Book Bites: Three Fresh Favorites, Four You May Have Missed

Gather around, friends! It’s time for us to gush about books again. Seriously, y’all—books are the greatest, and this week we have one of our classic something-for-everyone lists for you to check out. Read on to meet three fresh favorites… and four fantastic titles you may have overlooked earlier this year. We’ve got everything from middle grade novels to a cookbook included below. So, to borrow a phrase… dig in!

Ages 8-12

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

The Smith family’s picture-perfect life takes a turn when World War II encroaches on their lighthouse home overlooking the English Channel. Acts of sabotage are occurring  both in the village and countryside; everyone in Pet’s family seems to be keeping secrets; her German-born mother is sent to an internment camp; her father is about to be arrested; and her sister disappears more and more often. It is up to twelve-year-old Pet to unravel these and other mysteries in this spellbinding and atmospheric thriller highly recommended for fourth graders and above.

READ because this is a great piece of historical middle-grade fiction that will definitely have you on the edge of your seat.
PASS if you still haven’t read Strange’s first book, The Secret of Nightingale Wood. Where have you been?!
Order your copy on our website.

Ages 10 & Up

Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj

Our dear friend Varsha has written a timely middle grade book about race relations in Houston, Texas, and across the country. Next door neighbors Karina and Chris don't have much in common. When Karina's grandfather moves in with her family and becomes Chris's seventh grade math tutor, a friendship develops between the three. Karina's grandfather, who immigrated to the United States from India over 50 years ago, is the victim of a hate crime while walking home from school with Karina and Chris. Karina takes to social media in an effort to handle her fear after the assault and her posts go viral. Using #CountMeIn, Karina realizes that support for her immigrant grandfather far outweighs the few haters who comment on her posts. 

READ because this is a timely, Houston-set read that would pair well with something like wishtree.
PASS … if you’d rather be counted out?
Order your copy on our website.
Attend our event with the author on September 7!

Ages 14 & Up

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

After Jack and Kate’s meet-cute at a college party, where they immediately hit it off, Kate quickly becomes a major part of Jack’s life. But then Kate dies. Jack begins to time travel in order to prevent her death and is transported back to the beginning of their relationship. Funny and suspenseful, this is a great story and a great new voice. Best for grades 9 and up. 

READ because this debut novel has some pretty notable fans… how ‘bout Angie Thomas, Becky Albertalli, and a couple of starred reviews?
PASS if you don’t like charming protagonists, witty banter, and sweet romance.
Order your copy on our website.
Check out a Q&A with the author on our blog. 

Adult Fiction

Berta Isla by Javier Marías; trans. by Margaret Jull Costa

This latest novel from Spanish author Marías is a thriller in which there is very little action, but plenty to think about. It's the story of a young couple, Berta and Tom, who met in high school in Madrid and got married after university. While Berta studied in Madrid, Tom attended Oxford. While in England, he was coerced into joining the British Secret Service, and he began leading dual lives, one of which he could not share with Berta. His many absences became a way of life for Berta, who accepted them with determined patience. Then one April, Tom disappeared and did not return. Weeks turned into years, and Berta finished a doctorate, raised two children on her own, and kept waiting.

Though most of the book is told in Berta's voice, the author tells how Tom’s life changed when he joined MI6, a life that one agent predicted would end either in death or in madness. While reading about how Berta managed to get on with her life as the years crept on, I found that the negative space created by Tom's absence was the real story of the novel. By not telling the reader (or Berta) the details of Tom's other life, the author creates a tension that must be resolved somehow for the story to be complete. Highly recommended.

READ because this is the latest from an award-winning, internationally best-selling author, and it’s always nice to get some works in translation on your list.
PASS if you like your thrillers to be all adrenaline with little depth.
Order your copy on our website.

Carnegie Hill by Jonathan Vatner

This multifaceted story begins with Pepper Bradford, who seemingly has everything a girl could want… a high powered Wall Street fiancé, a board position in her very swanky co-op building, The Chelmsford Arms, and all the money she could possibly spend. Why then is she having second thoughts??? As Pepper begins to get to know her neighbors and fellow co-op board members, she begins to realize that all is not what it appears. There are several side stories involving neighbors, family members, and staff. You will be taken on a raucous ride while getting to know the residents of the Chelmsford Arms on swanky Carnegie Hill.

READ because this hilarious book would make the perfect end-of-summer beach read.
PASS if you don’t like Patrick DeWitt, Cynthia Ozick, or Amor Towles. (In which case, Jennifer has a few words for you.)
Order your copy on our website.

Adult Nonfiction

The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O'Meara

Frustrated by rampant Hollywood sexism, horror movie producer-turned-writer Mallory O’Meara decides to dig deeper into the life of a forgotten childhood hero: Milicent Patrick. Patrick worked as an animator, makeup artist, and special effects wiz in L.A. in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, and achieved short-lived fame for designing the monster in The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Then, her male boss got jealous, fired her, and stole all the glory. As O’Meara soon discovers, that incident was just one of many strange tales from an inspiring, complicated life.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is part biography of Patrick, part memoir of the author's time researching and writing that biography, and part feminist referendum on lingering gender inequality in show biz. It’s empowering, chatty, and honest—O’Meara writes with compassion about Patrick’s courage, as well as her flaws. Recommended.

READ because this is an empowering tale of a forgotten feminist trailblazer.
PASS if you can’t handle a few righteous f-bombs here and there. 
Order your copy on our website.


Ruffage by Abra Berens

Exactly what its title claims, Ruffage is the best vegetable cookbook I've seen in awhile. Abra Berens grew up on a farm, co-owns a farm, and is a chef at a restaurant in Michigan. Her emphasis in Ruffage is on knowing what to do with whatever vegetables you may find in season in your garden (well, maybe not in Houston), your farmer's market, or your local grocery store, "playing to the strengths of the vegetable instead of trying to conform it to [your] desires." Find the best vegetables you can, bring them home, and, with the help of her recipes, build your menus around them. But this is not a vegetarian cookbook—Ruffage incorporates meat, fish, and chicken in many of its recipes, and most of the other ingredients are those that we have in our pantries and refrigerators. Recommended.

READ because there are few things more fun than a really great cookbook.
PASS if you thought that “ruffage” meant that this was going to be an encyclopedia of dog barks.
Order your copy on our website.