Book Bites: Two by Two by Two by Two

Here’s our two cents’ worth: It’s time for you to get a new book. As a matter of fact, get two. We’ll make it easy for you—this week, we have two recommendations from Alice, two from Cathy, two from our Teen Advisory Board, and two from Valerie. Together, they span a wide range of ages and interests, running the gamut from a middle grade story collection to a gripping historical mystery. Read our list of recommendations below, or come by and see us sometime soon. Shall we say... two o’clock?

*Edit: Valerie has subsequently reviewed a third book. But we worked really hard on this intro, so we're leaving it as is.

Ages 9-12

Black Boy Joy ed. Kwame Mbalia

Kwame Mbalia (Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky) gathers short stories from 17 Black authors into one marvelous collection that details a variety of joys found in a Black boy's childhood. This is a testament to family, to friends, to much deserved joy. 

READ because this is a can’t-miss collection of superstar authors that has something to offer every type of reader.

PASS if you don’t mind missing out on one of our very favorite books of the year.

Read our Q&A with Kwame Mbalia to learn more about this special project.

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Ages 13 & up

Walls by L.M. Elliott 

Walls centers around cousins Drew and Matthais as they live in Berlin during the Cold War. With tensions high and the boys on different sides of the city, their first opinions of one another are hesitant. The book follows the course of their friendship and how they work past the barrier of different upbringings and beliefs. I really enjoyed this book, and it was a light enough read that I actually read it all in one day. Some things I enjoyed were the strong familial relationships and the interactions between the characters in this book. I enjoyed the depth that each character had, and I especially loved seeing the different dimensions of Matthias’s character as he struggled to figure out what he believed in. Overall, I thought that this book was a great read.
—Caroline, Teen Advisory Board

READ because this balances a gripping historical story with a fast, light tone.

PASS if you think there’s nothing to learn from the past, or from one another.

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Red Wolf  by Rachel Vincent

Red Wolf is Rachel Vincent’s absolutely dreamy fantasy retelling of  the Little Red Riding Hood story. Sixteen-year-old Adele lives in Oakvale, a town surrounded by a vicious dark wood where mankind’s greatest enemies roam, including the feared werewolves. When Adele travels through the dark wood on a trip to deliver pastries to her grandmother, she discovers she comes from a long line of Werewolf Guardians. It is their duty to protect the village, without the townspeople ever knowing of their existence. 

Adele must decide: Is it worth giving up the future she had planned to fulfill her duties as a Werewolf Guardian? The story had a consistent pace that kept me wanting more. I recommend it for all lovers of fantasy or fairy tales.
—Harper, Teen Advisory Board

READ if you love Robin LaFevers or Marissa Meyer. Plus, this was chosen by our Teen Advisory Board for our YA subscription box!

PASS if you hate taking recommendations from an amazing group of teen readers.

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Adult Fiction 

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

It's 1976. Loggers are working on felling old growth redwoods in Northern California. This sprawling yet tightly-wound novel is told by three narrators: Colleen, logger's wife, mother of five-year-old Chub, and deeply sad over 8 miscarriages; Rich, Colleen's older husband who is from a long line of loggers who buys a piece of property that he believes will be their salvation; and Chub, the much beloved son and the glue holding his parents together. An old love of Colleen's is back in town, studying the effect of the spraying of pesticides with the possibility that this is causing the rash of children born with defects. Every action has a reaction. The reader feels (and rightly so) for both the loggers and the environmentalists. It's a hardscrabble life. There is love and loss. There is blood and healing. Times are changing and we cannot help but read about what will happen to this small community on the beautiful but downtrodden coast of California.

READ because Valerie *loved* this one—and so do the critics.

PASS if you prefer to read books that everyone’s kind of ambivalent about.

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Perfume Thief  by Timothy Schaffert

Clementine is a septuagenarian American ex-pat in Paris in 1941, having fled the United States and a life of crime (?) in 1930 to set up a perfumery in Paris. A cross-dresser, more comfortable in trousers than a dress, she spends her time with other society outcasts, including the prostitutes and singers at a bordello, creating custom scents for customers and friends. When one of her young singer friends asks her to find  a famous perfume maker's recipe book that may have incriminating evidence the singer wishes to hide, Clementine befriends the Nazi officer who now occupies the house where the book might be and tries to find a way to find and then steal the book. 

The strength of this novel is in the vivid character descriptions and the even more aromatically vivid descriptions of the scents she creates. It's a different angle on a WWII story and should appeal to those who enjoy reading about WWII Paris.

READ because this is a stylish, vividly-written page-turner… set in Paris! What more could you want?

PASS if “A Gentleman in Moscow meets Moulin Rouge” somehow doesn’t do it for you.

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Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Edgar Award-winning author Hirahara has written a gripping mystery story that brings with it a revealing look at the lives of Japanese Americans in Chicago in the final years of WWII. Aki Ito and her parents have recently been released from incarceration at Manzanar and travel to Chicago to meet Aki's older sister Rose and start new lives. Upon arrival, they learn that Rose has fallen to her death under a subway train. As they look for jobs and try—with mixed success—to adapt to life in a new city, Aki takes it upon herself to investigate the circumstances of her sister's death, slowly uncovering details despite widespread racial discrimination and police corruption. A well-written and well-structured mystery novel.

READ because what’s better than a really great mystery novel?

PASS this one along to whoever’s picking your next book club book.

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All the Little Hopes by Leah Weiss

WWII is raging far away from North Carolina but the Brown family has two members serving for the country. Lucy and Bert (an adopted sister with her own story) narrate this fine story of small town folk and their struggles. The Browns are wonderful people who help guide these two teenage girls through their struggles. Three horrible men have gone missing—too bad. And then a German POW camp opens in the town, bringing strife to all. It's a clear look into the lives of people living through this historic time.

READ because this is rock-solid historical fiction with a great Southern atmosphere.

PASS if you’re looking for something lighthearted and contemporary. In which case, see below!

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If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy 

Julie Murphy reimagines the Cinderella story and sets it against the backdrop of a reality dating show. Cindy, our smart, confident plus-sized heroine, wants to get attention for her shoe line by appearing on Before Midnight and is pleasantly surprised to realize that the Prince Charming on the show is Henry, the cute guy she met on the plane. A delightful romance that launches a new series from Disney!

READ because Julie Murphy is wonderful, and her first book for adults is delightful.

PASS if you hate having fun.

Order your copy — we have signed copies while supplies last!

Adult Nonfiction 

Honor Bound by Amy McGrath

Retired Marine Major and fighter pilot Amy McGrath writes her compelling memoir of growing in a tight-knit Catholic family, being accepted in the Naval Academy, and serving as an F-18 fighter pilot in Afghanistan. She is the first woman to fly an F-18 in a combat mission. She retired to become a trusted consultant on military matters to Congress and teaching at the academy. Her strength and courage shines as she suffered a painful injury playing high school sports and yet went on to play soccer at the academy. Ms. McGrath loves her home state of Kentucky and the United States. She unsuccessfully ran against Mitch McConnell in the 2020 election. Her concern about the direction of the country that she loves so much is palpable. It is a quick, fascinating memoir. 

READ because "quick, fascinating" is a great sweetspot for any book.

PASS if you're on a hiatus from anything political.

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Attend our virtual event with the author on August 11!