THE SILVER BLONDE by Elizabeth Ross

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Clara is ecstatic when the studio execs promote her to the film editing staff. After putting in her time in the film studio vault, she will now be a real member of the crew. It is her dream come true–a dream that would have been difficult enough for any woman to attain, let alone a German immigrant in 1946. But her triumph turns to horror when she stumbles on the body of film star Babe Bannon’s stand-in.

Everyone has a theory as to who killed poor Connie. After all, Babe has a slew of enemies in the studio and beyond, and it would be easy enough for someone to mistake the stand-in for the star. Same build, same costumes, same silver-blonde hair. But Clara isn’t convinced that Babe was the intended victim. When the cops let her return Connie’s belongings, Clara finds herself swept up in an investigation that endangers her job and brings her back in contact with the Nazi threat her family worked so hard to leave in the past.

I loved this atmospheric noir mystery! Though WWII historical fiction is ubiquitous, this novel takes a fresh look at the War (and post-War) in Hollywood and the subtle, insidious ways that ordinary people get swept up in hateful movements. There are frequent reminders of the many American Nazi sympathizers before Pearl Harbor (including famous figures like Walt Disney and Henry Ford) and the way microaggressions create a culture of discrimination. Though it is set in the past, this novel is (sadly) timely.

Adult fans of historical mysteries: do not let the YA label turn you off to this book! It is for you. Teen fans of historical fiction, noir fiction, and/or Old Hollywood will certainly enjoy the book as well, but THE SILVER BLONDE really exists in the mythical “New Adult” niche. All of the characters are 18+, some of them war veterans, struggling to advance their careers in misogynistic, antisemitic workplaces and reevaluating priorities when good career moves will take them away from family. While these themes aren’t inaccessible to teens, they will resonate most with college-age adults and 20- and 30-somethings. College book clubs will definitely want to check this one out!

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

Amazon.com: The Silver Blonde eBook: Ross, Elizabeth: Kindle Store

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry

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Poppy has worked hard to create her perfect life. She has a New York apartment, an influencer best friend who takes her along to the fanciest restaurants, and her dream job as a writer at an upscale travel magazine that actually pays her to take ritzy, exotic vacations. So why does she feel such a deep sense of dissatisfaction? Why, when her boss is assigning her a posh gig on Santorini in the Mediterranean, is she wistful for a rainy beach week in a dive bar in Florida?

Simple: Alex Nilsen. She hasn’t spoken to her former best friend and travel partner in two years, not since the disaster on their Croatia trip that made everything awkward between them. When a text of “hey” turns into a conversation that makes her realize how much she’s missed him–and how much of his life she’s missed–Poppy knows this might be her last chance to get Alex back in her life. She turns down the Santorini feature and joins Alex on a budget trip to his brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. But time and memories of Croatia have left a mark on the relationship, and Poppy isn’t sure they’ll be able to restore their friendship. And even if they do, will friendship alone be enough?

True Story: I didn’t plan to buy this book since contemporary rom-coms are hit or miss for me, but when my toddler accidentally bought it on my Kindle, I gave it a whirl. And what a happy accident that was! I laughed so hard through this book. The banter! Loved both the hero and heroine and just enjoyed every minute I spent with them. Fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys witty dialogue and adults who aren’t afraid to be silly together, pick this one up! Highly recommend it.

SMALL FAVORS by Erin A. Craig

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Ellerie’s small, isolated community survives by following rules. They diligently tend their farms. They help their neighbors. And they never go into the deep forest where the monsters live.

Not that the townsfolk believe in monsters, really. Those are just legends from the time of the town’s founding. The dangers of the forest are the wolves and bears and the possibility of getting lost. But when the men on a supply run are slaughtered by a creature bigger than a bear, suddenly the monsters seem like a reality. Ellerie tries to keep calm like her father and to focus on tending their bees. But fear and jealousies have begun to tear her town apart. Worst of all, her twin brother Samuel is becoming increasingly distant. When a tragedy forces both of Ellerie’s parents to rush off to the city, Ellerie will have to fight to keep her siblings safe. And to do that, she will have to rely on a beguiling stranger–who won’t even tell her his true name.

Another chilling, grounded, folklore-infused horror novel from Erin A. Craig! She masterfully keeps us turning pages while keeping the narrative focused on family, community, and the protagonist’s self-discovery. Fans of character-driven, suspense-laden horror will not want to miss this one. I highly recommend it!

