ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction

Two Fun, Witty Reads…

Here are two books I read recently that are extremely enjoyable. Happily, they also have intelligent, witty characters and plots with plenty of depth. A win-win!

THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL, by Abbi Waxman–seriously, one of the funniest books I have ever read! Laugh-out-loud-at-crazy-hours-in-the-morning funny. There were times I would try to read a passage aloud to my husband and it was so hilarious that I couldn’t even get the words out because I was laughing so much. So who is Nina Hill? She is an introverted employee of a bookstore–one of a tiny group of women who work there–and a trivia team champion. Her recall for facts is amazing (once you learn about racehorses’ birthdays, you’ll never forget) and all of her time is spent reading for competitions, reading for her weekly book group, and reading for fun (Thursday nights only.) Her life is all about planning and learning as much information as possible. This is all fine and good until some unexpected family secrets come to the surface, upending Nina’s organized existence, but also giving her insight into why she is this way. A delight from start to finish with excellent supporting characters. 9/10 Stars

WHEN IN ROME, by Sarah Adams will be available September 20th. I’d seen fellow readers talk about it and was happy when my request for an advanced copy was quickly approved. A fun companion book to Norah Goes Off Script and The Bodyguard where a celebrity and a “normal” person find their lives intersecting. Pop star Amelia “Rae” Rose idolizes Audrey Hepburn and, taking a cue from Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, decides to escape her chaotic life by driving to Rome–Rome, Kentucky, that is, where she ends up stranded in the front yard of grumpy pie shop owner Noah Walker. In a plot that’s a hybrid of Notting Hill and Sweet Home Alabama, Amelia finally has a chance to breathe and reevaluate her life. Like with the previous book, When in Rome also has wonderful supporting characters, partly because they are actually supportive. Another 9/10 Stars.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Circus Train, by Amita Parikh

AVAILABLE December 6, 2022

Have you ever shelved a book, wondered why you had it in the first place, then finally read the book and thought–Wow! Why did I wait so long to read this?? That is my experience with The Circus Train. I guess I thought it was going to be about a circus and have so many characters I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all. Who knows? Happily, I was very wrong. Wrong in the best way.

Yes, there’s a circus and, yes, there’s a circus train, but they are only the backdrops for this marvelous story that takes place throughout Europe while tensions are building during World War II.

Over twenty years we follow Theo, a Greek illusionist; his daughter, Lena, who was crippled by Polio as an infant; and Alexandre, a French orphan who Theo finds and mentors. Theo, always honing his craft, sparring with the circus owner, and being overly protective of his daughter. Lena, who longs to go to school and be part of the academic world, her inquisitive mind never at rest. Alexandre, Lena’s closest friend, a keeper of secrets, and the story’s hero as the children become adults.

There is friendship, devotion, betrayal, separation, and a connective thread of love and determination during that separation that cuts through the absurdities and atrocities of the time period.

This is a magnificent book, one I recommend most highly. We’re still a few months away from its release, but keep it on your radar. It is worth the wait.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism

Magical Realism Done Right…and Wrong

MAGICAL REALISM: Magical realism is a genre of literature the depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. Like fairy tales, magical realism novels and short stories blur the line between fantasy and reality. (from Masterclass.com)

When I think of magical realism, I think of a world in which I would like to live. One where unusual things “could happen” but have no real explanation…little coincidences, legends that seem very real, intuitive talents that some people appear to have…unless…IS that our current world? And, while I’m not really a reader of fantasy, magical realism feels just true enough (in the right hands) that maybe, just maybe… Well, it’s a nice thought.

SOUTH OF THE BUTTONWOOD TREE, by Heather Webber takes us to the small town of Buttonwood, Alabama. Legend says that the Buttonwood Tree has answers for those who believe, but only one question is allowed per year–and you’d better follow the advice the tree offers, or else. The main characters, Blue Bishop and Sarah Grace, friends from opposite “sides of the tracks,” are at crossroads in their lives, with their paths intersecting in the most unusual ways. There’s a bit of magic in the wind, in houses, in books, and in a newborn baby who becomes the center of attention. This book is beautifully written. I highly, highly recommend it. 9.5/10 Stars

