Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Really Good Books That Need A Bigger Spotlight

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I write a lot of blog posts, but occasionally, a book doesn't get the spotlight it deserves on this blog. Here are 10 books that I adore but don't talk about often enough. I hope you love them as much as I did!

💕  Really Good Books (That Deserve More Love)  🤟 


Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. "You don't want anyone to think you're gay too, do you?"

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King's friendship with Sandy is reignited, he's forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother's death.

Why I love it: It perfectly captures the confusion and drama of teenage friendships.

Here's a story for you: When I was in high school, my friend decided to tell everyone in our friend group that he's gay. I already suspected he was gay, so when he told me, my response was, "Okay, whatever." I thought that would be everybody's response.

Reader, it was not. Friends I had for most of my life suddenly became vicious. They wouldn't speak to our gay friend anymore. Then they stopped talking to me because I didn't stop talking to him. To them, I was gay by association. I was completely blindsided and caught in the middle.

This book understands all that messiness.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Science Fiction

Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets.

Why I love it: It's the type of novel that sticks with you. The story is a compelling blend of real history and unsettling futuristic artificial intelligence. It's a realistic (and somewhat heartbreaking) look at a young woman who's grappling with her father's past and the ramifications of the work he'd done. While she's uncovering his secrets, she's also learning to live with a foster family, developing friendships and crushes, and watching her father's mind deteriorate. Ada doesn't have much personality on the outside, but there's a lot going on under the surface.

I was surprised by this book. I felt kind of "meh" about it while I was reading, but it keeps creeping up on me and ambushing my thoughts. That makes it worth reading. I don't think I'll forget this one anytime soon.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Literary Fiction

Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her. Raised outside of Boston, she is taught how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops by her immigrant grandmother. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, where her dream instantly evaporates.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when she bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.

Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners and weekend getaways to the Cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Why I love it: Ivy is the complicated antihero I'm always searching for in books. I want to read about deeply flawed people! Ivy is not a loveable character, but I completely understand why she makes bad decisions. She's caught in an awkward position between her family's traditional Chinese values and her desperation to fit in with her wealthy American friends. Over the years, her desperation spirals into paranoia. She's terrified that her friends can see her flaws. She's flailing around, trying to find something in life that will make her happy.

I can't believe this book is a debut. It's a complex and well-written peek into the immigrant experience. Some authors are just too talented.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Horror / Fantasy / Science Fiction Short Stories

In Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders—a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality—obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible.

Why I love it: People, this is how you write fantasy short stories! They're dark and weird and bloody and magical. The author is amazing at weaving the mundane with the fantastical. The stories start out ultra-realistic, but then there's suddenly a demon or troll or something. It catches you off-guard, but it still feels entirely plausible in the story's setting. Of course there's a troll under a bridge or a demon attacking stray cats. 

These stories are addictive. As soon as I finished one story, I started another because I wanted to know what horrifying thing Neil Gaiman would think of next. He has a twisted imagination. I don't think I fully "got" all the stories, but I didn't hate any of them. This is a 5-star collection. It would be perfect for Halloween.

Warning: This book is NOT safe for work. A few of the stories have gross, graphic, horror sex. If you're allowed to have audiobooks at work, you wouldn't want your boss walking in while you're listening to a detailed description of a troll's floppy dick. No one needs that in the workplace!

Buy it on Amazon


Young Adult Dystopia / Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Why I love it: Neal and Jarrod are a father/son writing team, and Dry is a dystopia about what happens when California runs out of water. Reading it was stressful! Probably because I live in a drought-prone place that starts on fire every summer and fall. I can relate to the water restrictions and the constant smell of smoke in the air. This is one of the most realistic dystopias I’ve ever read. I love the pacing. It reads quickly because there’s a lot of action, but you still get to know the characters. I felt bad for them every time they hit a dead end in their search for water. (Which was often. These kids just can’t catch a break.) The characters are forced to make hard decisions. They make mistakes. They learn they’re not as badass as they first thought. They’re not heroes. They’re just regular kids dealing with a terrible situation, and it’s brilliant.


Buy it on Amazon






Young Adult Contemporary Novel-In-Verse

A gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

Why I love it: See all those awards on the cover? This book totally deserves them. The plot reminds me of A Christmas Carol, but it’s set in a modern, inner-city apartment building. Most of the story takes place on an elevator. Yep, a 300-page elevator ride. (I swear it’s not boring!) A teenager’s brother is murdered, and the teen sets out to get revenge. When he steps into the elevator in his apartment building, a ghost gets on with him. The elevator stops at every floor, and a new ghost gets on at each stop. That’s where the Christmas Carol similarities start. The ghosts force the teen to confront his choices and reevaluate his decision to commit murder. It’s a thoroughly modern ghost story! And, best of all, it never gets preachy or heavy-handed! The author treats his (deeply flawed) characters with compassion and lets the readers draw their own conclusions. You should read it. It’s an excellent tale.


