Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dress Codes for Small Towns

Dress Codes for Small Towns  by Courtney Stevens
The story starts with the night that Billie McCaffrey and her best friends accidentally burn down the church youth room. 

That sentence leads you to think some things about Billie and her friends, and those thoughts would probably be inaccurate. Preacher's kid Billie has a good relationship with God, a strained relationship with her dad, a rocky relationship with the church people, and a confusing relationship with her friends.

Billie's friend Janie Lee might be in love with their other friend Woods, which is confusing because Billie might also be in love with Woods...or with Janie Lee. Or maybe Davey? She really isn't sure. But she's pretty sure what the church people think of her.

She might be wrong.

All the stereotypes of small-town Kentucky that you've ever seen in books are not in this book--at least, not the way you've seen them before. The characters are dimensional and lovely, and almost nobody does what you think they might do. And yet, the story makes sense, beautifully, from beginning to end.

This may be the best book I've read all year. Highly recommended for readers ages 12 to adult. Some kissing and cussing on the page. Also some praying, some square dancing, a broken bone, and Batman.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Spinning  by Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden was a competitive figure and synchronized ice skater for twelve years, but she says that although an ice rink will always be a familiar place, it will also always make her cringe.

With skating as the backdrop, the author conducts readers through a tour of the changes in her young life:  a family move from New Jersey to Texas, making (and losing) friends, learning new skills on the ice, falling in love with another girl, coming out to her friends and family, and always prepping for the next competition. 

Tillie worked hard.  She was good, and successful...and she hated the whole thing.

Using a comic/graphic novel format, Tillie tells her story--not just the skating, but other parts as well:  her friends, her family, and always, her loneliness.  The illustrations are simple, thoughtful and compelling.  

Recommended for readers 12 to adult.  Sexual situations are discussed tactfully, and there are no nekkid bodies on the page.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Authentics

The Authentics  by Abdi Nazemian

15-year-old Daria Esfandyar has always been proud of her Iranian-American heritage.  So proud, in fact, that she is no longer friends with Heidi (aka one of the "Nose Jobs") and now hangs out with a group of friends who pride themselves on keeping things real.

But, what is real?

While researching her family tree for a school project, Daria learns that she isn't exactly "pure" Iranian.  And this discovery leads to other revelations, which lead to disclosures that nobody saw coming.

If you're looking for ethnic and cultural diversity, here's your book:  characters include a gay couple (Daria's brother and his husband), another gay couple (Caroline has been "out" since age 13, her girlfriend is still closeted) immigrant families (Iranian, Mexican, Chinese), religious variety (Muslim, Catholic, agnostic)...the list goes on.

With all that, Daria shouldn't have to work so hard to figure out what she really, authentically is.

But, she does.

This is a quick, heavy-handed read without much depth.  Many plot points depend on coincidence and contrivance, and Daria's selfishness was not endearing.  If readers missed any of the Points About Being Authentic, fear not:  Daria sums up the entire Message of the Book while presenting her school project in the penultimate chapter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Black Witch

The Black Witch  by Laurie Forest

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter -- and the perfect likeness -- of the original Black Witch, who drove back enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War.  Because of the power of the Black Witch, Elloren's people are undisputed rulers now.  

Long after the death of her famous grandmother, Elloren was raised by her uncle in a small village, surrounded by people very much like her and her family.  Now it is time for her to travel to the big city, to attend University there, and possibly to meet someone to marry. 

Unlike those in the village, the people in the city are very diverse.  And, because this is a fantasy book, these diverse people don't simply have differently-colored skin and hair; instead, some of them have wings, some turn into wolves, and others have types of magic that Elloren has never seen before.  Elloren has always been told that people who are different are also inferior, or even evil. Why should she question this?

If you have ever read a book before, you will probably be able to predict what happens to Elloren when she actually gets to know a werewolf, a selkie, and some people with wings.  In The Black Witch, as is common in literature, the main character evolves and grows from a state of ignorance to a state of enlightenment (or at least, less ignorance).

However, YA blogger Shauna Sinyard didn't think that the change happened fast enough or convincingly enough.  In a very long and damning book review, she condemned both the book and those who enjoyed reading the book. She calls the book "the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read.  It's racist, ableist, homophobic, and is written with no marginalized people in mind."

Ms Sinyard is welcome to her opinion, of course.  However, by urging Twitter and Tumblr followers to boost the signal by posting 1-star reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere without actually reading the book, a line is crossed.  

I do not always write glowing reviews.   

(Here's a review of a book that was originally well-received and later banned, which I consider a 3-star ho-hum of a read.  Here's another review of a book that just wasn't very well-written.) 

I do, however, always read an entire book before reviewing it.  

So, what was my verdict?

First off, I read this book in about a day and a half, skipping meals and ignoring bedtime to finish it. 

It's a quick, engaging story with magic, family drama, and several star-crossed romances. There was minimal cussing, some nekkidness, discussions of mating rituals with no sex on the page, and mentions of off-page sexual abuse.  The story did not explore new ground, philosophically speaking.  From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, literature is filled with characters who overcome ignorance by getting to know an individual.  The Black Witch follows absolutely in those footsteps.

