THE DUKE WHO DIDN’T by Courtney Milan

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Chloe Fong’s greatest ambition is to help her father get revenge on the men who stole his sauce recipe.

That and to forget Jeremy Yu.

It’s been three years since she’s seen or heard from him. So when he shows up for the village’s annual week of games–now, when she and her father are so close to perfecting their new recipe and launching their vengeful sauce empire–her annoyance and heartache crystallizes into fury.

Jeremy knows that if he told Chloe his true identity–the Duke of Lansing, the man with the power to turn her whole community out over decades of unpaid rents–she would want nothing more to do with him. And anyway, how could he ask perfect, ambitious, shy, intimidating, wonderful Chloe Fong to take in the burdens of being a duchess?

But though he’s tried, he can’t live without her. So he enlists her to help him make a list of qualities he will require in a wife. And hopefully by the end of it, she’ll realize that there is only one woman in the world that list could describe.

This historical romance is everything you can expect from Courtney Milan: funny, sexy, layered, and chock full of interesting characters who both challenge and support the heroine and hero. It unfolds at a slower pace than some of Milan’s earlier books, so it may not snag all Brothers Sinister fans, but I personally found it a relaxing comfort read.

YESTERDAY IS HISTORY by Kosoko Jackson

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On the way back from the hospital, Andre’s dad asks him if he’s in pain. Of course he’s in pain. He may be cancer free, but he’s still got a new liver, and after living with it for six months, he’s pretty sure the dull ache in his gut is his new normal.

But what happens when they get back to the house is definitely not normal. He lies down for a nap, and wakes up in the 1960s. It’s still Boston, but not his Boston. Still his house, but not his house. In fact, it seems to belong to an attractive and somewhat odd boy named Michael who isn’t quite curious enough about how a boy from the 21st century ended up on his front lawn. As it turns out, the young man who donated Andre’s new liver belonged to a family of time travelers. And as Andre grows increasingly attached to Michael in his past, in the present, he must navigate the fraught relationship with Blake: his donor’s brother who is still grieving and resents being assigned to help Andre acclimate to time travel.

An original premise, heart-fluttering romance, thought-provoking themes, a funny and spirited narrator–this novel is a winner from page one. A true delight to read. The humor and quirky sci-fi angle cushion the heavier themes and subject matter. But the sci-fi is more than a gimmick. The shifts from past to present mirror symbolically Andre’s internal struggle to figure out what he wants from his future. Though it likely won’t satisfy hard sci-fi readers, fans of YA literary and realistic fiction will definitely want to pick this one up.

THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ by Cory Leonardo

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Marcel the hedgehog has spent six months living in the Emerald City Movie Theater. He passes the time by nibbling popcorn off the floor, chatting with the two hens in the balcony, and of course watching the Wizard of Oz matinee every afternoon. But really he’s waiting for Dorothy. His Dorothy, who adopted him from the animal shelter, who he lost one afternoon at the park, and who he is sure will come find him someday. But instead of Dorothy, it’s an animal control officer who comes for Marcel. And when he’s released into the wild, he finds himself in Mousekinland and further from Dorothy and home than he’s ever been before. With the help of a reckless mouseling, a grumpy elderly squirrel, a terrified baby raccoon, and a cocoon named Toto, Marcel begins the journey back to the Emerald City Theater where he’s sure his Dorothy must be waiting.

THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ begins with slapstick humor but develops into a heartwarming–and occasionally heartbreaking–tale. In a twist on the classic, Marcel learns to trust his own ingenuity, compassion, and courage as he leads his new friends through the wilderness. And in the end, he realizes he must stop waiting for Dorothy to come to him and find his own way home. It will resonate most with readers who are familiar with the Wizard of Oz story, either from the movie or the books. (Honestly, though Marcel focuses on the movie, the extended denouement of this novel where each character finds their way back home reminded me more of the book.)

A note: I would have said this book skewed young until I got to the ending…. I don’t want to spoil, but if you’re going to recommend or read aloud to a young reader, read chapter 25 in advance so that you know whether it may upset your young reader and/or so that you can prepare for the conversations that will need to surround the reading of that particular chapter. Think CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Again, this is just a heads up if you’re reading it aloud to your kindergartener or handing it to your precocious second grader. If you’re recommending it to your typical MG reader, I don’t think it’s an issue. All of the content is developmentally appropriate and similar to content in other MG books.

