Leah's Staff Picks
I absolutely loved this book. It was my intro to Erik Larson's work and now I need to go read everything else he's ever written. I listened to the audiobook on Libro.fm, which was excellent. He makes learning history actually interesting, and toward the end where it's finally telling about the sinking of the ship, I had chills the whole time. I spent a lot of my childhood on luxury liners, and the way he so matter-of-factly states everything that happens in the sinking, pulling from the passenger's accounts, it feels real even a hundred years later.
Even after seeing it win five of the biggest fantasy book awards last year, I’m not sure why I hesitated to start this book. Maybe that was precisely it. With so many stars, my expectations were set incredibly high; it was too daunting. But when I finally got around to reading the summary and learned what the plot was about, and that the main character is a spaceship…I picked it up the next day. I haven’t felt this empathetic toward an AI since watching Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation throughout my childhood. Justice of Toren One Esk’s history and plotting of revenge spanning over a thousand years is just plain exciting to experience. So hailing all hardcore sci-fi fans, here’s the erudite, complex novel with a narrative of avant-garde gender usage a la Ursula le Guin we’ve all been waiting for. And now I’m left scrambling for the next one.
I absolutely loved every second of this book! Yes, there is twue wuve which is amazeballs and adorable and had me giggling, but of course, because this lush, romantic affair is between the First Son and the Prince of England...there's going to be some politics involved. Their relationship, the international logistics, everything was all so maturely handled and emotionally raw that I had all the feels. I have more lines and passages stickied in this book any other because there are so many hilarious and witty conversations. If you find yourself losing hope in romance and true love, pick this up and your dreams will be restored.
Ay, mi CORAZÓN. Telenovela stars Jasmine and Ashton take the stage in this swoony but empowering novel. Jasmine is determined for this new show to launch her career forward. After a humiliating tabloid breakup she is full of badass jefa moves. Ashton, a puertorriqueño introvert full of secrets, may just be the comfort she needs and er, well they’re costars: we know those stage kisses are on the horizon. I loved this book so much! The author has pulled from her own culture and boisterous family and it reads with a full heart and many laughs.
Blue has been told her whole life that she will kill her true love. Coming from a family of psychics, she’s always accepted the fact, but didn’t really find it a problem until she meets the "raven boys." Rich students from the ivy-track high school nearby, each of the four boys is mysterious and quirky in their own way. Right from the first page, you get the feeling there's something bigger going on in the town of Henrietta, Virginia. Blue is a great main character and easy to relate to. She is splendidly odd, has a cool ability, and strives to be eccentric. Another great character, Gansey's enthusiasm for his quest to find Glendower is energetic and powerful. The excitement is contagious; I could just picture the light in his eyes every time he talked about the legend! The story moves well and there isn't a single lagging moment.
There was a time when I finally finished all of Jane Austen’s books (twice) and I suddenly didn’t know where to turn next. I loved reading about dances, and witty banter, and most importantly, Society with a capital S. After getting stuck in a long reading rut, I stumbled upon North and South, and despite the lack of dances, I found beautiful writing, memorable friendships, and a fair amount of tempestuous romance. This book is more political and industrial than my Austen-norm, but it was just the right book for my fix. I found myself sucked into the troubling world of cotton factories, and unjust class prejudices. Margaret Hale has now become one of my favorite heroines. She’s pulled out of her comfortable country lifestyle and thrown into this busy working environment, and we are reminded that there are two sides to every story.
Día de los Muertos approaches, and with it the initiation ceremony for new brujos in Yadriel’s community. But in a sprit-release gone wrong, Yadriel and his cousin Maritza, the one-of-a-kind vegan bruja, find themselves in the company of a spirit who’s much more annoyed than they expected. Yet it’s finally Yadriel’s chance to prove himself as a true brujo to his family. This #ownvoices novel is much funnier than you’d first think going in. Julian, the troublesome spirit, had me stifling chuckles and he and Yadriel have sparking chemistry right away. Yadriel’s journey toward acceptance by his deeply traditional Latinx family is not easy, but you’ll be rooting for him the entire way. Cemetery Boys entwines many real social justice issues with enchanting folklore in a charming and memorable way; this book is a real gem and an instant YA classic.
Schwab has created a paradox that she’s able to transmit from the page; the feeling of a life not lived and a life too intensely lived, and I yearn for both existences simultaneously. I can’t quite put my finger on it, maybe it’s a spell put over the reader drawn from the cadence of her writing, the feeling of teetering on the edge of a cliff. Addie LaRue may have made a soul-binding deal with the devil, but Schwab has poured her soul into my own, capturing this unidentifiable feeling of loss and belonging, into my heart forever.
My favorite story, The Thing About Cassandra, has stuck with me some five years later. You can always rely on Neil Gaiman to disturb and unsettle any normal-seeming situation.
