The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

What would you do if you knew who was behind a violent crime yet no one believed you? Alex Michaelides discusses this topic in his latest novel, The Maidens.

Mariana knows the truth, but she can’t understand why no one believes her. She knows that Edward Fosca is a murderer. It’s so obvious to her that he’s behind this string of horrible events, but the problem is that Edward Fosca is untouchable. A beloved Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University who is handsome and adored by staff and students, Fosca is shielded by his politeness, mystique, and charisma. Mariana just knows he did it.

Flashback to when Mariana first saw Fosca. After being called to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe, Mariana finds herself overwhelmed. One of Zoe’s friends has been found brutally murdered in Cambridge. As a group therapist, Mariana places herself in the middle of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens to figure out what happened. After all, the murdered girl was a member of The Maidens. As she starts exploring, Mariana realizes that Edward Fosca is the man in charge of the group. His relationship with The Maidens concerns her. He seems to have complete control over his students who worship him.

The more Mariana dives into this mystery, the more she suspects that behind the beauty of the Cambridge campus and its intricate traditions something incredibly more sinister lurks. She believes that Edward Fosca is to blame for everything even though he has an alibi. Marina quickly spirals out of control when another body is found in Cambridge. With her credibility at stake and her relationships floundering, Mariana must stop the killer at any cost.

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In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

If you’re a big romance reader, you’re probably familiar with this storyline: two people meet and dislike each other on sight. They’re thrown together regularly over a period of time, and that dislike turns to mutual appreciation and attraction. Just as they think they’ve found love, life gets in the way and the two are parted. After a period of heartbreak and soul-searching, they’re reunited for their happily-ever-after (or at least happy-for-now) ending. You may love this storyline. I do not. The romance books I love are decidedly different from this pattern, and my latest discovery is no exception: In The Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish.

First, here’s the gist: Daniel is a lifelong city boy, native to Philadelphia where he grew up as a black sheep in his family of mechanics. Now, he’s finally getting his graduate degree and can look for a job as an English professor. But the only college that will interview him for a position is in a small town in Michigan where he feels like even MORE of a black sheep. He’s wondering if he’ll ever fit in anywhere, when a nighttime mishap lands him on the doorstep of Rex, a local furniture-builder made reclusive by his crippling shyness. Their physical and emotional attraction is immediate, but they’ve both been damaged by trauma and are reluctant to trust each other. Over time, following their instincts and talking honestly about their feelings leads them into a relationship that is healing to them both, though tested by unwelcome surprises on all sides.

Now, it’s not perfect. For one thing, it’s written entirely from Daniel’s perspective, which can leave Rex’s feelings and needs neglected (though you can see the author tries to make up for this). But despite its weaker places, this is a book which distances itself from all the tropes I dislike, in heartwarming and refreshing ways. The attraction that draws Rex and Daniel together is both physical and emotional; they make each other feel safe and valued, and there’s no friction of dislike to get past. The steamy scenes (and there are many) are full of healthy communication, safe practices, consent, tenderness and mutual care. There is also frank, honest discussion of past traumas and the baggage they each bring to the relationship, which means the narrative focuses on their emotional healing and making peace with their past – in communication and partnership with each other. They support and stand up for each other, and (spoilers) there’s no gratuitous separation or a breakup used as a plot device. The narrative climax that does happen ties into all the issues that were explored earlier in the story, bringing them to a head AND leaving room for sequels.

What’s also effective is the immersion into the various subcultures in the story: small town life, Michigan culture, the Philadelphia scene, and the world of higher education. Each feels authentic and researched, giving the novel a strong sense of place and being grounded in the world.

If you’re looking for a steamy, escapist read grounded on wholesome, caring principles, I recommend you find yourself In the Middle of Somewhere.

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Have you ever unexpectedly read a book in a day? You sit down with it, figuring you’ll just start it, and before you know it, you’re done? That happens to me a lot, especially with fiction and graphic novels, so I wasn’t too surprised when I read Check, Please! Book 1 by Ngozi Ukazu from cover to cover in an afternoon. If you need a quick and lighthearted read, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

Originally published in 2018, this upbeat story follows Eric Bittle, dubbed “Bitty” by his teammates, as he starts school at Samwell University as part of the men’s hockey team. He navigates a much more challenging atmosphere than he’s accustomed to, including hockey that includes violent physical ‘checking’, of which he is deathly afraid. Luckily, his teammates are true friends – utterly supportive, relentlessly funny, and deeply appreciative of Bitty’s skill as a baker. Over the course of his freshman and sophomore years at Samwell, Bitty finds his place on the team and forges a strong bond (and an equally strong crush) on team captain Jack. But what happens when Jack and the others graduate?