Ms Sinyard also seems unaware that "The Black Witch Chronicles" will be a series.  Her complaint that the character changes happen too slowly over hundreds of pages would be valid if the entire tale were told in a single volume.  However, the advertisement for book #2 The Iron Flower (due for release in May 2018) included at the back of my book served as an important clue:  the story is not yet finished.  

And as soon as I finished The Black Witch, I put myself in the library's hold queue for book #2.

Read it, and decide for yourself.  I thought it was a great book, and entirely appropriate and recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans Up  by M-E Girard

Pen doesn't want to be a boy.  And she isn't.  So why does everybody have these weird ideas about her?

Pen likes to dress in baggy jeans and her brother Jimmy's t-shirts.  She doesn't want to be her mom's "princesa."  She doesn't want to get married to some guy and go to nursing school. She wants to hang out with her buddies--guys like Colby, who plays first-person shooter video games almost as well as Pen, and who totally has her back.  

Or...does he?

Readers will see that Colby lacks the loyalty and respect Pen craves long before Pen catches on.  But when Colby tries to sexually assault her, even Pen can see what a ratbag her "friend" really is.  At that point, Pen has to make some changes.  And none of the choices she might make will be easy.

This book features some fabulous allies, including an older brother and (to Pen's surprise) a couple of girls.  

Three cheers for a strong gender-fluid protagonist, a teen romance that does not fly apart at the seams by the end of the book, and a sibling who is friend, brother, and parent to Pen.

Recommended for readers ages 12 and up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Aftercare Instructions

Aftercare Instructions  by Bonnie Pipkin

17-year-old Genesis Johnson walks out into the waiting room at the Planned Parenthood clinic and discovers that Peter, her boyfriend and one true love, is gone.  Cramping and bleeding after the abortion she has just endured, Gen can't believe he has abandoned her.  But he isn't waiting for her, and he won't answer her calls or texts.  What else could it mean?

Events are revealed in alternating formats:  the present day episodes are a straightforward narration, but flashbacks to the past are written as a stage play starring Gen, Peter, and a few important supporting characters.  The details revealed build a story that will surprise readers almost as much as it surprises Genesis herself.

The chapters are titled with excerpts from the aftercare instructions booklet provided by the abortion clinic, which serves as an anchor point for the story and also offers insight into events as they unfold. 

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Tomboy: a graphic memoir  by Liz Prince

Liz was a kid who knew what she liked:  boy stuff.  Boy clothing, boy toys and games, boy sports, boys as friends.  She also knew what she didn't like:  girl stuff.

Her road to adulthood was bumpy and full of uncertainty.  Was she a lesbian?  Transgender?  A complete freakazoidal weirdo that nobody would ever like (except her mom, because that's her mom's, like, job)?  

Would Liz ever conform to gender norms?  And more importantly:  would Liz ever want to comform?

This quick-paced graphic memoir is full of angst, but it's also funny.  Liz may not be much like other people, but she's got a handle on that now.  Her story is worth reading--and sharing.

Recommended for ages 14 to adult. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Once and For All

Once and For All  by Sarah Dessen

Louna is a high school senior set to graduate in a few weeks.  Her summer job is (as always) helping with her mom's wedding planning business.  Her college plans are set, her best friend is in place, and there is no romance for Louna on the horizon--which is just as well.  She has survived being in love with the perfect boy, but recovering from that wasn't easy and she's not eager to do it again.

Then Louna meets Ambrose:  trouble-making brother of the bride, always late, always fidgeting, always irreverent, always flirting with every girl he meets.  Louna wants nothing to do with Ambrose.

Because this is a Sarah Dessen novel, readers totally know where the story is going and where all the characters will end up.  The journey is familiar and relatively predictable, but it's still kinda fun.  Behind-the-scenes details of wedding planning are amusing, the banter between characters is catchy and cute.  There are some poignant details scattered gently into the story, but this is essentially a rom-com that should have starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks when they were both 17 years old.

Gold star for the appropriate mention of a condom, but no body parts on the page.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Illuminae : the Illuminae Files_01

Illuminae  by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Breaking up was hard enough for Kady and Ezra.  Then their planet got bombed by a hostile corporation.

Rescued by separate ships, Kady and Ezra stay in touch, kinda.  But when one of the other rescue ships is destroyed by the rescue ship Ezra is on, there is clearly a problem, and it's possible that only Kady can solve it.

A crazed artificial intelligence that makes HAL 9000 look like a Teletubby.  A virus that is turning some of the survivors (and some of the crew) into zombies.  And that hostile corporation ship still in pursuit.  

What could possibly go wrong?

This isn't the greatest book I've read this year, but it's certainly the don't-put-downablest book I've read in a long time.  The audiobook is produced with a full cast, and perfectly captures the suspense.