OTHER BIRDS, by Sarah Addison Allen, available August 30 is mainly set at The Dellawisp building on Mallow Island, South Carolina. Eighteen year old Zoe has traveled there to visit her late mother’s condo. The other residents are an eccentric bunch–part Melrose Place, part Exotic Marigold Hotel–with their own quirky backgrounds and secrets. The problem is the amount of characters and the lack of individual stories for each. Then there are the three ghosts. And the birds. And the imaginary bird. And…it’s odd and kind of a mess. I would love to see this cast of misfits pared down and reworked, but, alas. 7.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction

Theme: Bookish Women Afraid to Love

The term “bookish” is becoming increasingly popular these days. It refers to people whose lives revolve around books, their characters, the authors, etc. Sometimes the lines between characters and real romantic interests blur to the point that the reader creates impossibly high expectations. (Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester are particular favorites of the bookish.) Between those high expectations and past heartbreak, the bookish can get jaded when it comes to love–“the real thing.”

Here are three bookish women characters who are wary, but lonely. Their hopes are quickly eclipsed by doubt. All it takes is the right person to help them emerge from the pages and step into the real world. One is writing a dissertation using true crime examples. One is a ghost writer coming off of a bad breakup. One is a librarian who was left at the altar. Knowledge of classics and popular modern authors definitely make plots like these more enjoyable.

But…sometimes the stars do not align. That was the case with Love in the Time of Serial Killers, by Alicia Thompson, which will be released on August 1st. My main criticism is the main character, Phoebe Walsh, who is one of the most unlikable protagonists I’ve ever met. Phoebe has immersed herself in true crime stories so much that she even suspects her mild-mannered neighbor, Sam, of being a murderer. It’s a cute premise, except that she’s rarely nice to him–bordering on terrible. So, why does he show any interest? Frankly, I have no idea. Best to skip this one. 3/10 Stars

The Dead Romantics, by Ashley Poston, just released on June 28 and has been on my radar for a while. Happily, I was not disappointed. It’s a delight, and my favorite of these three novels. Florence Day is a ghost writer for famous romance author, Anne Nichols, whose age and reclusive lifestyle have rendered her unable to produce any more books. Florence poses as Anne’s assistant, the one who negotiates and meets new editor, Benji Andor. And, oh, one more tiny thing…Florence can see ghosts. This all comes to a head when Benji appears the next day as his ghostly self. This story has “mild romantic steam” but was extremely enjoyable, with wonderful characters and a superb ending. 9/10 Stars

Authentically, Izzy, by Pepper Basham, releases on November 15th. This book is for a certain audience who likes super clean plots with a combination of epistolary and narrative. Isabelle “Izzy” Edgewood is a quiet librarian living in Virginia. Raised by an aunt and uncle, she stays in close contact with her cousins Josephine, Penelope, and Luke. When the meddling Josephine creates an online dating profile for Izzy, she finds a kindred book-loving spirit who lives several thousand miles away. The first half is mostly emails between Izzy and her cousins. This section is fun, but unnecessarily long. The second half is where a romance blossoms, written in narrative form, with a few emails. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It has great potential. Unfortunately, it was a cumbersome, sometimes frustrating read. 8/10 Stars

Fiction, Philosophy, Romance, Short Stories, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

Ten Books-At-A-Glance

Here are 10 other books I’ve read recently with their 1-5 Star ratings on Goodreads. None of them made great impressions on me, but I still found the ones with 4 stars enjoyable. The biggest surprise was Someone To Wed, by Mary Balogh because the female main character was such a pillar of strength, despite her challenges. The biggest disappointment was the advanced copy (available Sept 20) of Lucy By the Sea, by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout. It is about a divorced couple co-habitating during the Covid pandemic. Personally, I think it is much too soon for a story on this subject. If you’re interested in any of them, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction

Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monaghan

It’s very satisfying when a book lives up to the hype! I’m happy to say that with Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monaghan, mission accomplished.

After her too-good-for-work husband leaves her swimming in debt, cable channel script-writer Nora Hamilton has some choices to make. Fortunately, her marriage collapsing has also turned into a story idea for the best script of her life. The studio even wants to release it to theaters and film it on location at her historic home.

Unfortunately, actor Leo Vance (former Sexiest Man Alive,) is also at a crossroads. Refusing to sell his soul to Hollywood’s materialistic labels, Leo offers Nora one thousand dollars a day to stay at her house for one week after shooting wraps. Nora has bills to pay, so how can she refuse? But what is in it for Leo? He wants normal, which means eating pancakes with Nora and the kids, following her around the grocery store, and drinking coffee each morning on the porch.

