Fiction

LADY ICARUS: BALLOONOMANIA AND THE BRIEF, BOLD LIFE OF SOPHIA BLANCHARD by Deborah Noyes

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A few years before the French revolution, a girl named Marie Madeleine-Sophie was born to a peasant family. Despite the war, her family’s poverty, and the obstacles of gender-inequality, she would grow up to be one of the most famous aeronauts of her generation.

This middle grade nonfiction title delves into a fascinating aspect of French history that was entirely unknown to me. Because little is known about Sophie Blanchard’s childhood, the first 75% of the book focuses on the history of ballooning, the political backdrop of the French Revolution, and the aeronaut who would eventually marry Sophie, Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Therefore, this title is more likely to hook readers who are interested in the history and science of early aviation than those looking for a biography. (Or, since it is a biography, it could be an ideal choice for students who are required to read a biography for class but are more interested in broader histories or science.) Despite the dearth of information about Blanchard’s life before her marriage, Noyes makes sure to include mentions of young Sophie’s age and family situation at the time of significant historical events to speculate as to how they might have affected her. She also includes interesting and useful asides about the science of ballooning and related history and legends. This book will be a solid addition to middle grade nonfiction collections.

GALLANT by Victoria Schwab

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Olivia Prior has no real memories of her parents–nothing but her mother’s journal. She doesn’t even know their names, just that her father is dead and her mother went mad before leaving her on the doorstep of the dismal boarding school where she has grown up. So when the letter arrives–a summons from the uncle she didn’t know she had, back to the family estate she didn’t know existed–the temptation to finally have a real home and family is too great to resist.

Even though her mother’s journal warns her of unnamed dangers within the halls of Gallant.

But the welcome at the manor is not what she expected. Her uncle is dead–and died too long ago to have sent her the mysterious letter–and the only remaining relative, her cousin Matthew, is determined that she should be sent away. Matthew is tortured by violent dreams, and the halls are haunted by ghouls that only Olivia can see. Yet none of that compares to the darkness on the other side of the stone wall in the garden, where a shadowy master of crumbling reflection of Gallant has been waiting for Olivia to arrive…

Atmospheric and horrifying, Schwab’s latest YA sits solidly in the horror genre and is impossible to put down. As you can expect from Schwab’s prose, every word hits like a gunshot, creating an atmosphere and story so immersive that you are as ensnared as her protagonist. This story is a must-read for teen and adult fans of paranormal horror!

LAWLESS SPACES by Corey Ann Haydu

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Mimi’s sixteenth birthday isn’t what she’d hoped. She’s not surprised that her mother chooses to go on an impromptu trip with her boyfriend and leave Mimi alone for days. It’s just like her mom. But she is shocked when the news story breaks that her mother is the accuser in a high-profile sexual assault case that’s been all over the news.

Home alone, and unable to get in touch with her mom, Mimi isn’t sure how to handle this news–especially because of how her mom reacted about an incident in Mimi’s life last year, an incident which her mother seemed to think was all Mimi’s fault simply because of how her body is shaped. But as Mimi struggles to navigate these overwhelming revelations–all the while dealing with her own struggles with dating and her body image–she finds a stack of journals in the attic and begins to connect with the journey of the generations of women in her family before her, women who have had struggles that are dishearteningly similar to the sexism Mimi is still experiencing decades later.

Told through Mimi’s poetry, this story is beautifully told, but heavy. There are very few lighter moments in this book that deals with such important but difficult themes. It is a strong, feminist coming-of-age novel that will appeal most to older teens and twenty-somethings who want to immerse themselves in this struggle and come out the other side feeling connected to a community of women–generations of women–who have experienced gender-based violence and discrimination and feeling inspired to join them in the fight.

MEET ME IN THE MARGINS by Melissa Ferguson

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The publishing house where Savannah works frowns on commercial fiction–especially romance. That’s why it’s essential that Savannah keep her side project (a romance novel she’s been working on for years) a secret. So when she accidentally leaves it out in her supply-closet-refuge, she is horrified to find notes in the margin from an unknown editor. The edits are hard to take, but she quickly realizes her Mystery Editor is on the right track, and if she is to have any hope of getting this published, she needs all the help she can get.

But as her relationship with the mystery editor deepens in the margins, a real-life friendship is blossoming between Savannah and the most unlikely person: her new boss, the CEO’s son William. Though she initially feels pressure to hide her love of romance novels from the person with power over her job. But as she and William connect on a deeper level, she begins sharing her honest opinions and is shocked to find that he agrees with her–and that her feelings are moving away from friendship into something decidedly romantic. Can Savannah really pursue a relationship with the CEO’s son? Or is her true soulmate the Mystery Man in the margins?

This sweet (clean) romance builds a gradual love story, based on shared values, shared interests, and a deep emotional connection. If you are not into workplace romances, this book will not be for you, since the questionable morality of the boss dating an employee (and then going out of his way to ensure that her work gets priority) is never addressed. But if that is not one of your turn-offs, and enjoy sweet, slow-burns, you will swoon for this leading man.

MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE by Lisa Yee

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Maizy has only met her grandparents once before, but now she’ll be living with them for an entire summer. With Opa sick, Mom has finally agreed to visit her hometown in Last Chance, Minnesota where Oma and Opa own a Chinese restaurant. The small town is nothing like Maizy’s home in LA where she had been hoping to spend her summer. Her family are the only Asians in the community, and it isn’t long before some mean girls start bullying her for being Chinese. Her mom is different, too. She’s quieter than normal and always arguing with Oma. Maizy is beginning to understand why they stayed away so long.

But as Maizy starts working at the restaurant and listening to Opa’s stories about her family history, she realizes there is more to the community and her family than you can see on the surface. Some of it is good, some not. When her family is the target of a hate crime, it will take all of Maizy’s courage and strength to stand up for her family and find the culprit.

In this powerful story, the wonderfully-inspiring Maizy gives up her dreams of a relaxing summer at home with her bff and throws herself into the community she has never visited and the family she has only just met. It is through learning her family’s history that Maizy is given the tools to help her family heal the rift that is stopping them from having a future together–and this broader perspective enables her to see the hidden side of the members of her community as well. Community–as well as Maizy’s own courage and hope–will prove the key to overcoming the bigotry that Maizy’s family has faced since they first arrived in America. I highly recommend this middle grade novel to any upper elementary and middle school fans of contemporary fiction, as well as book clubs and classrooms for that age group!

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel

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Rosie wanted nothing more than a little girl that she could name after her sister, Poppy, who died of childhood cancer. So when she and Penn decided to conceive their fifth child, she did every superstitious thing imaginable to make sure that this time, that baby would be a girl. Maybe that’s why Claude was the way he was. While his four older brothers played in the mud and crashed toy train sets, Claude wanted to wear dresses and play princess. And when he grew up, he wanted to be a girl.

All Rosie and Penn want–for each of their children–is for them to be happy. And if being a girl will make their youngest happy, they will facilitate that change however they can, even if it means moving across the country to famously-tolerant Seattle. But in a new community, telling the story of Poppy-who-used-to-be-Claude turns out to be complicated, and almost immediately, Claude becomes a secret. He weighs on the family, especially Poppy’s older brothers. Only Poppy seems to have forgotten he ever existed. Unfortunately, secrets can’t stay hidden forever, and in the aftermath, it will take a journey to the other side of the world for Poppy–and Claude–to find themselves.

A beautifully told story with equal doses of humor and heart, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS captures the emotional journey of parenting a nonbinary child. Despite the family’s unwavering love and support of their child, there are always questions Poppy will have to answer for herself and an undercurrent of uncertainty, Rosie and Penn never quite sure whether they are making too many decisions or not enough decisions or helping in the right ways or the wrong ways–in other words, parenting a nonbinary child is parenting. This is how it always is.

By joining Rosie and Penn in their emotional journey, readers will come to a deeper understanding of the complex challenges of navigating the world as a nonbinary person or an adult who loves a nonbinary child. Its unique perspective makes this novel an important addition to the slowly growing literature that authentically represents the diversity of queer experiences. I highly recommend it to readers of contemporary and/or literary fiction, adult book clubs, and all public library collections.

THE RED PALACE by June Hur

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Hyeon worked her whole life to become a palace nurse. It wasn’t an easy path for her, especially without the support of her father, a prominent justice who barely acknowledges her and her mother, who was once his concubine. Hyeon’s success as a nurse and rise to the prestigious palace position was largely thanks to her mentor, Nurse Jeongsu.

But when a massacre at the student hospital leaves four women dead, Nurse Jeongsu is arrested under suspicion of murder. And when an anonymous pamphlet circulates accusing the Crown Prince of the murders, Hyeon realizes two terrible truths: first, that Nurse Jeongsu will be convicted and executed to divert suspicion from the Palace, and second, that Hyeon herself has unwittingly provided the prince with a false alibi by claiming to treat his illness that night. She knows she must investigate the massacre herself if she has any hope of saving her mentor from execution, even when it means defying her father and forming an unlikely alliance with the young and unconventional police inspector who seems to respect her, despite her being a woman and a commoner, but who has the power to destroy her life–or maybe break her heart. But Hyeon will risk her heart, her job, and her father’s disapproval to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, with so many bloody secrets hidden within the Palace walls, the truth may cost her life.

Suspenseful, romantic, and rich with the fascinating history of the Korean Joseon Dynasty, THE RED PALACE is perhaps my favorite June Hur novel yet! She seamlessly weaves together the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in her family and her society with a based-on-a-tragic-true-story murder mystery–plus, a swoon-worthy romance that delighted my historical-romance-loving heart. I highly recommend this novel for any YA collection and to any teen and adult fans of historical mysteries.

THE RUNAWAY DUCHESS by Joanna Lowell

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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.

LOVE AT FIRST SPITE by Anna E. Collins

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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.

FORTUNE FAVORS THE DUKE by Kristin Vayden

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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.