Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Macmillan for the digital ARC of Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I wasn’t very far in Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades when I started to realize that something really strange was happening with the characters. Some of the pieces of this YA novel are familiar from other books about the power of privilege and the difficulty of navigating systems of power as an outsider, but other parts are wholly original.
There’s a predominantly white private academy with a few key student honors for Senior Prefects. The narrative focuses on two students, the only Black students in their grade: Chiamaka Adebayo who has been forging a path to the top of her class, of the social scene, of every extracurricular, since she was a freshman; and Devon Richards who tries to stay as invisible as possible, banking on his talent as a musician to pave his way (and his family’s way) out of poverty.
On the first day of their senior year, they attend the opening assembly with a new headmaster and find out the prefects. It’s no surprise that Chiamaka is named Head Prefect, but everyone is shocked when Devon receives one of the other Prefect spots. This is not part of the plan, and this initial contrast between Chiamaka’s confident acceptance of what she sees herself as being owed and Devon’s complete shock was immediately compelling.
Chiamaka is surrounded by people, but they’re not really friends (at least mostly). Instead, she has a series of transactional relationships that help her to maintain her popularity—maybe her “popularity”—while doing the same for them. The one exception is Jamie, her absolute best friend . . . and the guy she’s had a crush on forever. Finally, she thinks it’s time for them to define their relationship differently. Devon, conversely, is a loner. He has one person, Jack, who has been his friend for a long time, but lately, that friendship seems to be based more in memory than in reality. Àbíké-Íyímídé develops these characters effectively as she shows how they are both so alone but in different ways.
Clearly, Chiamaka and Devon are complete opposites. The only things they have in common are their race AND that they each have secrets that could ruin all of their plans. So when someone who goes by the moniker Ace of Spades starts sharing those secrets with the entire student body, Chiamaka and Devon are drawn to each other for support and to work together to solve the mystery.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which earns its comps to Get Out. It took me a few chapters to be pulled in completely, but once the plot started unfurling, I couldn’t wait to pick up this book, which was just wild. Àbíké-Íyímídé writes the book in chapters that alternate between Chiamaka’s and Devon’s points of view, which amped up the suspense as I tried to piece together the real story behind the sabotage. The author addresses issues of race, sexuality, privilege, and class, all while developing two complex characters and a thrilling plot.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital ARC of Nicola Yoon’s Instructions for Dancing in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
Since her first novel, Everything, Everything, which I devoured in one sitting, Nicola Yoon has been an auto-buy author for me. I was therefore thrilled to get an early peek at her upcoming release Instructions for Dancing, which met my (very) high expectations.
The book opens with Evie Thomas’s broken heart. Her parents’ marriage has ended, eradicating her idealistic view that some love is forever. She takes steps to remove all forms of her former foolishness from her life, including getting rid of all of the romance novels, which used to anchor her avid reading. She wants no reminders of the depths of her disappointment.
While she’s donating her books to a Little Free Library, she meets a mysterious woman who gives her a book called Instructions for Dancing. She returns home, feeling lighter without the romance books, but Evie soon discovers a strange new ability: she sees—randomly, it seems—the entire course of couples’ relationships, including their inevitable endings. While she doesn’t understand exactly what magic is happening, these endings of beautiful love stories, one right after another, reinforce her disbelief in love.
One of Evie’s best friends encourages her to do something to figure out what’s happening: he identifies the LFL lady as the source for Evie’s new power and advises her to go to the dance studio, La Brea Dance, where Instructions for Dancing originated. It’s there that Evie meets X, the grandson of the studio owners, and gets swept up in his grandparents’ efforts to save the studio through an amateur ballroom dancing competition. So, Evie and X are learning to dance—together—and getting to know one another.
Oh, I loved this book so much. Evie is just a fabulously layered character, one whose fears and fragility about love are understandable. X also knows loss, which has affected his own outlook on life and on risk taking in a different way from Evie. As they come to understand what has made the other feel the way they do, their closeness shapes the way they move forward together.
This book made me laugh, and it made me ugly cry; I love a dancing competition, so I was a sucker for watching Evie and X’s journey toward being a couple both on the dance floor and off. The secondary characters—Evie’s family, their ballroom dance teacher Maggie, Evie and X’s friends—are richly drawn, and the way they both support and challenge Evie and X is just brilliant. Instructions for Dancing moved Nicola Yoon even higher on my list of auto-buy authors.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Book Club Girls, and William Morrow Books for the digital ARC of Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I love a good retelling, and I love, love, love L. M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. My best friend and I read every L. M. Montgomery book, and we watched the 1980s adaptation with Megan Follows more than once. So when I saw that Brina Starler had a romance retelling coming out in June, I requested it immediately.