It’s a silly premise and there are a couple of predictable steamy scenes, but it works. The book is an absolute delight. A combination of philosophical and frothy, Nora and Leo are the puzzle pieces missing from each other’s lives. His interaction with the kids and the town’s bucolic setting is very cute, a testament that you just never know what Life has in store.

9/10 Stars

Fiction, Young Adult

Theme: Forced to Grow Up Too Soon–Two YA Novels

As much as I cringe at some of the things young people are exposed to these days I must admit, there are some excellent Young Adult novels out there. “Young Adult,” or “YA,” meaning aimed at ages 13-18, where the main characters are navigating high school, first loves, decisions about the future, and parents. Yes, parents, because it is around that age that you come to terms with the fact that parents are not perfect, not using any sort of a rule book, and many of them are pretty messed up. I appreciate stories that show young people whose parents are divorced or suffering from addictions and mental illness, where the child is forced into an adult role at an unfair age. It happens all too frequently in real life, and young readers need characters with whom they can identify.

IF I FIX YOU, by Abigail Johnson tells the story of sixteen year old Jill Whitaker. She lives with her dad in the heat of Arizona, spending all her free time at his car repair garage. Her mother is gone, with only a sticky note as a goodbye. As often happens, we don’t realize how good or bad we have it until there is a viable comparison. This comes in the form of Daniel, the new next door neighbor, who is dealing with a volatile mother and some serious scars, inside and out. As Jill tries to assemble the pieces of her life, she also finds herself wanting to make things better for her new friend.

Overall I liked the book a lot. Jill and Daniel’s friendship is very sweet as they confide in each other, sitting up on the roof at night swapping words of support and advice. Her father is wonderful, a great contrast from her narcissistic mother. My only criticism is part of the ending, which did not follow the path I would’ve chosen. But that’s my own personal feeling. Jill is a good character who is dealing with a lot and still manages to keep her feet on the ground. 9/10 Stars

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS, by Laura Taylor Namey gives us a glimpse into the life of Darcy Wells. Darcy Jane Wells–bibliophile, introvert, and super student with a near photographic memory. She can recite Shakespeare and knows children’s books from start to finish. Her afternoons are spent at the Yellow Feather, a used book store owned by a cranky boss who shares the building with his ex-wife. Not ideal, but Darcy loves it. It is better than being home, where her compulsive-shopper mother has filled their depressing apartment with everything under the sun. Only Darcy’s room remains untouched by her mother’s illness. Fortunately, there are some bright spots in Darcy’s life. Her best friend is the brightest. And there’s someone new, a quiet boy named Asher Fleet.

I really loved this book. It was a “couldn’t-put-it-down” 24 hour read. Poor Darcy, only seventeen years old, dealing with her mother’s compulsion, her father’s absence, bills that need to be paid, and decisions about college. But good things happen to good people, and the conclusion was extremely satisfying. 9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Young Adult

Last Summer Boys, by Bill Rivers

“Don’t you ever do anything to make somebody feel like their life is no account to you, hear?”…”Yes ma’am…” “It’s the worst thing you can do to a person.”…”Worse than killing them?”…”It’s a kind of killing,” Ma says. “A killing of the soul. Don’t you do it.”

Summer 1968. The Vietnam War is raging. Sons are going off to fight and not coming home. The thought of losing his big brother, Pete, is more than 13 year old Jack Elliot can bear. His plan? Make Pete famous before he turns eighteen at the end of summer. Famous boys don’t get drafted, right? And, if they do, they get cushy assignments until the fighting is over.

Jack is our narrator and he, along with Pete, 16 year old Will, and their visiting cousin, Frankie, turn their weeks together into a summer to remember. They test the limits of each other, the elements, and their ever-patient parents. They react to the chaos of the late Sixties, conforming or rebelling as you would expect from growing teenage boys. Even in their rural Pennsylvania town, the reality of things escalating is inescapable.

Through it all, plus run ins with bullies, neighbors, and cute girls, the four boys stick together, supporting each other through thick and thin while experiencing their own growth.

This is a fantastic novel, appropriate for everyone, with special significance to those affected by that time in history. Every character is deep and multi-faceted, with his own inner turmoil and moral compass. I highly recommend it and look forward to others by this author. (Available free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.)