Buy it on Amazon


Adult Literary Fiction Short Story Collection

In "When She is Old and I Am Famous" a young woman confronts the inscrutable power of her cousin's beauty. In "Note to Sixth-Grade Self" a band of popular girls exerts its social power over an awkward outcast. In "Isabel Fish" fourteen-year-old Maddy learns to scuba dive in order to mend her family after a terrible accident.

Why I love it: These bleak little stories are oddly fascinating. Have you ever read a plot twist that horrified you so much that you set the book down and backed away slowly? Yeah, that feeling sums up these stories! They’re all coming-of-age tales about girls or young women. The main characters either do something horrible or have something horrible happen to them. The stories are beautifully written and surprising. They come together in ways I didn’t see coming. I didn’t always know how the author would tie the disparate themes and plot threads together, but almost all of the stories ended perfectly. I will definitely reread this collection.


Buy it on Amazon






Adult Literary Fiction

Tommy Orange's wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle's death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American--grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism.

Why I love it: This is a hard book to summarize because it doesn’t have a plot, but the writing is stunning and the characters are very real. A few of the characters are a little too real. One of them is a failed writer who doesn’t know what to do with his life and spends way too much time eating junk food and screwing around on the Internet. Yeah . . . that’s how I spent all of 2018.

I guess I’d call the book a composite novel? Or character sketches? Or maybe a loosely connected batch of essays and short stories? I don’t know. It has a similar structure to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It focuses on an event called The Big Oakland Powwow. Each chapter stars a different Native American character who is attending the powwow. I promise it’s not as boring as I just made it sound. I was very attached to the characters, which made the ending devastating. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this book. It literally left me speechless.


Buy it on Amazon


Young Adult Contemporary

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming—especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.


Why I love it: This book made the list because I accidentally read it. Yes, I accidentally read a 300-page book. It showed up in the mail, and I had insomnia, so I decided to read a few pages. Then it was suddenly morning, and I’d finished the book. It’s so good! I wish it had been around when I was a teenager. The main character, Darius, is a chubby, pimply loner with depression. That was me as a teen! I didn’t know I was main-character-worthy. Anyway, Darius travels to Iran to meet his grandparents for the first time ever. While he’s there, he makes friends, discovers a talent for soccer, and reevaluates his relationship with his parents. The trip gives him a chance to reinvent himself and become the person he wants to be. The story is sweet, quiet, realistic, and nerdy. There’s no romance, which is refreshing for a young adult book.


Buy it on Amazon


Adult Literary Fiction

Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.


Why I love it: Everything about this book is stunning! The writing, the character development: It's all brilliant. It hooked me from the first page. It has one of the most compelling (and ominous) opening chapters I’ve ever read. Every time I see this book on my shelf, I want to reread it because the characters seem like real people to me. I want to see them again! I love how involved the main characters’ families are in their lives. The family members have opinions about the characters’ marriage, and they don’t keep those opinions to themselves. There’s nonstop drama. This is a novel where you hate everybody, but you feel bad for them at the same time. I’m pretty sure these characters will live in my head for the rest of my life. No matter how much brain-rotting Diet Coke I consume, I won’t forget them.


Buy it on Amazon

Which book do you wish had a bigger spotlight?


  1. I also loved Darius and Long Way Down. Long Way Down was a very powerful story, and I simply adored Darius, the character, and was glad to be part of his journey

  2. A Long Way Down and There, There are both excellent novels. I haven't read Dry, but I love Shusterman's other dystopians and I live in southern California so I am adding it to my TBR list.

  3. I loved Dry - it did feel very realistic!

  4. Gah the only one I have read is Dry, and I do agree with you about it! But now I am really curious about several of these, and have opened the links in Amazon to check them out, especially the creepy stories and the sci-fi one!

  5. Smoke and Mirrors sounds good.

    And I’m sorry that happened to you in high school. What a confusing and hard age that is.

    Here is my Top Ten Tuesday post.

  6. The Unseen World looks really good. I definitely want to check that one out!

  7. I haven't read any of these, but Long Way Down is one I've been meaning to.

  8. I had to chuckle at "yes, I accidentally read a 300-page book." I think that should go on some kind of "you know you're a book lover / voracious reader when..." list.

  9. I've read DRY and LONG WAY DOWN. Both are impactful and excellent. I've never heard of THE UNSEEN WORLD, but I'm adding it to my TBR list right now. It sounds very compelling. Thanks for the rec!

    Happy TTT (on a Wednesday)!

  10. There There intrigues me, I should look further into it. Happy reading. My TTT https://readwithstefani.com/book-with-one-word-titles/

  11. I've read Dry of these, it wasn't my favourite Neal Shusterman book, I liked the concept, but it didn't work as well as it could have for me.
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2023/08/01/top-ten-tuesday-431/

  12. These are mostly new to me. Thanks for sharing.