Anne of Manhattan is a contemporary retelling focused on Anne and her long-time enemy Gilbert Blythe who has been the bane of her existence since they first met, right after she moved to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, adopted by siblings Marilla and Matthew. He immediately drew her ire by getting her in trouble with the teacher and by calling her “Carrots.” Ever since, they have been rivals at school, each vying to be the best, and while they circle each other because of their friend group, Anne can’t get over her bad feelings.
So, when—in the book’s present day—Anne is out with her friends Diana and Philippa at a bar in NYC and unexpectedly sees Gilbert across the room, she has mixed feelings. He’s from home, but he’s her enemy; he’s her enemy, but they shared that kiss . . .
What ensues is an enemies-to-lovers story of Anne and Gilbert in their last year in college, complete with flashbacks to their childhoods back home, which inform so much of their current relationship. I loved it! I re-read Anne of Green Gables a few years ago via audio (the edition narrated by Rachel McAdams is fantastic!), and I adored the graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and illustrator Brenna Thummler. This, while quite different, captures the same magic, the same bittersweet longing of the original story (with, of course, a complete emphasis on the romance—the original novel has a wider lens).
My one hesitation—and this is not a fault of the novel but is just an issue with me—is that I was a little uncertain how I felt about sweet Anne and Gilbert being at the center of such a steamy novel. I ended up being okay, but the first super-steamy scene was not entirely comfortable for me (and I’m usually totally fine with open-door romance!). Just know that this is definitely a retelling that embraces all of the conventions of its genre.
So, if you love Anne of Green Gables OR great, enemies-to-lovers romances, watch for Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan, coming out on June 1!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Let's Talk Books, and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the digital ARC of Xio Axelrod’s The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes in exchange for an honest review. The book was just released on May 4, so I’m thrilled to join the Book Tour to highlight this fabulous novel.
Toni Bennette is content with her recurring gig at a rundown bar in Philadelphia—it gives her a chance to sing and play but doesn’t push her (much) to be the center of attention. Her dream is to go into music production, and so she uses her talents to gain entrance in recording studios and to make connections behind the scenes.
Sebastian Quick is a sort of facilitator for the up-and-coming, all-female band The Lillys, and he’s struggling with the increasingly toxic relationships within the band. Seb, Candi, and Lilly formed the band, drawn together by a passion for music and by sheer talent. But Candi’s dedication to the lifestyle is spiraling, and Seb—who has assigned himself a job as her keeper—has been drawn into that downward trajectory, endangering the future of the band when they’re on the cusp of true success.
Toni and Seb are drawn together through a series of accidental meetings, and as the narrative unfolds, it flashes back on their shared childhood and on Seb’s betrayal of their dreams. Now, as The Lillys take steps to salvage their chances for greatness, Toni is drawn definitively back into Seb’s life, and he has to deal with the mistakes he made in the past.
This second-chance romance is more than just a romance. Axelrod builds a rich history for Toni and Seb, one that looks at the way the past can inform who people become, the temptations that cycle through people’s lives over and over again, and the ways that characters can seek redemption for past mistakes. I really appreciated the rich characters, the complexity of the book’s structure—that slow unveiling of the full story, and the vivid descriptions of music and what it means to these characters. As a reader, I was propelled forward by the plot but also by the way that easy, initial judgments are made more complex as the book continues, the ways that the characters surprise the reader and each other.
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes brilliantly balances heavy and light content, some serious stories with a lovely romance. This is also the first book in Xio Axelrod’s The Lillys series, and I can’t wait to read about the other characters in the band!
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, May 11.
Lara returns to high school after a summer break away in the Outer Banks to her dream-come-true: Chase Harding is noticing her. She’s had a crush on him forever, and though he’s always been friendly and kind (one of the qualities she most admires about Chase), he’s never really noticed her before.
She’s thrilled. Really. She and her three best friends giggle and scheme, reveling in one of their own getting her wish.
But then Jasmine walks into her school, and Lara is taken back to summer and to the friendship—and maybe more?—she had with Jasmine.
It’s a great, compelling setup, but nevertheless, I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t love this one. I wasn’t sure I could empathize with Lara or dig into the love triangle. But Adler masterfully shifts back and forth, unveiling both the story of Lara and Jasmine’s summer AND the journey through Lara’s year at school when she tries to navigate what happens when your dream isn’t so dreamy anymore.
I thought these characters were compellingly flawed, and I genuinely liked the complexities of Lara’s friends, of Chase, and, of course, of Jasmine. Lara’s working through of her identity is all-too-believable, and I appreciated that Adler didn’t provide easy answers to who Lara should be. Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a strong, thoughtful YA romance that breaks the mold of anything I’ve read lately.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.