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Fantasy, Young Adult

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill

I know a book is excellent if its effects are still lingering days after I’ve finishing it. Few have accomplished this as much as The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill. Is it for kids? Yes. Is it for young adults? Yes. Is it for grownups? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. It’s for everyone. If I could buy up a bunch of copies and pass them out on a street corner without looking like a weirdo, I would.

There is the Ogress. She has no name. She has no family. She has no friends. She cannot read. She has a great desire to belong. She has magical talents that benefit others and, even in her loneliness, she is compassionate and generous.

There are the Orphans. They have names that follow the letters of the alphabet. They are cared for by the Matron and her husband, Myron. They read and research. They closely observe. They are each other’s family.

There is the town, Stone-in-the-Glen. Once a lovely place where neighbor helped neighbor, it is now rundown and full of unhappy, suspicious people. Legend says it all began when a dragon burned down the library. Now the only bright spot is the colorful Mayor. He loves all and all love him.

What makes this book so special? What makes it a treasure for readers of any age? It is so layered with important messages that everyone will glean something from it. The writing is magnificent. The characters will remind you of someone you know.

Read it. Share it. Learn from it. Remember it. It’s marvelous!

10/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Nonfiction

Amazing Surgeons: Two Books

Two books: one nonfiction and one fiction.

Two doctors: a pediatric neurosurgeon and an embittered heart surgeon.

One goal: save the patient.

I always say that books seem to enter our lives at the right time, and these two are no different. There is something special and similar about them that made me feel they needed to be grouped together. I highly recommend both.

First, ALL THAT MOVES US, by Jay Wellons. Dr. Jay Wellons, to be exact. An experienced pediatric neurosurgeon with decades of operating and teaching experience, this is his memoir and love letter to the profession. We follow him from patient to patient, those that he saved and those he couldn’t, year after year. As expected, certain patients stand out and have left imprints on his heart. The writing is excellent and his humility is admirable. Be prepared for some detailed medical explanations, but it is never boring. A great, timely autobiography. 9.5/10 Stars

Next, WHEN CRICKETS CRY, by the incomparable Charles Martin. I truly believe Martin is one of our greatest living novelists, and I’ve only read four of his books with many more left to discover. It is, perhaps, a minor spoiler to identify the main character as a surgeon because he spends most of the story building and restoring boats with his brother-in-law, Charlie (who deserves his own book.) But whether he is known as “Reese Mitch: boat builder” or “Jonathan Reese Mitchell: heart surgeon extraordinaire,” he is still a lonely, broken man. When Reese meets Annie, a little girl selling lemonade who is ill and wise beyond her years, he must ask himself if the time is right to emerge from his shell of grief and uncertainty and tap into his incredible gifts. 9.5/10

Romance, Young Adult

Three Heartfelt YA Novels

Recently I joined a fun online book group! We do Bingo boards, read-a-thons, and scavenger hunts, all of which have pushed me out of my comfort zone. Young Adult novels are very popular with this bunch, so I’ve read a few lately.

These three are my current favorites.

PLACES WE’VE NEVER BEEN, by Kasie West brought back some childhood memories. Two families go on a road trip together after one family moved away a few years before. The kids all have their favorites, but Norah’s and Skyler’s friendship has been reduced to liking each other’s Instagram posts. (Boy, do I feel old.) Norah is excited to see her friend again, but Skyler is distant and apathetic. Only by communication, forgiveness, and working through misunderstands will they repair the friendship. 9/10 Stars

TELL ME THREE THINGS, by Julie Buxbaum is a novel I was introduced to by our book group admin, who is a connoisseur of the YA genre. I LOVED IT. It’s like a teenage You’ve Got Mail (oops, dated myself again) and I was completely swept away. Jessie is mourning her mother’s loss and adjusting to a new school, new state, and new step-family. An online friend introduces him (or herself) as “Somebody/Nobody,” offering to help Jessie navigate high school, with its angst and cliques. Is it a joke? Or can this person be trusted? Over time, Jessie and “SN” confide in each other more and three different characters become candidates for the anonymous friend. The story is extremely sweet with a great ending. 9.5/10 Stars