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

Amazon.com: Small Favors (9780593306741): Craig, Erin A.: Books

AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT by Tahereh Mafi

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In just a year, Shadi’s life has been upended. Since her brother died, her mother has unraveled. Her father is in the hospital, likely to die, and Shadi can’t even pretend to be sad about it. Her sister only speaks to her to pick a fight. Her best friend hates her. And worst of all, her country has gone to war with Iraq, and though her family doesn’t come from Iraq, because Shadi wears hijab, her entire community seems to blame her for the tragedies and consequences of 9/11. As Shadi shuffles through her life, trying to keep her head down and to keep her grief at bay, her ex-best friend’s brother suddenly reappears in her life, and her delicate balance collapses. She will finally have to confront the traumas in her life and process the heartbreak that preceded it all.

A story of love, family, heartbreak, and forgiveness, this recent-historical novel will appeal to readers of YA contemporary fiction and difficult, gut-wrenching romances. The poetic prose elevates what would already have been a beautiful narrative into something truly exquisite. I highly recommend it to YA readers and book clubs.

HER DARK LIES by J.T. Ellison

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Claire’s wedding to Jackson Compton, heir to the Compton business empire, will be the event of the century. But things start going wrong before they even reach the family’s Italian island. When an intruder breaks into Claire’s home, she wrestles away his gun and shoots him in self-defense. Jack persuades her to lie to the police, saying that the bodyguard killed the intruder, but the trauma of the incident follows Claire to Italy and worsens as unexplained events continue to disrupt their plans. It all seems to relate back to a visit from an art dealer who bought one of Claire’s paintings a week earlier. The problem: that particular art dealer died six months ago. As events on the island take a deadly turn, Claire is forced to wonder whether their stalker could really be a ghost–or is it merely the family’s dark secrets that have come back to haunt them?

With murders, secrets, spies, and even ghosts, this thriller never slows down. I didn’t find the twists particularly surprising in this one, but it definitely kept my heart pounding. The relationship between Claire and Jack and the secrets they keep from each other was a major element that kept me turning pages, as well as the question of whether the ghost was real. Overall, a good pick for thriller fans!

Her Dark Lies: A Novel (9780778388302): Ellison, J.T.: Books

RADHA AND JAI’S RECIPE FOR ROMANCE by Nisha Sharma

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Radha was one dance away from winning the international kathak dance championship when her world turned upside down. Her mother was having an affair with one of the judges. Not only did that call all of Radha’s dance achievements into question, but it meant that her family was breaking up. Life as she knew it was over.

After a difficult semester dealing with her parents divorce, Radha and her mother move from Chicago to New Jersey. Radha’s mother agrees to pay for her college tuition next year, under one condition: that Radha enroll and complete all of the requirements for a dance track at a prestigious performing arts high school. Radha agrees, but secretly plans to find a way out of the performance requirement. She lost all her dance joy last winter when everything fell apart. But Radha didn’t count on meeting Jai, a skilled Bollywood dancer with a heap of his own family drama. As Radha and Jai’s friendship deepens, they each realize that the decisions they each thought were best for themselves and their families might put their relationship in jeopardy. Can they overcome the obstacles to connect with their inner joy–and each other?

A sweet, fun romance with a healthy dose of drama and heart. Relationships are key as Radha learns to relate to both of her parents individually while Jai learns to accept his family’s support and let go of his need to take care of everyone around him whether they want it or not. A great pick for fans of contemporary YA romance.

Amazon.com: Radha & Jai's Recipe for Romance (9780553523294): Sharma,  Nisha: Books

WHEN ALL THE GIRLS ARE SLEEPING by Emily Arsenault

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It’s almost a full year after Taylor died when the video comes to Hayley’s inbox. Hayley assumes it’s The Video, the one Taylor took of Jocelyn and Charlie making out and subsequently posted to social media, causing Jocelyn to change schools. But when she clicks the file, it’s something very different: Taylor in her room at the boarding school, eyes wide in terror as whispers come out of the darkness around her.

Hayley never fully accepted the official explanation of Taylor’s death (marijuana-induced suicide) but the video makes her wonder if one of the many people she hurt was targeting her. Or… Hayley never believed the stories of the ghost that supposedly haunts the senior dorm each winter, but there are some things in the video that are difficult to explain. As she digs deeper into the history of the school and its ghost, patterns begin to emerge, leading Hayley to the alarming conclusion that not only might the ghost be real, but another senior girl might be this winter’s target.