You may know Sarah Andersen by her Scribbles comics and now, behold: a scribbled love story for the ages! These snapshots in the lives of Elsie (gloomy vampire) and her boyfriend, Jimmy (adorkable werewolf) had me howling in laughter. I will be revisiting this book anytime I need a mood-booster.
Azere is tired of her mother setting her up with 'good' Nigerian men. As a Nigerian woman who has spent most of her adult life in Canada, she's already torn on how to both fit in and embrace her heritage in her daily life. This situation only gets more complicated after an unexpected one-night stand with Rafael, exactly the kind of man her mother would disapprove of. Though their relationship takes an unexpectedly serious turn, Azere remains cautious and reserved because her entire upbringing has been tied to her culture, and falling in love with a Spaniard like Rafael could alienate her from her entire family. Azere struggles with compromising her Nigerian heritage and traditions in order to be with someone who makes her happy. These struggles necessitate very difficult conversations with loved ones both new and old, and her efforts to communicate--or lack thereof--felt very authentic and relatable. Ties That Tether is an impressive debut that digs deep emotional roots while still maintaining that fairytale charm we all want in our happily ever after.
In the ever-drizzling city of Galway, Ireland, two murders take place twenty years apart. The police are acting strangely and the survivors are demanding action. Are they even working on the same side? I was told this book is for fans of Tana French, a description I first raised my eyebrow at in disbelief, but it became clear from the first chapter there was never a more accurate statement. McTiernan is able to convey intense emotion in a concise manner, letting you put the pieces together without ever spelling it out directly. This creates an escalating pace and an intimate relationship between the reader and characters. The story is oppressive, gloomy, yet endearing. It is the cozy cup of tea by the fire, as well as the storm raging outside. I cannot wait for more Detective Cormac Reilly books.
A heartwarming story in verse about a young girl's experience as a Syrian refugee adjusting to life in the US. She has to learn a new life separated from her dad and brother in a new country that holds many prejudices against her. But thankfully Jude's vibrant spirit shines through at every difficult situation she faces.
Shae lives in a world where there is no written word and too much silence. For wherever words appear the deadly disease Blot is spread, leaving death and madness in its wake. When Shae’s mother is murdered—a forbidden and dangerous term— she is thrown into a conspiracy tangled in the very fabric of her reality. Hush invites you into a world that is a fantasy and yet all too tangibly possible. Censorship of knowledge is wielded as a form of control and power held in the hands of very few. Shae is told over and over how she is too emotional and imagining things, the type of gaslighting that too often happens to women in any world. I admired Shae’s intense emotions and her determination to find the truth, with no help at any turn. But I shouldn’t say any more lest the Blot catch wind of this account and we become lost in the clutches of insanity.
Are you tired of swiping left? Being stood up? Are you generally done interacting with potential romantic partners? Listen up: you can just live out the rest of your days reading a shit ton of romance books, living vicariously through other people’s meet-cutes and great sex, and all with a guaranteed happy ending to boot. The Roommate is unique to the romance genre and set the bar high going forward. Never have I read a romance novel as focused on emphasizing and empowering female pleasure. The day is finally here for the most sexy, endearing, validating, orgasm-filled book to ever enter your dreams and bookshelf. Josh and Clara validate and respect each other’s wildly different lifestyles; there’s a deep sense of mutual appreciation. If they were real people, they’d literally change the country’s skittish handling of sex education. Read it, learn from it, and share the love.
Achilles and Patroclus: the alleged romance of the ages. This story spans decades, from the provincial upbringing of two young boys, to a harsh life of occupation in the Trojan War. Intricately researched and fast-paced, my heart slowly broke as the toxic masculinity brought on by ancient prophecy and battlefields crush the intrinsically kind nature of Achilles. I haven't read such a beautiful book in years.
Princess Askia enters the neighboring country’s court life with the purpose of negotiating an army in order to save her kingdom. ?But she’s a princess brought up with sword fighting more than political games and is only beginning to understand her own forbidden, secret status as a witch. There’s a slow burn plot, filled with world- and relationship-building. But when I reached the second half it I realized how invested I was in the characters, became surprised at the audacity of the twists suddenly coming from every direction; blood is shed at the most inconvenient of times. The Frozen Crown be a great next read for fans of Queen of the Tearling and Graceling. I am so thankful I won’t have to wait too long for the other half of this duology because that cliffhanger was quite a doozy for my emotions.
Finally! Another book featuring dragon riders with a world-building scope that rivals Eragon. Alongside recreational competitions and mid-air battles, a rebellion is brewing and alliances are shifting. Also, a dash of romance may be in the mix! I can't wait for the sequel.
This is a super cute adventure about belonging and learning empathy for yourself and others. It made me laugh a lot and I became very attached to the characters!