WHAT I DIDN’T SAY, by Keary Taylor is my favorite of the three, only slightly edging ahead Tell Me Three Things. After a horrific drunk driving accident, Jake Hayes’ vocal cords are irreparably damaged when a post goes through his throat. One of seven kids in a boisterous, loving family, Jake will never talk again. Back at school, his longtime crush, super student Samantha Shay, becomes his tutor and close friend. Sam has secrets of her own. She’s getting thinner, sadder, and more detached. Together, Jake and Sam help each other, filling in the gaps in the other’s life and creating an unbreakable bond. Did I mention how much I loved this book?? And Jake’s family is awesome. 9.5/10 Stars

Author Spotlight, Fiction, Romance

Author Spotlight: Emily Henry

One cannot read an Emily Henry book without laughing out loud. Her biting wit and highly intelligent characters have created quite a following these past few years. Her female characters are educated, funny, flawed, and often make life decisions that…could be better. The men are often sharp and closed off, but with great potential when the right woman comes along. The banter between the sexes usually evolves from scathing and competitive to civil to friendly to more. The steamy level is medium to low, but there is some steam in every book.

BEACH READ, published in 2020, is my favorite of Emily Henry’s three contemporary novels. It’s promoted as a rom-com, but there is actually a lot of depth to this story. January Andrews, a romance writer in a slump, learns about her father’s infidelity after his death. She inherits a beach house he used for his affair, planning to sell it. While cleaning it out she discovers that her neighbor is literary giant, Augustus Everett. He was also her rival in college. They strike a deal to stir up their creativity. January will write a dark, brooding book in Gus’s style and he will write a romance. The first one who sells their book is the winner. There is some wonderful dialogue with unexpected depth. 9/10 Stars

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION, published in 2021, follows the “friends to more” formula. Poppy and Alex are best friends. She is a travel writer who now lives in New York. He is a high school teacher who stayed behind in their Midwest hometown. They have little in common except a shared history that’s lasted decades and their annual vacations together. This year the destination is less exotic Palm Springs, California. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. But those challenges bring out some hidden feelings too. Again, great characters. 8.5/10 Stars

BOOK LOVERS, Henry’s 2022 novel, introduces us to literary agent Nora Stephens. While coddling one of her writers into meeting a deadline, she has to deal with a new publisher, Charlie Lastra, known for his no-nonsense approach. Nora agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the setting for her client’s books, hoping to cultivate some ideas. She takes her pregnant sister, Libby, and they discover that it is Charlie’s hometown. In addition, he’s there helping his family through some hard times. Seeing him in his natural setting, with old friends and family, changes things. Very cute. 8/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Magical Realism

The Matchmaker’s Gift, by Lynda Cohen Loigman

AVAILABLE September 20, 2022

Right now I’m experiencing a combined euphoria and frustration that only happens when I’ve finished a book that is so good, I wonder if I can do it justice. Even explaining what The Matchmaker’s Gift is about does not come easily, but I know it is about things that mean a great deal to me, personally: family, ancestors, tradition, connections, intuition, and a bit of the unknown.

In two brilliantly woven story lines we learn about Sara and Abby. Sara is an immigrant in the early 1900’s. Crammed into New York tenement housing with her traditional Jewish family, she learns early on that she has a gift for matchmaking. A gift that borders on the supernatural. This does not bode well with the community matchmakers, a bullying group of stodgy men who care more about profit than people. Add to that, the fact that Sara is a young, unmarried girl who demands no fee. Most importantly, she is never wrong.

Fast forward to the 1990s. Abby is Sara’s granddaughter. An attorney who works in family law (i.e. divorces and prenups,) Abby has grown up listening to her grandmother’s stories and imparted wisdom. Jaded by her parents’ divorce, her father’s broken promises, and continual office drama, Abby’s expectations for love are pretty low. Thankfully, her innate sensitivity and relationship with her grandmother sustain her.

When Sara dies and leaves Abby several notebooks for her to read, the parallels begin. Side by side we see a young Sara and Abby, the struggling lawyer, navigate a harsh world that is all about the bottom line. Both crusade to improve their own little corners, rallying against others who think they know better. They have their allies, their obstacles and–through a special gift–they have each other.

The more we learn about those they help, the more we see that thread that binds us all. I even found myself making guesses about which characters were destined for each other. “A lid for every pot,” as Grandma Sara would say. And, speaking as someone who met her future spouse in the most unlikely way in 2009, you just never know.

Mark your calendars for September 20 when this book becomes widely available. It’s a gem.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced copy.