BE DAZZLED by Ryan La Sala

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Raffy practically drags May from the car to the convention center. He can’t risk being photographed before he finishes gluing moss onto May’s face. All the other cosplayers got dressed at home, but they didn’t havr famous artists for moms–artists who for some ridiculous reason don’t consider crafting an art and don’t want their sons to go to art school. But Evie is not going to stop Raffy from entering–not entering, winning–the biggest cosplay competition in Boston. And once he does win, he won’t need Evie’s support for art school. He’ll have sponsors. Fame. He’ll finally be out of Evie’s shadow and surging into his future as a crafter.

But Raffy never thought about the one other person who could throw him off his game: his ex-boyfriend Luca. And when Luca doesn’t only show up but shows up in a costume Raffy designed, it’s impossible for him to keep his cool. Is it possible that Raffy’s hopes for the future could self-destruct as violently as their relationship?

This rom com is adorable and uplifting. By alternating between past and present, La Sala threads the suspense of the competition through the build-up and collapse of Raffy and Luca’s relationship. It’s definitely a page turner! I loved the evolution of Raffy’s relationship with his mom (and Luca’s!) and the depth given to the secondary characters (May and Inaya especially). A well-written, engaging, funny book for fans of YA realistic fiction and/or romances.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Enchanted needs to sing like she needs to breathe. The white girls at her school say she sounds like Beyonce, but that’s only because they don’t know many Black singers. Enchanted’s passion is the classic singers–the ones she and her grandma used to sing along with–Gladys Knight, Aretha, Nina Simone.

When she auditions for Music LIVE, the judges aren’t impressed with her dated sing choice or her timid performance, but 28 year old superstar Korey Fields is. He convinces her parents to let Enchanted tour with him, his newest protege. But there’s a darkness to Korey that Enchanted didn’t see at first, and the whirlwind that she thought would lead her to fame and love instead carries her down into terror, abuse, and ultimately a pool of blood on the floor of Korey’s penthouse.

I cannot adequately express how powerful and moving this book is. Enchanted’s voice is so strong. Even with the immense power her abuser holds over her, even when she is confused and heartbroken and doubting herself, she holds on. She fights when she’s able (and when she isn’t able to fight emotionally, mentally, the author makes it very clear that it is NOT her fault that she is in this situation). And she survives.

And the community around her! Reading this book as an adult and a parent, I wept at some of the scenes where her parents defend her. Jackson incorporates their voices directly through police interview transcripts and minutes of mom group meetings to provide a deeper perspective on how a whole community is affected by and responds to the violent abuses of a powerful man. Not all adults react in a positive way, but many do–from the parents, to the psychiatrist, to the flight attendant who notices something amiss. A reader will come away from this book knowing that there is help out there. That they are not alone in their experiences and they do not need to be alone in their rescue and recovery. As dark as the subject matter is, a reader will come away from this book with hope.

TW: This book could definitely trigger survivors of sexual violence and/or abusive relationships, but FWIW it didn’t trigger me. I think it was the strength of Enchanted’s voice and the knowledge from Chapter One that she will escape–that there will be some form of justice–that kept me from going to a dark place. But every survivor’s journey is different, so definitely exercise caution.

GIRL, SERPENT, THORN by Melissa Bashardoust

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Soraya has spent most of her life in hiding in the palace. While her twin brother prepared for his future as shah, Soraya tended her secret rooftop garden, watching the poison in her veins flow beneath her skin, wishing she had never been cursed. But when a captured div, or demon, reveals that her mother lied about the nature of the curse–that it wasn’t a punishment for her mother’s carelessness, but rather a poison the shabanu requested the div bestow upon her daughter, Soraya leaves her isolated garden and accepts the help of a new guardsman to find a cure. Unfortunately, her plan backfires. With her brother deposed and her own power drained, Soraya hopes there is enough monster left inside of her to defeat the div that now holds the key to her freedom.

An exciting fantasy in a masterfully-built world, GIRL, SERPENT, THORN plays with the tropes of the princess and the monster by combining them into one, intertwining poison and strength and exploring the gray area between good and evil. Highly recommended to YA fantasy fans who like fast-paced yet character driven adventures.

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A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

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Charlotte Holmes is utterly unsuited to marriage. She thrives on intellectual puzzles, little to no conversation, and an unhealthy sweets consumption that frequently leads her perilously close to her Maximum Tolerable Chins; none of this would endear her to the typical Victorian husband. She fended off marriage proposals bravely until her 25th year, under the assumption that her father would honor his promise to pay for her education. When he reneges, she does the only logical thing: renders herself ineligible for marriage through a sexual liaison with an unprincipled and unhappily-married gentleman.