I read this book in one day–could not wait to find out what happened! There were so many red herrings that complicated the mystery, plus the horror-like ghost story atmosphere added a lot of suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Highly recommend to YA mystery and psychological thriller fans!

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

When All the Girls Are Sleeping by Emily Arsenault: 9780593180792 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

LAST GATE OF THE EMPEROR by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen

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Yared has his whole day planned out: sail through school right until the last possible moment, then dodge the truancy robots and make his escape to crush the competition in one of the highly secretive VR battles he always dominates. But when the system forces him to log in with his real name for the first time, a shadowy group of warriors swoops in to capture him, with help of a gigantic and terrifying beast that Yared can’t believe exists. The beast and the warriors–those were things out of Uncle Moti’s stories, nothing more than legends. But when Yared returns home to find the warriors trashing his house, he realizes two things. First, Uncle Moti’s stories of the mythical kingdoms locked in an eternal battle were all real. And second, for some unfathomable reason, Yared seems to be caught up in the middle of it. If he has any hope of rescuing Uncle Moti, Yared will need to recall all of his uncle’s bizarre lessons and trust the last person he ever though he’d have to rely on: his VR rival, the Ibis.

This book kept me laughing. It’s fast-paced and imaginative with a great protagonist who is a delight to root for. I’d recommend it to middle grade readers who enjoy SFF and humor, and it will especially appeal to Black Panther fans.

Last Gate of the Emperor: Mbalia, Kwame, Makonnen, Prince Joel, Makonnen,  Prince Joel: 9781338665857: Amazon.com: Books

FAKING REALITY by Sara Fujimura

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Dakota knew it would be a horrible idea to tell Leo she was in love with him. So then why did she do it? And in the walk-in fridge of his family’s Japanese restaurant–could she get any more ridiculous? Fortunately, the cameras that usually follow her family around for their HGTV reality show aren’t allowed in the Matsuda’s restaurant. The last thing she needs is another public humiliation like last year’s Homecoming.

But Leo’s rejection is just the start of Dakota’s problems. The reality show is in its last season, and the producer wants to give America’s DIY Princess a televised Sweet Sixteen bash. The catch: she’ll need to audition actors to play her date. Could this be the opportunity Dakota needs to get over Leo before their summer trip to Japan? Or will it be yet another humiliating disaster?

I loved the voice and cast of this adorable YA romance. Dakota is a quarter Japanese and Fujimura incorporates Japanese culture and language seamlessly throughout the narrative. I also appreciated the “reality diva” twist: that Dakota stars in an HGTV show where she gets to renovate houses and other building projects. You don’t expect a “TV princess” to show up in steel-toed work boots, and it is awesome. The gradual build of the romance was actually less engaging for me than Dakota’s personal growth, wrestling with issues of privacy and agency and the pros/cons of being a ratings success. Highly recommend to fans of fun, hopeful, but thought-provoking YA contemporary fiction!

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

Faking Reality (9781250204103): Fujimura, Sara: Books - Amazon.com

KINGDOM OF SECRETS by Christyne Morrell

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Until she met Abi, Prismena was a rule-follower. Mostly. Sure, she collected junk to make her little inventions, and that was technically illegal, but it wasn’t hurting anybody! She certainly wasn’t involved in a rebellion against King Michael, the self-proclaimed savior of her kingdom.

But when resourceful street urchin Abi blackmails Prismena to smuggle a package onto her father’s hot air balloon, leading to her father’s arrest, Prismena suddenly has to choose between abandoning her father in prison or joining the rebellious orphans her father expressly forbade her from associating with. Though she tries to tell herself that it isn’t her fight and isn’t her problem, as her involvement with the rebels deepens, Prismena starts to realize that the safety of the children and the fate of two kingdoms might come to rest squarely on her shoulders.

A delightful middle grade debut featuring young engineers! Prismena and Abi have distinct and wonderful voices that make you cheer for them throughout their struggles (at one point I literally cheered aloud when Prismena did something particularly awesome). The social commentary is light-handed and thoroughly integrated into the plot, and as in all good MG fiction, the children are the moral compass and the agents of change. The world felt grounded in our own, while the hot air balloons added a whimsical quality to this magic-free fantasy. Highly recommend to middle grade readers, teachers, and book clubs!

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

Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne Morrell: 9780593304785 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books