Fiction

HOW TO DATE A SUPERHERO (AND NOT DIE TRYING) by Cristina Fernandez

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In a world of superheroes, Astrid Rose has the most boring superpower: an extreme ability to schedule every last second of her time. Technically it’s not a real superpower, like the ones of the figures in capes and spandex who fly around New York either saving or terrorizing the citizens, depending on their moral persuasion, but as a premed Cornell student, it is a very useful ability When she learns that Max, the guy she’s been dating, who she’s known since their freshman year of high school, is the legendary Kid Comet, however, her perfectly planned sophomore year suddenly shatters.

After a nasty run-in with Kid Comet’s nemesis, Astrid gets inducted into a special program for significant others of superheroes, a “prevenge” course designed to prevent the need for the superhero to seek revenge for their loved one’s senseless murder by teaching the significant other survival skills. Astrid doesn’t have time for this program, especially once someone starts sabotaging her lab samples and threatening her internship and her grades. Meanwhile, Max keeps blowing off their dates for admittedly important reasons (like saving lives), and even as she grows to love him more deeply, she grows to wonder whether she’s cut out for this relationship. When a supervillain starts stealing samples from Astrid’s lab, she and Max will both be swept up in a dangerous plot, and Astrid will have to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice: her time? her love? her career? Or maybe even her life…

Set on a college campus, this book exists in that “New Adult” space that has great appeal for both teen young adults and adult young adults (as well of some of us who are even older than that!). The narrative voice hooked me immediately (third person present tense with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that kept reminding me of Slaughterhouse Five, although the subject matter is very different). In the tradition of most great Sci-Fi, Fernandez uses her hard Sci-Fi world as a lens to explore real world issues, in this case, the uncertainty of love and commitment, the fragility of human existence, and how to stop existing and truly live in a dangerous and frightening world. I am head-over-heels for this book, and if you love both Sci-Fi and Rom Coms, you will be too!

VIOLET MADE OF THORNS by Gina Chen

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Since saving Prince Cyrus’ life as a child, Violet has lived a charmed yet precarious life as the king’s official Seer, tasked with relaying prophecies to the entire kingdom, whether they are real prophecies from her dreams or the harmless ones she invents at the king’s behest. A previous Seer predicted the kingdom’s destruction unless it is averted by Prince Cyrus’ as yet hypothetical bride, but Violet is determined that nothing will threaten her hard-won security and comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, Cyrus is the one person who never listens to Violet.

Tortured by dark dreams of the Fates and frustrated with “Princey’s” obstinacy, Violet fakes a prophecy about Cyrus’ “true love,” hoping his bride–any bride–will be able to break the curse. But the woman the king selected is wrapped in her own curse, spun by a witch of nightmares. As beasts swarm the land and fairy glamours flicker, Violet and Cyrus search for the truth behind the veil of deceit, and their mutual hatred sparks into something passionate, thrilling, and infinitely more dangerous. With her life hanging in the balance, Violet will have to decide on which side of the fairytale she belongs–the dream or the nightmare–and whether she can claim either of them without being someone else’s pawn.

Deep, dark, and immersive, VIOLET MADE OF THORNS had me devouring its pages as ravenously as the characters fed on one another. Although tastes of well-known fairytales call attention to the storytelling theme, Chen creates a wholly new fairytale, not directly a twist of any individual story. Her characters are addictive, her steamy romance writing as compelling as any master of that genre, and her world-building a perfect blend of well-worn high fantasy tropes and a new, exciting magic system. I cannot praise this book highly enough. If you read high fantasy (whether you are a young adult or not) don’t miss this exceptional debut!

SHAKE IT UP!: HOW TO BE YOUNG, AUTISTIC, AND MAKE AN IMPACT by Quincy Hansen

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Because of the intensity with which many autistic people experience empathy and the focus and depth of commitment that is common for autistic people, we can be particularly well-suited for activism. While not every autistic person will achieve the same international platform as Greta Thunberg, autistic teens can get involved in everyday advocacy in their local communities and contribute toward broader change.

