Book Bites: Cynthia Rylant, Helen Ellis, and More!

The summer heat is showing no signs of letting up. Fortunately, neither is the barrage of great new books coming into the shop each week. We suggest that you grab a stack and settle in for some air-conditioned (or poolside!) reading. Below, we have a list of recent recommendations for all ages—from a picture book biography of a Tejano icon to gentle middle grade, teen thrillers, literary fiction, and laugh-out-loud essays. Read on!

Ages 4-8

Sing With Me by Diana Lopez; illustrated by Teresa Martinez

Selena is an icon for Texans. Her short but powerful life left us with so many wonderful songs. What many people don't know is that she grew up not speaking Spanish. She had to teach herself how to do so in order to reach her audience. This picture book biography portrays her as a gutsy girl who understood her talent and understood the power of singing to the Tejano people. 

READ this energetic picture book for its double dose of history and inspiration!

PASS if you’re one of those people who claim to not like music.

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Ages 8-12

Rosetown Summer by Cynthia Rylant

Flora navigates a fateful summer with her two best friends Yury and Nessy. The local bookstore is their happy place, but Ms. McCormick may be leaving town. Each child has their own situations that they must deal with in this charming, peaceful book with only good people in it.

READ because it’s Cynthia Rylant! And it has a bookstore in it!!

PASS if you want to read the first book, ​​Rosetown, before digging into this one.

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Ages 13 & up

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Natasha’s sister is the second girl to go missing in the woods near town, and she won’t be the last. Natasha suspects the person who has harmed her sister and is desperate to avenge her. In her search for an ally who can help her get answers she goes to see the local witch, Della.

Della’s family is known in the town for magic and potions. Her mother is a monster with a dark, dangerous side and Della will do anything to steer suspicion away from her. The two girls can only rely on each other to find the answer to the mystery of the missing girls. The River Has Teeth is a beautiful, ominous mystery that will permanently tie your stomach in a knot.
—Harper, Teen Advisory Board

READ if you’d like to cool down from this hot weather by getting chilled to the bone!

PASS if you’d rather save this one for your October/November pile.

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Adult Fiction 

The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell

Take The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and The Horse, introduce a good dose of realpolitik and project it into a post-apocalyptic future and you have a very different kind of fable in The Council of Animals. There’s a horse, several moles, a cat, a dog and a bear, and kindness is NOT the focus of their worldview. The council is called to debate what to do with the remaining humans who have somehow survived The Calamity. When the majority vote is to eat them, the dissenters set out on a mission to warn the humans, and this is the story of what happens. 

READ because this is a buzzy book—and it’s always fun to refresh your reading with an out-of-left-field pick.

PASS if you’re looking for chirping birds and forest whimsy.

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Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Quietly intense writing marks this story of a young woman from a multicultural background who is unsure of what she wants for herself and where she belongs in the world. She left New York (but doesn’t explain why) for a temporary position as an interpreter at the International Court in the Hague, where she begins an affair with a married man and is called to interpret for a former African head of state on trial for crimes against citizens of his own country. It’s a short novel that takes place over a period of several months, and we learn the intimate details of her daily life as tension builds with the uncertainties in both her personal and professional circumstances. Lovely writing. Recommended.

READ because this tense and taut novel comes recommended by Alice *and* Barack Obama.

PASS if you just need a good beach read right now.

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Isn’t It Bromantic by Lyssa Kay Adams

Vlad has had a marriage of convenience with Elena, his best friend from childhood. When Elena announces that she's leaving the US to return to Russia to be a journalist, Vlad creates his own romance in more ways than one. A great rom-com with plenty of romance, humor and hilarious secondary characters, this is a delightful addition to the Bromance Book Club series! 

READ because this is a delightful series, and it’s perfect for summer reading.

PASS if you need to catch up on the first three Bromance Book Club stories!

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China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

A poignant story about a string of pearls, a stifling existence, demeaning expectations, a young veiled bride, and a strung out immigrant. Set in the countryside of Punjab, two intertwined tales take place years apart. The first is about the cold and calculated marriage customs during the 1920s. Mehar, the young, open, inquisitive bride, figures out the man she loves is not actually her husband, and she desperately attempts to navigate among her sister brides, her relentless mother-in-law, and the harsh realities she faces. The second is a gut-wrenching story about the recovery and enlightenment of a young man shortly before the turn of the 21st century. This story gives us glimpses of Mehar’s great-grandson and how he refines his own fate in the same countryside home that enclosed the china room and its stories. Intensely detailed and very moving, this novel is hard to set down.

READ for the unforgettable characters and page-turning plot.

PASS if you’re looking for a book with mediocre characters and a dull plot.

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Adult Nonfiction 

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

Just as funny as Southern Lady Code, Helen Ellis delivers twelve new poignant and hilarious essays. They range from life long friendships, attempts at getting rid of neck wrinkles, and more. She's a sassier (much sassier) Erma Bombeck. Read it quickly and then read it again for the themes that run much deeper than you think.

READ because we love Helen Ellis and so will you.

PASS if you think that laughter is actually the worst medicine.

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