‘Marriage Code’ by Brooke Burroughs is a romantic romp about love trumping diverse cultures

In “The Marriage Code” by Brooke Burroughs we meet Emma, a young twentysomething living in Seattle and working for a tech company. At the start of the story, she has just been blindsided by her boyfriend’s surprise proposal, in a crowded restaurant, completely embarrassing both of them when she says no. Things are awkward in their shared apartment after that, to say the least. We also meet Rishi, who is visiting Seattle from his home in India, where he works for the same company as Emma. Rishi is visiting but has been told that he will be given a project that will keep him in America for a while, which is perfect for his needs. Both are in for some surprises.

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‘Spellbreaker’ by Charlie N. Holmberg is a delightful blend of mystery and fantasy with a touch of romance

I have to begin by admitting that historical novels featuring an alternate fantasy world usually are not my cup of tea. But this novel, an historical/fantasy/mystery with a soupçon of romance set in Victorian England, grabbed me from the start. The main character, Elsie Camden, is a wonderful, complex creation: someone who has lost her family, managed to leave the workhouse where orphans go, and hidden her ability to be a spell breaker in a world where women don’t get to be wizards unless they are aristocrats. Above all, Elsie is a really, really likable character, and her Robin Hood-like tendencies make her even more admirable.

The world in which Elsie lives is in some ways very much like England was; but with the addition of magic spells, somehow it seems even more “British,” in the sense that the aristocrats are still the upper class wealthy, but added to the mix are wizards who, after they complete their testing, may also be eligible for a title, thus transforming them into members of the upper class. Continue reading

‘The Gifted, the Talented, and Me’ by William Sutcliffe is a laugh-out-loud poignant story

William Sutcliffe hits the perfect notes with “The Gifted, the Talented, and Me,” about Sam, a fifteen-year-old who is not brilliant, not musical, not arty. He’s just a plain kid who enjoys soccer with his friends and likes his life the way it is. That’s all turned upside down when his father sells his company and makes millions.

Sam’s mom moves them all to a tony area of London where she enrolls Sam and his siblings in a special school for — what else — gifted and talented kids. Sam does not fit in at all. His younger sister loves that she can do her artwork and write stories, his older brother reinvents himself into a gay musician (spoiler: he’s not gay), but Sam is just Sam. He doesn’t want to reinvent himself, and he wants to play soccer. Soccer isn’t allowed at his new school because kicking is a form of violence. Really.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is Sutcliffe’s style, the writing itself. The narrative, in first person from Sam’s point of view, ranges from heartbreaking to really laugh-out-loud funny. Of course we know that no 15-year-old would really say some of the things that Sam narrates, but much of it is very realistic and very humorous.

“Even Ulf, who had never before said anything to me other than to point out what I was doing wrong, patted my arm, gave me a long, ice-blue Nordic stare, and said, ‘Nice.’

“This was as effusive as Ulf ever got about anything, and I was momentarily choked up with gratitude at this Scandinavian-style gush of unqualified praise.”

Young adult readers, especially male ones, will get a kick out of the inner dialogue that Sam has with his Optimistic Brain, his Pessimistic Brain and his Dick. Yes, he’s afraid that he’ll never get a date, and it’s even more stressful because he has a huge crush on the most popular girl in school. Those three-way conversations are very clever.

This is a story that can be universally appreciated — about feeling ordinary, trying to fit in, trying to navigate dealing with romance and changing family dynamics. It’s humorous but also real. It would be a fabulous choice for a book club book or just a classroom group read.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Christmas at the Island Hotel’ by Jenny Colgan brings readers back to the charming, isolated island of Mure

We get to spend the holidays at the charming island of Mure thanks to “Christmas at the Island Hotel” by Jenny Colgan. Colgan writes charming stories of people who are tired of huge, crowded, impersonal cities and long to escape to somewhere where the air is clean, the sky uncluttered by tall buildings, and the view peaceful and pastoral.

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‘Louisiana Lucky’ by Julie Pennell is more than a sweet lottery winners’ tale

It’s a story that’s been told before — people win the lottery and their lives change, and not necessarily for the better. But Julie Pennell’s “Louisiana Lucky” takes that story and really brings it home. She tells the story of three sisters who play the lottery for entertainment and actually win big. How the winning will affect their heretofore modest lifestyle and their relationships is the center of the story. What they learn at the end is what it really means to be lucky. (Spoiler alert: it may not be winning the lottery.)

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‘Musical Chairs’ by Amy Poeppel is a charming tale of ambition, family expectations, and love

musical chairs

For those who want their fiction to start with a huge hook — a first sentence that grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go — “Musical Chairs” by Amy Poeppel is not the book for you. Rather, this charming story begins like a lovely overture, with an introduction that gets you used to the rhythm and feeling of the piece, and slowly, you become entranced and rapt in the characters and plot of this beautifully composed novel.

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‘How to Save a Life’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

how to save

How far would you go to save the life of your true love? In “How to Save a Life,” co-authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke explore this concept in a touching novel that has more than a few “Groundhog Day” movie references. It also has a wonderfully imperfect first person narrator who either lunches or talks to his mother daily, wears his shirts buttoned up one button too many, and looks both ways before crossing the street — always. Dom is just not the adventurous type, and he wonders if that’s what made him fall in love with Mia a decade ago.

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‘Head Over Heels’ by Hannah Orenstein is a sweet love story that also dishes about Olympic gymnasts

head over heels

What happens when a prospective Olympic gymnast has an injury during the Olympic Trials that ends up destroying her dreams of Olympic glory? In “Head Over Heels,” Hannah Orenstein creates a main character whose whole life had been dedicated to the goal of being an Olympic contender. Avery Abrams had worked for hours after school at the gym and then had been homeschooled so that she could devote even more time to training.

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‘What You Wish For’ by Katherine Center

what you wish for

Last year, Katherine Center brought us the wonderful novel, “Things You Save in a Fire.” In my review, I said that if you only read one book last summer, that should be the book you chose. This summer we are treated to “What You Wish For.” It’s another lovely story about a strong young woman facing a difficult situation with determination and best intentions, if not with complete dignity.

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‘Dance Away With Me’ by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

dance

“Dance Away with Me” is not one of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ light, humor-filled romances featuring sassy women and sexy athletes. Rather this one delves into issues about loss and grief, family values, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, what it takes to do the right thing. The novel begins with Tess Hartsong, who has run away to a cabin in the aptly-named Runaway Mountain to try to heal from the death of her husband, Travis, two years previously. Tess and Travis were schoolmates before they were lovers, and now that Travis has died tragically, too young, Tess can’t seem to recover. She wallows in her grief and hopes that wild dancing outside while playing music way too loud will help, and she imagines that only the neighboring wild animals will hear it.

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‘Big Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner – take a fabulous trip to the beach

big summer

Jennifer Weiner never fails to grab readers with main characters who are entirely relatable, and who — in spite of many admirable qualities — usually have many of the same foibles that the rest of us suffer from. In “Big Summer,” main character Daphne Berg is an up-and-coming social media influencer. Her hashtags include #sorrynotsorry and #justasIam and her blog’s name is Big Time. Daphne is not slender, and during her whole life, she has been ashamed of her weight and her body.

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