9.5/10 Stars

Technology

Kindle Models: Let’s take a look…

Coke or Pepsi? Apple or Android? Kindle or Nook? (Answers: Pepsi, Apple, Kindle.)

Now that that’s settled–WHICH Kindle? Since I’m currently between two advanced copies of books, let’s take a quick look at these snazzy little e-readers. Amazon doesn’t reinvent the wheel too much when it comes to the Kindle (since getting rid of the keyboard and adding an internal light) but there have been some upgrades in the last year.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Budget
  • Resolution
  • Size
  • Need for a waterproof device (i.e. Are you a clumsy tub reader? Do you read by the pool and have kids that love to do cannonballs?)

My desire to spend was low when I upgraded in 2020 from my 2012 Kindle Keyboard (RIP) to a smaller one with a built-in light. I opted for the Basic Kindle (on the far left.) I chose to have no ads (ads only show when it’s powered down, but still.) And I chose black because I wanted as little contrast as possible. I have a slim, third party cover in Sky Blue, found HERE. (Make sure the cover matches the Kindle model you’re purchasing.)

Now, my middle aged eyes are not the best these days. Still, the resolution on the basic model suits me fine (for now). I adjust the brightness based on the light around me and appreciate the different font and size options. (Sorry paperbacks, this is where you get left behind.)

A simple breakdown of the models. Not including the Kindle Kids Paperwhite.

Currently, the Kindle Paperwhite is the most popular Kindle of all time. It has a flush screen, smaller bezels, 300ppi resolution, and it’s waterproof. A link is HERE and, if you scroll down on that page, you’ll find comparisons and links to all models. Remember that an Amazon account is required to manage the titles on your Kindle. Just like a smartphone, there is a cloud for titles not downloaded. This means that, even with only 8GB of space, you can have HUNDREDS of books in your library. Speaking of libraries, you can also borrow ebooks from your local library, which is just the best thing ever. *wink* (How I would’ve loved a Kindle when I was a child!)

Here are two videos that discuss the different models. Remember–take into consideration what is best for YOU. Hope this was helpful! Happy Reading!

Fiction, Young Adult

A Quiet Kind of Thunder, by Sara Barnard

It’s always unexpected to find a book that speaks to you on a very personal level, but that is how I felt while reading A Quiet Kind of Thunder, by Sara Barnard. And, although it is a Young Adult novel that explores much of the angst all teens experience, it is so much more.

Our narrator is Steffi Brons, age sixteen. Steffi has crippling social anxiety. Crippling to the point that she is a selective mute, which makes her an interesting choice as narrator. Steffi taught me a lot. For one thing, the word “selective” does not mean that the person selects when they do or don’t talk. On the contrary, she wants to talk, especially when the alternative is getting stared at and bullied. It’s her anxiety level that chooses when she speaks. Anxiety is not rational, but she’s usually OK with her family, best friend, and boss. But parties? Shops? And, Heaven forbid, school? Big N-O.

Steffi is fortunate to have some anchors in her life. Her dad is patient and kind. Her friend, Tem (September,) is her advocate and cheerleader. Her mom? Not so much. Speaking as someone who has anxiety (to a much lesser degree but still very real,) little victories are to be celebrated and pushing usually has the opposite effect. “C’mon, Steffi…just try harder…” Well meaning but definitely not helpful.

As a child, Steffi’s uncle suggested that she learn BSL (British Sign Language) as a way to compensate for those times when communication was necessary but speech was not forthcoming. This skill makes her the prime candidate to be paired up with Rhys Gold, a new student who is deaf. Rhys is friendly, outgoing, and fairly adorable.

Yes, you can guess correctly that Steffi and Rhys go from classmates to friends to more. But that does not make the story predictable. At the heart of everything is communication, its variations, its inclusiveness, and its means as a tool to validate people. Whether it’s speaking, signing, gesturing, writing, etc.–it connects us with others. And, in some cases, it isolates. The story is also about Steffi’s growth, her wavering confidence, the kind of support she gets, and its importance.

I loved this book. It has the language and sexual experimentation that you would expect from a contemporary Young Adult novel about teenagers and first love, but the explanation of anxiety is SO on point. I rooted for these two and appreciated the fact that there was no ridiculous drama, just the normal ups/downs/questions that we have at that age. A wonderful discovery that touched my heart.

9/10 Stars