A practical guide to advocacy, this handbook begins with description of the physical and emotional sensations of being an autistic person who feels intense empathy for social justice issues, a description which strongly resonated with me as an autistic reader. The author stresses that advocacy can take many forms, including the arts (the poetry of Amanda Gorman, for example) and that every individual can find a way that makes sense for them to contribute. While written with autistic young adults in mind, the framework for approaching advocacy presented in this book will be relevant to all young people (and some older people, too) with its emphasis on change at the local level, modest goals, and perseverance. Even some of the more autism-specific topics have broader relevance. For example, you don’t need to have social communication deficits to feel at a loss for how to reach out to more seasoned activists online. This book provides practical guidance and case studies on this and many other topics, plus frequent reminders about safety and strategies for preserving mental health and dealing with ableism and bullying. I highly recommend this book to autistic readers and for YA nonfiction collections.

FAKE IT TILL YOU BAKE IT by Jamie Wesley

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After her impulsive decision to reject the leading man’s proposal on a popular reality TV dating show, all Jada Townsend-Matthews wants to do is keep her head down, hide from the Internet haters, and prove to her wealthy grandmother that she is responsible enough to control her trust fund. Unfortunately, the job her grandmother selects for her is at a cupcake shop owned by a man that Jada recently (inadvertently) insulted, and she’s pretty sure he hates her. She’s pretty sure she hates him, too, although she has to admit that his cupcakes (and his appearance) are pretty damn delicious.

Donovan Dell never expected to see the bougie yet undeniably sexy cupcake customer again. But when he learns that she’s the granddaughter of the owner of the professional football team he plays for, he can’t exactly say no to hiring her. The problem isn’t that they don’t get along. The problem is the spark between them that tempts him to turn each of their verbal sparring sessions into something more physical–and much more exciting. When her reality TV fame starts bringing in customers and leads to a publicity stunt kiss, Donovan agrees to start fake-dating. He tells himself it’s just to save his struggling bakery. It’s certainly not to get closer to the alluring, maddening woman. And definitely not in hopes of getting one more taste of her lips…

The frenemies’ fake relationship turns real fast in this adorable, sexy rom com about a perfectly matched pair of stubborn, flawed lovers. The high stakes kick in late in the novel, so this one is for readers who are here for banter, sizzle, and a swoony perfect couple rather than the tension of relationship obstacles. I’d recommend FAKE IT TILL YOU BAKE IT to fans of the fake-date and enemies-to-lovers tropes, but more to readers who just want to hang out with two engaging, fun characters as they get swept up in a steamy love affair. The ending suggests that we have more to look forward to from the equally well-developed secondary characters in future books!

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner

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Evie Stone was without question the most qualified candidate for the research assistantship at Jesus College, Cambridge. A member of the first class of women allowed to graduate from the College, she achieved higher honors than her male colleagues, and the most recent paper she collaborated on was ground-breaking. And yet, it is not at all surprising when one of her less-qualified male colleagues lands the position, and she winds up as a shop assistant in a bookstore. Now that the men are back from the war, it is a common enough story for women like her.

But Evie–as always–has a plan. With her demure exterior and her knowledge of rare books hidden underneath, she is certain she won’t have any trouble enacting that plan under the very noses of the misogynist male hierarchy at the shop. As she begins to form friendships with the other two women at the shop–an aspiring author who should really be running the fiction department and a mathematically minded mother of two, trapped in a toxic marriage–she wonders if she could trust them to become allies in her plan and if their little supportive sisterhood might empower them to pursue some dreams of their own.

Studded with literary giants like Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett, BLOOMSBURY GIRLS explores the tensions between women’s ambitions and the social mores that sought to subdue them in post-WWII Britain. With a gradual start and several protagonists, this story is ideal for readers who enjoy settling into an immersive environment and befriending the characters who live there. The ending delivers a triumphant and joyful “down-with-the-patriarchy” climax that will have literature enthusiasts cheering. This title is an excellent pick for fans of women’s fiction and for book clubs!

A Special Message from the Author:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

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.

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.