracy that will take him and Rosalind back into the seedy parts of London Ned had hoped to leave behind with his childhood. And perhaps even more alarming is the attraction that he and Rosalind–as unsuited for each other as they are for anyone else in the Town–cannot seem to fight.

This Regency Romance has a thread of mystery and suspense that complement the easily-won affection between hero and heroine. As both Rosalind and Ned wrestle with their places within their families, the both must learn to stand up for their needs and desires–Ned to the adoptive family where love abounds, as do feelings of indebtedness, and Rosalind to the family of her birth, which claims the bonds of family duty without the love that would make such obligations worthwhile. An uplifting, triumphant conclusion to the romance and the mystery make this book a delightful addition to the Rogues to Riches series.

BLOOD WILL TELL by Heather Chavez

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When the cops question her about the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl, Frankie instinctively lies. No, there’s no way someone could have taken her truck last night without her noticing. And of course she had nothing to do with it. That last part was true–for now. Because the only person who could have taken her truck was her sister Izzy, and Frankie committed long ago to always helping Izzy clean up her messes.

Izzy claims to know nothing about the disappearance of the girl, but Frankie can tell she’s hiding something. She decides to investigate on her own–to find the truth before the police–so that she knows what she’ll need to do to protect Izzy. But as clues begin to point back to the fateful night five years ago when a drunken Izzy hit a deer (hopefully it was just a deer) with her car, Frankie realizes that more happened at that party than Izzy remembers. And the key to finding the missing girl might require figuring out what happened to the girl who went missing that night five years ago.

This mystery/thriller is delightfully suspenseful and masterfully paced–slow-moving enough to be torturous (in a good way) but with so many shady characters and tantalizing secrets to make it impossible to stop reading. I was genuinely unsure who the culprit was until the very end because so much groundwork had been laid for any of several suspects. This novel will make a wonderful addition to any mystery/thriller collection and a heart-stopping read for fans of the genre.

JENNIFER CHAN IS NOT ALONE by Tae Keller

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Mallory doesn’t believe her friends’ stories about the new girl. I mean, there’s no way she could have karate-chopped a kid into a full body cast. And if her mom were really a murderer, would they have been allowed to move into her nice, quiet neighborhood? But when Mal’s mom makes her go across the street to introduce herself, she learns that Jennifer Chan might not be the karate-expert daughter of a murderer, but she is definitely weird. Jennifer Chan believes in aliens, and Mallory knows two things: 1) middle school is going to eat her alive, and 2) if Mallory is Jennifer’s friend, she’ll be going down with her.

Then, a few months into the school year, Jennifer Chan disappears, and Mallory is the only one who seems willing to consider the possibility that Jennifer found the aliens she was so desperately searching for. She doesn’t dare bring up the possibility to her popular friends, and the science nerds that might be able to help her aren’t even willing to talk to her. Not after what she did. But Mal isn’t going to give up. She needs to prove that the aliens took Jennifer.

Because if it wasn’t aliens, then Jennifer Chan’s disappearance is all Mallory’s fault.

Through a cast of nuanced characters and a protagonist who won’t give up hope for finding her friend–or the goodness inside herself–Keller tackles the complexity of the middle school social hierarchy and the bullying that can leave the targets frightened and isolated and the bullies themselves empty and hurting. By taking the perspective of one of the bullies, Keller truly explores the why behind middle school social cliques and the power dynamics of bullying without being didactic or moralistic, and by making the bullies’ target honest, forthright, and outspoken, she ensures that her perspective gets heard. Readers will likely be able to identify with both Mallory and Jennifer at different moments in their lives–and the added perspectives of targets like Kath and Ingrid and bullies like Pete and Rachel add even more depth and nuance to the narrative. I could not put this emotional and ultimately hopeful story down, and I highly recommend it to readers of middle grade contemporary fiction and to all upper-elementary and middle school book clubs!

SHE LIED SHE DIED by Carissa Ann Lynch

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Chrissy Cornwall is a child murderer. She murdered a child, and she was a child when she did it. Now, she’s being released from prison and the whole town is in an uproar. Natalie, who was also a child when the murdered girl was discovered in her family’s fields, has never been able to get the case (or the image of the poor girl’s body) out of her mind. Now a struggling true crime writer, she reaches out to Chrissy, hoping the murderer will be able to fill in some of the gaps that she never understood about that horrible night.

But Chrissy shows up with a surprise declaration: her confession thirty years ago was a lie, and somewhere in this wholesome little town, there might still be a killer on the loose. The more Natalie begins to dig into the dark secrets of the town’s past, the more she starts to believe that Chrissy might have been a scapegoat–the girl from the wrong side of the tracks taking the fall on behalf of the golden children from the right side of town. But Natalie is from the wrong side of the tracks, too, and the secrets she uncovers might just tear her peaceful life to shreds.