I found this book completely adorable, with an endearing art style and lovable characters. The immersion into Canadian hockey culture was fascinating, and I appreciated that Ukazu didn’t overwhelm the reader with too many details, giving just enough information to keep you engaged. I also really liked that the story was told in the form of Bitty’s video blog entries; this was a clever narrative tactic that worked perfectly for the graphic novel medium. However, I wasn’t always satisfied with how the scenes were fleshed out: a lot of backstories and events had to be inferred from context or brief mentions, or understood only after multiple throwaway lines. Especially in the case of romantic storylines, I just wanted more. Luckily, there was a lot of additional material after the story – bonus comics and Bitty’s Twitter feed – which helped add some details and context.

If you’re a graphic novel lover, reluctant reader, hockey fan, or are looking for a fluffy read about friendship, falling in love, and LOTS of baking, this book may be for you.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Young adult fiction hardly ever fails me. When I need a pick-me up read, I can generally find one in the young adult section with little effort. My latest read came recommended by another librarian, so I knew I would most likely enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint!

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is so many things: a romance, an underdog story, friends becoming lovers, but most of all it is full of yearning. Liz Lighty has grown up believing that she is never enough. She’s awkward, poor, black, and doesn’t fit in with the rich and prom-obsessed kids who go to her high school. Liz isn’t what people expect her to be in her tiny midwestern town of Campbell, Indiana, but she has always known that she has an escape. Liz plans on getting out of this super small town to attend Pennington College to play in their orchestra. Eventually she wants to become a doctor in order to treat patients who have the same life-threatening condition that killed her mom and is ravaging her younger brother.

Liz’s senior year is sailing by and the world finally seems to be on her side. All of that comes crashing down when Liz learns that the financial aid and scholarship she was depending on in order to go to college falls through. She is $10,000 short and has no idea how she will get the money to cover the cost and let her keep her Pennington hopes alive. Knowing that her grandparents would sell their house to support her, Liz is desperate to find a solution on her own.

The solution she finds? She must win prom queen. Why? Her school awards a scholarship to the prom king and queen. The very last thing that Liz wants to do is campaign to be prom queen, but with no other options, she reluctantly turns to her friends to help her win. Her high school’s competition for prom court is elaborate: full of mandatory public events, social media popularity, and fellow contestants willing to do whatever it takes to sabotage Liz so they will win. With her friends by her side, Liz struggles to get over her fear of being the center of attention in order to get herself to Pennington.

At the first prom meeting, Liz meets a new student who rocks her whole world. Mack does not fit into the cookie cutter mold that Campbell tries to put their students in: she’s hilarious, smart, and different enough to repeatedly catch Liz’s eye. The only downfall to Liz is that she is also running for queen. The closer the two get, the more Mack wonders if their relationship will keep her from getting to Pennington. What is she willing to risk?

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The cover of this book was what first caught my eye when I was looking for a new book to read. I listened to this as an audiobook and I will admit that it took me about thirty minutes to become fully invested. Once that happened though, I was hooked. This book became my favorite book  and the one that I recommend to all of my friends. (Pretty big hype talk for this book, huh? I promise you – no pressure). Let’s get into it.

In The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, a massive labyrinth of tunnels and rooms filled with stories exists far underneath the surface of the Earth. This area isn’t accessible to everyone and those who wish to see its wonder must find an entryway. These entryways aren’t your typical doors. They are hidden throughout the world in places where you might not expect to find them. They appear before those seeking a change or those who are worthy or those looking.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont. One day in the stacks at the library, he stumbles upon a hidden mysterious book that doesn’t look like it belongs. Drawn to it, Zachary begins flipping through and is shocked when he sees a story from his very own childhood written there. Confused, Zachary tries to figure out why and how his story came to be there and finds a series of clues that lead him to a masquerade party to a secret club to a doorway to an ancient hidden library. That ancient library is hidden far far below the surface and is beyond anything that Zachary Ezra Rawlins could ever imagine. He is quickly drawn into this mysterious realm and is introduced to those who are willing to sacrifice anything to protect it. Zachary teams up with travelers and they begin traversing the many, many different hidden places in this labyrinth. Everyone who travels to this library seems to be looking for their purpose in the real world, in the library, and in that mysterious book Zachary first found.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

Have you ever been in the middle of reading a book and then had the author mention a place that you are very familiar with? I felt that immensely with my latest read by Tracey Garvis Graves. As I was reading, I felt myself grow more and more connected to the book and the characters because of my previous knowledge of the places mentioned.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves is told by bouncing back and forth between college years and then ten years in the future.