No sex (a few vague references to "the time we..." but no details).  LOTS of violence and blood and gore (zombies!).  All the swear words are bleeped, even in the audiobook.  As the introduction to the book says, "...the story kicks off with the deaths of thousands of people, but god forbid there be cussing in it..."

Recommended for ages 12 to adult.  The story may be too intense for young or sensitive readers. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Pearl Thief

The Pearl Thief  by Elizabeth Wein

15 year old Julia Beaufort-Stuart knows that her life is about to change in many ways:  the family estate has been sold to pay debts.  This will be the family's last summer spent at the old castle--and they will be surrounded by workers and strangers busily changing over the traditional home into a boarding school.

Even so, Julie never expected to get banged on the head and left for dead by the side of the river.

Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, part historical tale, part exploration of the culture of Scottish Travellers ("gypsies" is an impolite term), this book is a page turner from beginning to end.  It is also, astute readers will note, a prequel to this author's award-winning Code Name Verity, and many of the scenes in Pearl Thief add light to scenes and situations in the other book.  

Highly, highly recommended.  I am perishing to hear the audio version.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Star-Crossed  by Barbara Dee

12-year-old Mattie is thrilled when her 8th grade class mounts a production of "Romeo and Juliet" but things get complicated when the handsome boy in the leading role ducks out of the play...leaving Mattie to play the part of Romeo, opposite the beautiful Gemma as Juliet. 

Gemma, whom Mattie...likes.  Like, a lot.

Mattie has a lot of questions about her crush on Gemma, and nobody around her gives her the answers.  

However, several people--including her best friends, her older sister, a sympathetic teacher, and even Gemma herself--allow Mattie the freedom to explore some answers for herself.  That is what makes this gentle little story so nice.

I learned about this book when the author wrote about a terrible experience booktalking in a school where she was asked to refer to the book only in general terms.  In other words: avoid talking about the book.  Even when asked direct questions about it.

As often happens, censoring a book sometimes inspires people to seek that book out.  

That's how it worked with me, anyhow.

Having read the book, I've got to say:  

It's a great book.  And I plan to talk about it.  A lot.  In schools.  To students.

With positive reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus as well as the sexy librarians here at Sex in the Library, you know that although "Romeo and Juliet" was a tragedy, Star Crossed definitely isn't. 

Highly recommended for middle-grade readers, ages 10 and up.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Smell of Other People's Houses

The Smell of Other People's Houses  by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock

Before Alaska became a state, Ruth has a loving family.  When her father is killed in an accident, she goes to live with her very harsh and disapproving grandmother.  This story brings in four teens as voices in various chapters who all make difficult choices.  

Harsh is the life that these teens live.  Courage is their choice, and they make it with intensity.  One of the teens in an Inupiat Indian living with an Athabascan family.  All of the stories wrap around and into each other as the characters interact.  This slight book describes a time and population rarely seen in teen literature.

And the smells!  Rich writing brings the odors and sounds into your senses.

Recommended 12 up

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Every Breath

Every Breath  by Ellie Marney  (Every #1)

Rachel Watts has recently moved with her family from their failed farm in the country to a crowded house in Melbourne.  She misses the farm and the quiet of the land.  But soon, she is drawn into friendship--and more--with genius-boy James Mycroft who lives down the street.  Together the teens research obscure crime-solving strategies and write essays for the "Diogenes" website.

Allusions to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson abound, especially when the teens discover that their friend, known only as "Homeless Dave," may have been murdered...after he was dead.  And, as in the famous story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the key to the crime may lie with a dog that didn't bark.

Nice world-building, excellent characters, and great action sequences (especially in the second half of the book).  The romance between Mycroft and Watts bubbles quietly at first and is certain to boil over soon--the steamy kisses on the page are definitely only the beginning of the physical side to their relationship.  Australian slang may boggle some readers.

An Australian "Hills Hoist" sounds more ominous than it actually is.

This is a great introduction to a fun new series.  I look forward to volume 2!

Monday, January 9, 2017


Dumplin'  by Julie Murphy

Willowdean Dickson isn't what most people would call "beauty pageant material."  Certainly Willowdean herself never considered entering her hometown's biggest social event of the year, even though her own mother is a former Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet and is now the chair of the event.

Because Willowdean is fat.  

She knows it.  It's obvious.  She's tried dieting in the past, but is now mostly comfortable with her body...but not always.  And when the hot-hot-hottie guy at work kisses her, the discomfort level goes way up.

It's a long road between "no-way, no-how" and "go big or go home" and yet Willowdean and her friends take the journey towards the coveted rhinestone crown.  And although they face some cringeworthy moments, the girls encounter some triumphant times along the way.  

This is a book about body image, Dolly Parton, and friendship.  There's a romance (and a bit of a romantic triangle), but the focus of the story is on Willowdean's relationship with her longtime best friend Ellen and her new friends Amanda, Millie and Hannah.  

And, just so you know:  the story doesn't end the way you think it will.

Recommended for readers 14 to adult.  All sexual situations are off-stage but the kissing is front and center.