Propelled by suspenseful secrets and clean, strong writing, SHE LIED SHE DIED is an amateur detective mystery that you won’t be able to put down. The clues are numerous (as are the complicating red herrings), and the twists are satisfying while the eerie small-town setting and character-driven narrative create a delightfully immersive experience that will snag thriller fans as well as mystery readers. I highly recommend this one to adult fans of the genre. It would also make a great pick for book clubs who don’t mind dead bodies (in their books, of course).

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

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Daunis has always existed in two worlds: the Ojibwe community where her father is from and the community of wealthy white people in Sault Ste. Marie where she lives with her mother. She is part of both but fully accepted by neither.

When her maternal grandmother has a stroke shortly after her uncle dies of a meth overdose, Daunis knows a third disaster is coming. She tries to prevent it by deferring her college admission–pushing off her dream of becoming a doctor so that she can stay close to both of her communities–but her presence isn’t enough to stop a shocking tragedy. With her world crumbling around her, Daunis is swept up into an investigation of drug trade on the reservation as a confidential informant, taking the place of her uncle, who she learns was likely murdered. But even though she isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Daunis is an Ojibwe woman, and she has her own agenda for helping the Cherokee FBI agents who have infiltrated her town. She will be searching for the truth to save her people’s lives, while also protecting their culture and traditions from meddling outsiders. Unfortunately, even in the investigation, the line between her identities is blurred, and as her secrets pile up, and the fake relationship she’s developed with the young FBI rookie starts to morph into something real, Daunis realizes that the truth has the power not only to save lives but also to tear them apart.

This stellar novel hits all of the notes for a heart-wrenching YA contemporary, a brain-teasing YA mystery, and pulse-pounding thriller. Boulley immerses readers in Daunis’s communities–from Michigan “Hockey World” to her Ojibwe nation–and crafts a stunningly character-driven mystery that crescendos gradually toward the shocking conclusion. This book satisfies me as a thriller reader and as a contemporary reader, and while thoroughly accessible for its teenage audience, the mature storytelling style and pristine prose makes it a great choice for adult readers, as well. I will add my voice for the clamor of recommendations for this truly exceptional novel.

WATCH OUT FOR HER by Samantha M. Bailey

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Sarah Goldman is no stranger to hidden cameras. She had two of them in their old house, nanny cams that she intended to use to keep an eye on the new 22-year-old babysitter, Holly, nanny cams that caught the footage that turned their lives upside down. Now, in their new home thousands of miles away from Holly and her secrets, Sarah had hoped that she and her husband and son could have a fresh start.

But then she finds the camera in the ceiling.

Sarah doesn’t know who is watching her, but she knows it has some connection to Holly, to the secrets she uncovered, and to the fight that drove the girl who had become like family out of their home. Surrounded by suspicious neighbors, and living with a husband she can’t quite trust, Sarah struggles to see past everyone’s facade to find the danger. But maybe the dark secrets she should be probing are her own…

A straightforward psychological thriller that leans in hard to the paranoid wife/mother trope, WATCH OUT FOR HER will find its readers among stalwart fans of the genre. Though none of the twists were shocking, the solid foundation of clues and the broad cast of suspicious characters made for a satisfying plot and ending. I’d recommend this one to fans of GIRL ON THE TRAIN and similar thrillers with possibly-crazy female protagonists.

PART OF YOUR WORLD by Abby Jimenez

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Alexis is the last in a long line of doctors in the Montgomery family, and she’s somewhat of a disappointment. She’s only an ER doctor rather than a surgeon like her brother and parents, and she has refused to take back her cheating, abusive ex who is for some reason still her father’s best friend and golf-buddy. But now that her brother has run off to Cambodia with a wife their parents do not approve of, the responsibility of carrying on the Montgomery legacy falls squarely on Alexis’s shoulders.

Which is why Daniel is such a problem.

It was coincidence that he was the one who saw her car stuck in the mud when she was driving through his small town, but the attraction between them feels more like fate. After only a few visits to his world–so unlike her own–Alexis is falling not only for him, but for the whole community that he helps to care for. He is everything her ex wasn’t: compassionate, respectful, humble–despite his immense talent as a woodworker and cook (and, it needs to be said, lover). But Alexis knew the relationship was doomed from the first time she set foot in that town. Because how could she ever find a home in a world so different from her own?

Although abuse survivors should proceed with caution due to possible triggers, this story depicts verbal and emotional abuse and generational abuse with depth and compassion. A large part of the clash between the hero and heroine’s worlds comes from the different ways that family, community, and tradition have affected who they have grown up to be. In the hero’s small town, everyone lifts one another up as part of a respectful, communal family with deep roots that allow the characters to feel grounded, safe, and part of something larger. In the heroine’s world, however, traditions are used by abusers to control her, to keep her trapped within the structures they have created, and to take away her agency. The two settings become a powerful illustration of this dichotomy and it is not only the relationship but the uplifting community which finally gives the heroine the foundation she needs to begin forging her own path and rebuilding her self-worth. Thematically powerful with a swoony love story, this novel is a must-read for fans of contemporary romance or women’s fiction and would be a great pick for book clubs.