Annika has always been different. She frequently becomes overwhelmed in social situations and has a hard time reading people. Sensory overload often hits her and leaves her lost and confused in many situations. The things that most people care about just are not high on the priority list for Annika. She cannot match her clothes, has no problem staying in the comfort of her home all day, and does not understand why people could ever be mean to animals.

When Annika heads off to college at the University of Illinois, she finds adjusting to college life difficult as she struggles to fit in and find her place. Giving up after about a month, Annika is ready to go home until her roommate Janice takes her out and helps her find something to keep her interest: the college chess club.

Annika is a brilliant chess player, but she has no desire to compete. Meeting up with the group weekly to play allows her the ability to destress. Through the club, Annika meets Jonathan. Playing together the first day Jonathan joins the club, he is immediately captivated by Annika and her complete and utter focus on the game. Wanting to get to know her better, Jonathan and Annika start hanging out more and they fall in love. The two go through some challenges, but Jonathan is continuously patient and understanding of Annika and Annika finds Jonathan’s presence increasingly soothing. The two begin to make plans for the future, but a traumatic event drives the two apart and shatters the bond that they once felt.

Flash forward a decade. Annika and Jonathan meet by accident and the old feel of sparks and the tug of the familiar soon has them wanting to meet up again. Annika is highly functioning as a librarian, while Jonathan has become jaded in both his personal and his professional life. When the two begin hanging out again, they wonder if they will be able to pick up where they left off all those years ago or if long-buried feelings will work to keep the two apart.


The book is also available in the following format:

Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman

When Malin Ahlberg starts her freshman year at Hawthorne College in rural Maine, she is immediately befriended by a group of freshman who are brought together by chance during their first few days as new students.  Malin, along with Gemma, Ruby, Max, John and Khaled remain a tight-knit group throughout their four years at Hawthorne, but their years together are marked by drama, suspicion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder.  Tell Me Everything  by Cambria Brockman is a psychological thriller with a unsettling and, frankly, disturbing series of events with an ending that is literally jaw-dropping!

Malin tells her story in alternating chapters with gradual glimpses of problems at home with her family,  most notably with her brother who passed away years earlier.  She always stops short of revealing too much,  so the reader is left with more questions than answers as the anticipation grows.  What is she hiding from her past?  She replicates this secrecy with her current group of friends, not letting anyone know the real Malin.  To be honest, Malin is not a very endearing or likeable character.  As I was reading Tell Me Everything, I could tell pretty quickly that something was clearly not right with Malin, but Brockman has a great way of keeping the reader on their toes!

As the years progress, it becomes apparent that Malin is choreographing many of the dramas, misinterpretations and misunderstandings between the group.  While stirring the pot, it becomes clear that she enjoys watching the drama unfold.  The crescendo of both plot lines (family drama as a child and currently at Hawthorne) comes together seamlessly with not only one but two murders that are equally disturbing.

I highly recommend Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman.  I cannot guarantee that you will be a fan of some of the characters, but this is a well-written and suspenseful debut.  I am impressed with Brockman’s first book and am excited to see what she comes up with next!

 

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star continues my journey back into young adult fiction. I used to exclusively read only young adult fiction, but about five years ago, I decided that I needed to read outside my comfort area (and to read books with people my own age in them). Starting to read in a new area can be daunting, so I recommend looking at award-winning book lists and even articles with lists of books on different subjects. That is how I stumbled upon The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Nicola Yoon had already been on my radar because of her book, Everything, Everything, but I had never actually read it. When I found an article that was talking up The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give it a go and try to see what everyone was getting so excited about. (I was also slightly obsessed with making things using yarn when I saw this book cover, so I figured I needed to read it!)

The Sun is Also a Star takes place all in one day. Natasha is a girl who loves everything that is based in facts. She adores science and has a list of facts for almost any situation. She lives with her parents and her younger brother in a one bedroom apartment. Natasha’s life had been going along perfectly until one day when her father makes a mistake and ruins everything for the whole family. Her life could implode around her. Daniel is a boy who never messes up and is therefore seen as the good son at home and the good student at school. After his older brother messes up in college, the pressure on Daniel to be perfect becomes even higher.