Alas, his domineering mother catches them in the act, and scandal ensues. Charlotte flees her irate parents, only to discover that it is far more difficult than she expected for a “fallen woman” to find work. Furthermore, when the unhappily-married gentleman’s mother winds up dead, Charlotte’s sister becomes implicated in a murder inquiry. With the help of the widowed Mrs. Watson (a middle-aged former actress) and her old friend (and love of her life) Lord Ingram, Charlotte sets out to do what she does best–observe, make conclusions, and solve puzzles that baffle even the most intrepid and clever police inspectors.

Of course no one would believe the deductions of fallen woman and society scandal Miss Charlotte Holmes. The mysterious, bedridden, (entirely fiction) Mr. Sherlock Holmes however….

Sherry Thomas breaks out of the romance genre with a thrilling, funny, well-plotted, and (yes) romantic mystery series with a strong cast of characters and an immersive historical world that will keep readers rapt and turning pages. I read them all, then immediately read them again. Can’t wait for another LADY SHERLOCK book!

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series Book 1) - Kindle edition  by Thomas, Sherry. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune

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Linus takes his job as a case worker investigating orphanages for magical youth very seriously. He does his work thoroughly, accurately, and impersonally. And it’s precisely his thorough, accurate, and impersonal track record that prompts Extremely Upper Management to offer him a temporary, top secret assignment: to spend a month evaluating an exclusive seaside orphanage for extraordinary magical youth (including, among others, the Antichrist). Although initially overwhelmed by the unusual assignment, Linus finds that the magical youth–and their exceptional caretaker, Arthur–are working their way into his heart and threatening his objectivity as a caseworker. And as his impersonal lens cracks, he must question the truths he’s been taught, the morality of his own work, and how far he is personally willing to go for love.

A well-deserved award-winner, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a quirky, funny, sweet, thought-provoking social-commentary with equal parts humor and heart. Highly recommend for adults and older teens–anyone who likes stories that are a little weird and a little magical with a healthy dose of undermined social norms and queer romance.

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MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed

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Khayyam is grateful to have the summer in her father’s native Paris to get her life together. Her senior year is about to start. Her never-quite-official boyfriend is off to college and popping up in Instagram pics with other girls. And worst of all, Khayyam has ruined all of her chances of becoming an art historian with one ill-conceived, under-researched essay erroneously linking Alexandre Dumas and Eugene Delacroix.

“The work of a dilettante, not a future art historian.” That was how the head judge at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago had described her work. Khayyam had hoped that participating in the essay contest would set her apart–show the Art Institute how serious she was–so that the School would take a closer look at her college application. Now, she wonders if she’s distinguished herself in a bad way and is destined for still more rejection.

But when she meets a descendent of Alexandre Dumas (another, younger, perfectly charmant Alexandre Dumas) by chance at a cafe, Khayyam sees new possibilities opening up for her. Maybe she and Alexandre can work together to unravel the truth behind Dumas’ connection with Delacroix and salvage Khayyam’s reputation as a future art historian. And maybe in the process, they can discover the identity and history Leila–a woman of Asian and Muslim descent (like Khayyam)–who was described by the poet Byron, painted by the artist Delacroix, but never given a voice of her own.

With the hashtag #writeherstory, Ahmed attacks the narratives that men build around women (particularly women of color and intersections of marginalized identities)–narratives that subsume women’s own voices and cast them as sexual objects in dramas directed by the men around them. She mounts her assault poetically with the interweaving of Khayyam’s voice with the voice of Leila, fictional in reality but real in the world of the narrative. Khayyam’s conflicts and power struggles with the men in her life parallel on a less grand scale the experiences of Leila in her interactions with the male-dominated artistic community–many well-intentioned men, none quite listening to Khayyam or to Leila. I loved every page of this book and highly recommend it to older YA readers who like deep, thought-provoking (thought-requiring) realistic fiction, especially readers with an interest in art history and/or classic literature.

EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER by Linda Holmes

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Evvie Drake was leaving Tim. She was literally in the car, her suitcase packed in the trunk, when her phone rang. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

One year later, Evvie’s life does not resemble the freedom she imagined she’d find without Tim. Her family and friends think it’s grief, but really it’s something else. Guilt. Guilt for the lack of grief. Guilt that she ever wanted to get away from Tim, who was in everyone else’s eyes, completely and utterly perfect. Guilt for the remote possibility that the universe had known she wanted to escape and had taken the matter into its own hands.

But when she takes in a former all-star baseball pitcher as a lodger, Evvie gradually begins to enjoy life again. Because Dean is full of possibility–new friendship, new project, new distraction. What Evvie doesn’t count on is that in trying to fix Dean’s life, she may have to confront the darkness in her own past and the ghosts Tim left behind.

An engaging contemporary romance, EVVIE DRAKE is a fun read and great book club book for groups that enjoy “women’s fiction.”