Book Bites: Liz Picks 'Em
Could your shelves use a little freshening, friends? (This is a trick question. The answer is always “yes.”) Our merry band of booksellers has been enjoying the wave of spring releases coming into the shop, and we’d love to share a few of our favorites with you. This week, we’re excited about an unusual new picture book from an all-time favorite, a pair of YA adventures loved by our teen advisory board, a modern short story collection that draws from mythology, and a trio of novels vetted by Liz. Read on!
The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Another gem from Jon Klassen with quirky characters and a story that may or may not be what it seems. Read it aloud, read it with a friend, read it to yourself. Read it, spend time with it, love it.
READ because anything by Jon Klassen is an easy auto-rec.
PASS if you’re looking for something more sweet and slapstick than dark and deadpan.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Between the epic battles, stunning world building, and intricately written moments between characters, I was enthralled by this journey through the galaxy. The cast of characters was so thoughtfully crafted and truly a joy to read about. Anders did an excellent job representing people from the far corners of the world—all over the spectrum of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and (who could forget) alien species! I was captivated by the complexity with which Anders described her universe, managing to provide so many creative details while simultaneously keeping the reader engaged. I usually tend to avoid science fiction, but this was an amazing introduction to the genre and I would recommend anyone looking for a fun adventure to give it a go!
READ because this is the exuberant sci-fi series starter your shelves have been waiting for.
PASS if space stuff gives you the creeps. (Might want to reconsider living in Houston.)
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
Witches Steeped in Gold is a fantastic debut from Ciannon Smart that is full of constant twists and turns.The most outstanding element of this book for me was the worldbuilding: it is a Jamaican fantasy with two major cultures, the Alumbrar and the Obeah, who each have their own customs, values, and magic systems. The different approaches to magic are fascinating, and the magic in this book is rich and detailed. The plot is complex and becomes increasingly dark and intense the further it goes. There are enough surprises to make the reader unsure of whom to trust or what to believe, and there are multiple instances that bring one to question who is in the "right," or if anyone is at all. The main characters were also excellent. I enjoyed following Jazmyne as she struggled with her ambitions and identity, and Iraya shined with her intensity and bravery. They are both fleshed out and have their share of strengths and weaknesses. A solid YA fantasy through and through!
READ if you’re into Dhonielle Clayton or Sabaa Tahir.
PASS if you’re looking for some contemporary YA realism right now.
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
In this short story collection, Babalola retells a number of love stories from history and global mythology, updating them and centering them on the woman's point of view. Dip in and read one story at a time or read it in one fell swoop—either way, it's a delight!
READ because this is a delightful collection that recasts mythology as empowering love stories.
PASS if you’re just looking for a novel. (We’re kidding. We should all read more short stories!)
The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
The X sisters, Lexie and Jax, grew up vacationing at their grandmother’s estate in Vermont and swam in the freezing spring waters that ran on the property. Now Jax is a well-respected child therapist who once had an extremely close tie to her incredible sister, but has distanced herself from the often manic, adult Lexie. One night, Jax receives a flurry of calls from Lexie and in the morning, she finds out her sister has drowned in the springs. Flashing back to 1929, the story of Ethel Monroe, a newlywed, emerges. Her life intertwines with the same spring waters as she and her husband take a romantic trip to the newly built Bradenburg Springs Hotel and Resort. Talking with the wife’s owner and hearing stories about the special waters, Ethel begins to believe that the springs can cure her barren womb. Shortly after making a desperate plea beside the spring waters, she has a baby girl who has a weakened heart and is not expected to live more than one year. Ethel, of course, turns back to the springs to make her daughter well. Alternating back and forth to the X sisters’ story, we learn that Jax has become fixated on the bizarre tales of the healing waters and is beginning to unravel some startling truths. This well-crafted thriller will undoubtedly make you be very careful what you wish for and creep you out anytime you swim in unclear waters.
READ if you’re looking for your next twisty, can’t-put-it-down thrill ride.
PASS if you’re packing for a lakeside getaway.
The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton
Through interviews and side notes, this is a uniquely written novel about the cult phenomenon of Opal and Nev, a captivating musical force that debuted in the early 1970's. Opal, a young black woman from Detroit, has a blazing talent that Nev sees as a perfect fit for his meaningful style of music and gets his wobbling record company, Rivington Records, to bring her to New York. From flashbacks, we learn that British native, Nev, is uber talented in writing lyrics, and Opal, while naive about the music industry, has a burning desire to find her own voice and style after suffering through many years of oppression that deals with not only being Black but also by dealing with severe hair loss at a young age. Racial tensions erupted into a riot at Opal and Nev's debut, a music festival presented by Rivington Records. Post riot, the two had personal and professional struggles which include escaping to France and a few stints in rehab. Years later when the idea of a reunion concert emerges, both Opal and Nev put aside their tumultuous past and bring a new energy to this event. This reunion; however, turns into more of a revival for fans and a reckoning of the past for Opal and Nev. A fantastic novel blending strong characters voices with a propulsive storyline!
READ if you’re trying to fill the Daisy Jones-shaped hole in your heart. This one’s every bit as immersive!
PASS if you’re looking for a book that *isn’t* bold and immersive.
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin
Willy Vlautin masterfully describes the elaborate, heart wrenching desire that Lynette has for home ownership. Lynette has lived a tumultuous existence most of her life. She loves, cares for, and protects her brother Kenny, who is mentally disabled, while working multiple jobs to save enough money to help afford the down payment for the house they’ve lived in for years. She understands this will be the only way they will ever be able to stay in their Portland neighborhood which is undergoing redevelopment. Lynette also suffers from undiagnosed mental illness since she was a teen, and her burnt out mother’s sudden unplugging from the plan to purchase the house creates a storm. Concise and fast paced, this novel goes full-tilt in its telling of Lynette’s desperate actions and fierce belief of the stability that homeownership will provide. Superb writing!
READ because Willy Vlautin’s writing will stick with you long after you turn the last page.
PASS if you’re looking for some breezy beach reading this week.