When the two meet, Daniel finds himself questioning what his parents have always told him and just how he lives his life. He is a poet and a dreamer, but must live up to his parents’ high expectations. Daniel must find a way to be around Natasha more than he probably should. Natasha is more hesitant than Daniel and finds his exuberance about their “relationship” daunting and more than a little off-putting. Daniel feels that there is something magical and extraordinary between them, if only he could get Natasha to feel the same way. Daniel reaches out into the universe to try to convince Natasha that their futures can change, but he has trouble believing he can change himself.

This book, while taking place in one day, shines through a series of flashbacks into each character’s life. Minor characters that Natasha and Daniel come in contact with have their own sections within the book as well. The tiny snapshots into daily life show the effect a short interaction with a complete stranger can have on both your life and the other person’s. The ending left me wondering what had really happened between the two. Long after I finished reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about fate, how even the smallest and inconsequential of our actions can greatly impact our lives and the lives of others, and how our attitudes and thoughts can influence our futures as well. The Sun is Also a Star had more of an impact on me than I thought it would. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

It’s time for me to be honest. I have not read a Nicholas Sparks book since high school. The movies never caught my interest either, so I just steered clear. In order to become a more well-read librarian, I have decided to expand my comfort zone and read books I normally wouldn’t. See Me by Nicholas Sparks is my latest outside-my-comfort-zone read. I started reading See Me thoroughly expecting a flowery romance with some kind of damsel in distress scenario and a dashing male hero coming to the rescue. I. Was. So. Wrong. Well sort of.

Maria Sanchez and Colin Hancock are the two main characters in this book and while they fit into some stereotypes, in other ways they completely break them. Maria is a lawyer and daughter of two Mexican immigrants who came to the US with nothing and now own a thriving restaurant. She has worked very hard to better her career with the end result being that her social life and friend circle is rather lacking. She does have a very close relationship with her parents and her younger sister though. Maria’s life is not all perfect. She is haunted by events in her past, events that ultimately led her to leave her previous job and move to a totally new town.

Colin is a 28 year old college student who is struggling to get his life back on track. He works out religiously and is avoiding all the people and places that led him to destroy his life before. Colin has spent most of his life tangled up in the legal system, as a result of a major anger problem and a myriad of other issues. He worked out a deal at his last court appearance, a deal that says that if he stays out of trouble, his criminal record will be completely expunged, his felonies erased, allowing him to become a teacher. However, if Colin gets back into trouble, he will go to jail for ten years and his record will not be cleared. Colin has stayed out of trouble with help from his best friend, Evan, and Evan’s fiancée Lily.

Colin and Maria have a chance encounter one rainy night on a highway in North Carolina. Maria tells her younger sister, Serena, about the man who changed her tire and Serena realizes that Colin is one of her fellow students. She arranges a meetup between Colin and Maria, hoping sparks will begin to fly. They do. Opposites obviously attract. Everything is going swimmingly between the two until a person from Maria’s past pops up who may ruin it all. Their budding relationship is put to the test as Maria struggles to figure out who is doing these horrible things to her. Colin also has to work through his anger issues and his protective instincts to put Maria’s wishes and well-being first.

Despite my reticence, I actually enjoyed this book. The story pulled me in and I found myself rooting for the characters. I also was not able to predict how the story would end, which is a major positive in my book.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The One & Only by Emily Giffin

the one and onlyThe One & Only by Emily Giffin is a book about family, whether it be your biological family or the family that you are raised with. Shea Rigsby has lived in Walker, Texas her entire life. After graduating from college, she even decided to stay in town and work in the athletic department at her alma mater. The thought of leaving her beloved hometown never even occurred to her.

Her best friend Lucy’s father, Clive Carr, is the head coach of the Walker college football team, a legend within both the coaching and local communities. He and his wife served as a second set of parents to Shea after her own parents divorced and her mother had a breakdown. Tragedy hits the Carr family, leaving them all reeling and Shea wondering if she is really happy with the way her life is going.

Breaking up with her slacker boyfriend, Shea finds encouragement from Coach Carr and decides to look beyond Walker to expand her life. New relationships and old relationships weave a messy web all around Shea, forcing her to leave her comfort zone and do things she never thought she would do. This book is truly chick lit with some serious football lingo thrown in. If you are fans of Emily Giffin or enjoy chick lit, check this book out.