Book Bites: Ready, Set, Read!

Did you set any reading goals for the year? To try out a different genre, maybe, or to read a certain number of books? You're in luck — we've got a new wave of rom-coms, thrillers, page-turners, and more that will help you start the year off right. The publishing world is off to a hot start in 2023, and we'd love to steer you towards your ideal read. Scroll through the list below to see our latest and greatest staff picks — or give us a call for a personalized pick. Either way, read on!

Ages 4-8

The Kindest Red by Ibtihaj Muhammad & S. K. Ali; illustrated by Hatem Aly 

From the creators of The Proudest Blue, this new picture book lovingly portrays a sister relationship between Asiya who wears a hijab and her younger sister Faizah. Faizah wants to be just like her sister. When picture day comes to the school, she realizes that she and Asiya won't match because she does not wear a hijab. Friends step in and help her in the sweetest way.
— Valerie

Read because this important and lovely book is a great collaboration between a bestselling author and an Olympic medalist.
Pass if you want to check out The Proudest Blue first.
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Ages 14 & Up

Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell by Tobias Madden

Noah Mitchell is a shy gaymer who has fallen in love with his best friend. The only issue is that their relationship is strictly online and they have no identifiable knowledge of one another. Noah is sure that if they met, they'd be soulmates. So what does Noah do when Eli, his friend, accidentally reveals a piece of information that allows Noah to track him down? He follows it. Keeping his knowledge a secret, Noah is determined to meet Eli in hopes of falling in love, but will he be able to do so without hurting anyone? A charming read that beautifully discusses many important topics! 
— Ayah

Read because you love rooting for authentic and humorous characters.
Pass if books set around the theatre give you post-traumatic flashbacks to that time you forgot all your lines at the elementary school play.
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Begin Again by Emma Lord

Andie Rose has goals–very specific ones: attend Blue Ridge State like her parents, major in Psychology, join the secret society her mom belonged to, with her high school boyfriend. Unable to attend Fall semester, she transfers in spring semester and surprises Conner. Andie is the one in shock when their plans don't line up. Living her best life and making lots of friends somehow gets in the way of studying and classes. Learning to work for balance, to be her own person, and to let go of the past are all lessons she has to muddle through. With a cast of funny individual characters, this book is a great read and brings us back to our college days when we tried to figure life out!
— Christina

Read because independent booksellers around the country (including the Blue Willow team) tabbed this fun read for the Kids' Indie Next List.
Pass if you hate when your romance novels include humorous, satisfying banter.
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Adult Fiction

Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

Georgie Mulcahy returns home to rural Virginia, unsure of what to do next after her job as a Hollywood assistant has come to an end. Her best friend Bel has recently moved home, and Georgia plans to help Bel settle in and prepare for the new baby that's on the way. Georgia runs into Levi, the older brother of her high school crush, who has a troubled past and has worked to build a life for himself. A charming romance that considers self determination, moving on from your teenage self and accepting who you truly are.
— Cathy

Read if you're a fan of Emily Henry or Christina Lauren.
Pass if you don't want your heart full and your mind engaged.
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Glitterland by Alexis Hall

Famed author Ash Winters moves through life with specific routines to manage his bipolar depression, but that's all thrown out the window when he meets aspiring model Darian Taylor at a nightclub. Ash wakes up in a strange bed after a one-night stand with Darian and sneaks out in the midst of a panic attack which leads to a depressive episode. A few months later, Darian finds Ash at a book signing and they begin a relationship which runs aground when Ash pushes Darian away. You'll find Hall's signature banter and stellar secondary characters here, but you'll also find a man who doesn't always want to be alive and doesn't know whether or not he deserves love. It's a painful and beautiful story all at once. This reissue of Hall's first novel is updated with plenty of extras that longtime fans will enjoy.
— Cathy

Read because this novel contains the perfect amount of heartbreak, hope, and love.
Pass if you read this when it was first published. Actually, scratch that: It's been revised and expanded!
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All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

Someone is messing with Isabelle Drake's mind. One year has passed since the "kidnapping" of her toddler Mason from his crib. She is obsessed with finding the truth. But there are so many twists and turns: her memories of sleepwalking as a child, the death of her younger sister under suspicious circumstances in the marsh, and more. Her husband, Ben, has left after supposedly exhausting all his resources after the disappearance. There is so much going on here with a deliciously unreliable narrator, completely flawed and completely believable. Lots of layers to uncover in this second novel which is even better than her first!
— Valerie

Read if you're looking for a smart thriller that will keep you up all night guessing.
Pass if you're not in the mood for a unique and suspenseful read.
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The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Successful "cozy mystery" author Emily is in a rut: her marriage is in ruins, she has writer's block, she's being cleaned out by her greedy ex,  and she has just begun to recover from a mysterious and incapacitating illness. While at lunch with her childhood best friend, Chess, a self-help author of stratospheric popularity, an invitation too good to pass up is offered, and Em joins Chess for six weeks at an Italian villa with its own tragic past. Emily begins to explore what happened in the 1970s to a rag-tag group of rock stars, drug dealers and groupies, with superstar musician Noel Gordon attempting to reignite his song-writing career. Included in the groupie set are half-sisters, Mari and Lara, whose own creative forces are ignored and sidelined while the men combust under various dalliances of sex, drugs, and all the usual distractions. Behind the scenes, Mari writes what is an eventual best-selling thriller, and Lara composes a landmark platinum album. In the final week of that long ago summer, passions rise as secrets unfold, and Mari's boyfriend Pierce is murdered. 

Tensions between Emily and Chess begin to emerge during the stay as secrets are revealed and a creative competition of the most unhealthy sort begins to unravel the fabric of their longtime friendship. Fast-paced, clever and a nice departure from the usual thriller! 

Read if you've ever been interested in Fleetwood Mac, the Manson murders, and the summer Percy and Mary Shelley spent at a Lake Geneva castle.
Pass if you hate sitting on the edge of your seat when you read.
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Better the Blood by Michael Bennett

This intense thriller, set in New Zealand, introduces Hana Westerman, a police detective with plenty of personal baggage, especially as it relates to her current case.  A serial killer is out to avenge the wrongs of 150 years ago when British colonialists took over lands belonging to the indigenous Maori people. Hana is Maori herself, but -- as a member of the police department -- she is considered by the killer to be a traitor to her people. Using clues deliberately left by the killer, Hana and her colleagues are in a race to find him before he kills all six of his targeted victims. In addition to being kept on the edge of one's seat while reading, one will learn a lot about New Zealand's history and the Maori culture. Recommended. 
— Alice

Read because this is a perfect balance of thrill, history, and mystery.
Pass if you try to avoid becoming absorbed in your reading material.
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