This is a story of belonging: a young girl struggling to fit in America in 1983 while holding onto her Indian heritage. It’s also a story of grief: a young girl recalling Indian folklore to help her deal with her mother’s illness and processing her grief. Told in quiet/soft but powerful verse, I could tase the sharp burst of mustard seeds on my tongue when Reha cooked with her parents and hear the scratch of pen on paper as her mom scribed aerogrammes to her family in her home country. Reha is brave but not without fear, the core of heroism. Seeing her strength and growth through these trials inspired me.
Ana has recently moved from Argentina to the United States, but quickly realizes her years of studying English at school has not prepared her for living in a new country. This #ownvoices debut perfectly captures the feeling of learning a new language—the difficulties, the breakthroughs. (English is such a weird ass language, I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to learn.) She makes dear friends to help her fit in, and struggles with how to identify with two worlds while she and her ESL classmates deal with xenophobic attitudes. Ana writes beautiful poetry as a way of expressing emotions she doesn’t have the vocabulary to fulfill yet, and it helps her to understand all the nuances of this new language. But no matter where you’re from or what language you speak, it’s a universal truth...cute boys are endlessly difficult to understand. I loved this book; it’s inclusive, and funny while remaining sincere. I can’t wait to see what the author has next in store.
Tessa is such an endearing character, her awkwardness spoke to me almost as much as her avoidance strategies and social anxiety. She grows so much throughout the story, I loved seeing her make mistakes and learn from them. Her family is supportive and kind (and still annoying sometimes). It was just so freaking cute I read almost the whole thing in one day. It took the best tropes and turned them into something special, heart-fluttery, inclusive; my heart felt full of freshly baked goods from that boy next door.
This harrowing adventure follows the crew of the USS Essex after it is sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. They are drifting in the middle of the ocean for 90 days where they are forced to result to cannibalism! Oh boy do you learn a lot about eating people in this one! Also, these events inspired the classic Moby Dick, but the cannibalism is way cooler.
Darcy's specialty is relationships, even if her own are rather disastrous. The insightful relationship advice that Darcy anonymously provides for her classmates read as if she was speaking directly to me. In the process of her advice-giving she is forced to reflect upon her own questionable actions for a myriad of her romantic as well as platonic relationships. Darcy is a wonderfully flawed character that many people will be able to identify with and her queer identity is never used as a plot device. I especially loved the camaraderie and banter between Darcy and her sister, Ainsley, and their support for each other. There’s a nice balance of awkward situations that made me crawl under the covers to escape the secondhand embarrassment, right alongside snarky dialogue that provided some much needed laughter for these strange times. Perfect on Paper is reminiscent of The Half of It with a hearty dose of Dear Abby, creating one of the most endearing queer high school experiences I’ve ever read.
Here's the book for those of us who grew up in the world of the Mortal Instruments and are now searching for something darker, grittier, but with that same comforting feel--the blurry lines between the mortal and faerie realms. The scope of worldbuilding is unparalleled, and it's only just beginning to flesh out, because not only do we meet the fae, but also ancient gods and other creatures of lore across time. But the heart of this book is in the characters. The casually all-queer cast solidifies that everyone deserves to be represented in magical stories and have adventures, and who are not defined by their sexuality or gender. Each of them contributes a different magical background from all corners of the Courts. The fallen deities, ironborn, the troublemakers, the snarky nerds. The world is not prepared for them but like it or not, they're here to shake things up. Holly Black may be the Queen of Faerie but Ashley Shuttleworth has secured their place in the Seelie Court.
This collection of speculative short stories are chilling in both their unvarnished moral lessons and tendancy to make fiction seem so realistic. Should we really be exploring mars when we still haven't got our shit together here on Earth? Probably not, but it makes for a good story.
This memoir from one of the Exonerated Five is centered on Yusef's serendipitous journey through the harsh prison system as a young teenager. Here he deepened his understanding of Islam and became a spiritual leader. This proved valuable for both his physical and mental well-being through those years of imprisonment and to this day. His story of false accusation is not unique, but his perspective definitely is.
I absolutely loved this Tobago-set reimagining of Persuasion! (Essentially the OG second-chance story dear to my heart). The story is emotionally rich with wonderful characters all around; Reyna’s tight knit community is clearly brimming with love. I also appreciated the complexity of Reyna’s grief for her mom and burden of the Plumeria hotel. Oh, did I mention the intense sexual tension evident on every single page between her and Aiden, island-boy turned pop star?
Aru and her friends are such vibrant individuals who all have different strengths and moments to shine. Aru herself is a total pop culture nerd which I personally identified with closely. (She spends the entire first book in her Spiderman pajamas.) This is also a great series for adults to read along with as well, there are layers of humor for a variety of ages!
It’s an impressive feat to tell a story that’s both masochistic and romantic at its core. Évike is a tough woman to connect to but as she embarks unwillingly on this long, forested trek, I grew to love her spirit, her grit. She will fight to belong with every breath, all the while struggling with her dual identities and outcast status. This incredible world is fantasy but feels ancient and true. Monsters are everywhere—human and otherwise—be it wolf or woodsman or the gods themselves; fairytale horror at its finest.