Book Bites: To the Nines

It was another rainy summer week in Houston, so if you’re anything like us, you’ve been mowing through your TBR list like nobody’s business. Lucky for you, we’re here with a fresh batch of recommendations to spruce up your shelves. This week, we have nine new titles for your consideration, from YA historical fiction to breezy beach reads to a book of essays about Juneteenth. So take a peek at our reviews below and clear some space on your nightstand—we think you’re going to find something you’ll love.

Ages 13 & up

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

On a magical day, Vienna and her best friends Leo, Elsa, and Max are certain that their bond is unbreakable, from ferris wheel rides to games in the park to a delicious piece of cake. A beautiful day in a beautiful city, captured forever in a photograph, but time can't truly be frozen. Soon, as war creeps into their city, they find themselves thrust across Europe, separated by oceans, by ideologies, and by barbed wire.

In an exploration of several distinct sides of the same war, Liz Kessler masterfully weaves together the story of three distinct characters, creating a novel I truly couldn't manage to put down. What intrigued me most was the distinct voice she gave to each of the best friends—it was fascinating to witness their development over the course of ten years. Despite the tragedy in this novel, I couldn't shake the wonderful sense of hope it gave me, and I would recommend this to both middle grade and young adult lovers of historical fiction.
—Veronica, Teen Advisory Board

READ because this is a powerful reading experience that will stick with you for a while.

PASS if you need something contemporary right now—but save this one for later.

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An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

In 2003, even after the post 9/11 scrutiny of her culture, Shadi still wears a hijab which makes her a target as a Muslim-American at her high school. Recently abandoned by her best friend, Zahra, and struggling with intense family problems, this bright, caring young lady is barely existing. When she continues to cross paths with Ali, Zahra’s older brother, pressure in her world increases. Can Shadi, which translates to joy, maintain a head-down approach to life? Will her family’s issues overwhelm her? Beautifully written and tightly emotional, you will be pulled into this book. Highly recommended.
— Liz

READ because this is a timely and gripping book by a must-read author.

PASS for now if you’re looking for something light.

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Ages 16 & up

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

This book was amazing and I absolutely loved it. Williams-Garcia always crafts a beautiful yet impactful tale, and this did not disappoint—the book starts off with a bang and only gets better. Williams-Garcia tells a powerful story, while bringing to the surface the horrors of slavery. I find it so cool that she has found a way to tell these tales in a way that is understandable for YA readers and can leave an impact on their lives. I will 100% be recommending this book to others along with the author’s trilogy about the Gaither sisters!
—Olivia, Teen Advisory Board

READ because this is a remarkable book that our Teen Advisory Board loved.

PASS if you’re more of a middle grade reader—this one’s recommended for 16 and up.

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Adult Fiction

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren

Data scientist and single mom Jess has no desire to get back into the dating world—none at all. But when she hears about a DNA-based matchmaking company that has found her a 98% compatibility match, she's interested. But then she learns her match is Dr. River Pena, who is most certainly NOT her soulmate. A thoroughly enjoyable rom com that takes a deeper look at the role fate, choice and science play in a relationship.
— Cathy 

READ if you loved The Rosie Project.

PASS if you’re a grumpy goose.

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The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin

This is a Western, but a Western with something extra. The protagonist, Ming Tsu, is a Chinese-born orphan who was raised by the head of a California crime gang to be a hit man. When the story opens in 1869, Ming Tsu has recently escaped from a railroad chain gang. Now he is on a mission of revenge to kill all the people who participated in kidnapping his wife of two months and convicting him of miscegenation. As he makes his bloody way to "Californie” to find his wife, he falls in with a small group of performers who specialize in miracles: a blind Chinese "prophet" who can see the future, a Native American who can instantly hypnotize people into forgetting their memories, a woman who sets herself on fire but never burns, and others. Though there is a price on his head, Ming Tsu offers security to the traveling performers as they travel while, at the same time, adding to the hundreds of people he has killed in his life. It's a rather bloody book, but the presence of magical realism helps to counteract the graphic brutality. As in many good Westerns, the protagonist is at heart a good guy in the pursuit of justice. Recommended.

READ because who wouldn’t want to read a score-settling, magical realist Western epic?

PASS if you need something a little gentler for your poolside reading.

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Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

Event planner Carter has a meet cute with Prince Edgar of England at the United Nations, where Carter's setting up an event at which the Prince will appear. There's instant chemistry and Carter can't believe that Prince Edgar would choose to be with him. Despite countless obstacles to a happily ever after, both men want to try to make it work. This hilarious rom-com is the perfect mix of Red, White and Royal Blue and Boyfriend Material. I laughed through the entire book and wanted to start over immediately.   
— Cathy 

READ because you have to admit that this sounds like a lot of fun.

PASS if “light,” “frothy,” and “royal” somehow aren’t on your summer reading mood board.

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Revival Season by Monica West

15-year-old Miriam Horton is the daughter of an evangelical preacher.  Each summer, the family piles into their old minivan and travels the revival circuit through the South, where her father performs faith healings.  Early on in the book, we learn that an act of violence at last year’s revival causes Miriam to question everything she has known; then she is thrown into deeper turmoil realizing that she herself has the gift of healing, something she has been taught is a sin for women. The subject of the book is the inner turmoil of the 15-year-old main character who has a close relationship with her mother and younger sister but now refuses to blindly accept the dictates of her volatile preacher father and, to a lesser degree, the devotion to him by her brother.  Miriam is on her own as she questions faith, trust, love, and the constraints on women in her church. Violence tears the wool from her eyes, but in this world where questions are not tolerated and women are expected to remain silent, what is she to do?
—Jennifer K

READ because this is a propulsive story of feminism and faith that you’ll soon be recommending to your book club.

PASS if you want to leave all those book club credibility points on the table.

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While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

For fans of John Grisham, Stacey Abrams delivers a first-class political thriller with a whip-smart heroine in Avery Keane. She is the law clerk for Justice Wynn when he slips into a coma and leaves her as his legal guardian. Wynn has the information that will take down the president, but it is up to Keane and her friends to figure out how to do so. Murders, kidnappings, wiretapping, and more. Highly recommended for a fast paced summer read.

READ for lots of reasons, but here’s the big one: Stacey! Abrams!!

PASS because first-class political thrillers with whip-smart heroines are just a dime a dozen, right? No? Better read this, then.

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Adult Nonfiction

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

A lovely book of essays—part history, part memoir—about Juneteenth, growing up in Conroe, and the continued racism that Black Americans face. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed was one of the first Black children in an all-white school in the seventies. Her love of Texas with all of its complicated parts shines here. Recommended for all Americans, and especially for Texans.

READ because you’ll learn a lot and be better for it.

PASS this one around to your friends and relatives.

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