KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Alethea Kontis

While resting during the holidays, I sat down with Elise Bryant's delightful new book full of love, laughter, and glamorous international travel — One True Loves. I had just returned from my own epic adventure to Egypt and it was a joy to prolong re-entry into real life with her story of love found on a European cruise.

Here we are, almost at the end of 2021. It's been a tough couple of years, for everyone. We've all lost so much.

I want to thank Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal for creating believable heroines out of two genuine athletes who don't conform to the all the dusty stereotypes about cheerleaders. Much like they did in their blockbuster I'm Not Dying With You Tonight, the two authors present the stories of the main characters in Why We Fly along the same timeline, but from different points of view. And I absolutely loved them both, all the way through.

Have you ever had the feeling that, despite all the good, hard work you've done, there's always someone else getting more accolades by accomplishing less? If you identify as a woman, it's far more likely that you've experienced such a thing in your lifetime. If you're Eliza Quan, you've just walked in on this exact scenario.

The Fourth of July has come and gone, so *checks calendar* it's time for everyone to start decorating for Halloween, right? Yes, I am That Girl who uses spiders in all of her decorating. But really, who couldn't use a little magic in their lives right about now? Time to break out the Hocus Pocus and pick up books like Laura Sibson's Edie in Between.

Hey hey, it's the Summer Olympics! That time when I sit on my comfy chair and watch mind-bending performances by humans from all over the world with more athletic ability in their pinky fingers than I've ever had in my whole life. These folks are incredibly inspiring, aren't they? You might find yourself wanting to join a gym, or read a fantastic book about the trials and tribulations of a young female football player! Well then, my fellow armchair athlete bibliophiles, you definitely want to get your hands on Britta Lundin's Like Other Girls.

As someone who virtually grew up in the publishing industry — and someone whose mentors include Andre Norton and Jane Yolen — it's difficult to admit that I read almost no books for pleasure in the last decade. Instead, I escaped an abusive relationship and spent those years rebuilding my life.

Wow. Amazing to see it so concisely summed up like that. Living that single sentence was far more complicated than you can possibly imagine.

As a Greek American, I appreciate the value of filling up on foods your yiayia used to make and dancing to exhaustion ... and then getting up and dancing again. So right off the bat, Nisha Sharma's Radha and Jai's Recipe for Romance looked like an absolute treat, and I am happy to say I was not disappointed.

I've been lucky to have this column — I grew up reading my way through the stacks at the Richland County Public Library and never gave a moment's thought to the timing of new book releases. These reviews have afforded me the privilege of enjoying many stories set in and around the time they are let out into the world. As suggested by the title, Hannah Reynolds's The Summer of Lost Letters is very much a summer book, set in late June and loaded with fat hydrangeas, sparkling water, and sizzling hot days.

I realized this spring that I have spent far too much time on the internet this past year, for obvious reasons. I suspect I'm not alone. And just like magic, Suzanne Park's Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous came across my desk, a story about a 17-year-old Korean American influencer who ends up in a digital detox camp.

For this month's book review, I'm taking a scandalous dance step outside my usual contemporary genre. Much like cheesy holiday movies in December, from time to time I lose myself in costume dramas as comfort food. I'm old enough to remember a time where historical romances were thin on the ground in publishing — especially young adult romances — so you might imagine my delight upon encountering the "irreverent regency romp" Sixteen Scandals by Sophie Jordan!

No matter what phase of lockdown you're in, it's that time of year again. College admissions are in the air. Graduation is upon us. And the real-life high school sweetheart team of Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (affectionately called "Wibbroka") have delivered another fun teen romp that will have former graduates brimming over with nostalgia: What's Not to Love?

Spring is upon us! (At least, it is where I live in Florida.) Flowers are exploding everywhere, afternoons are stormy, and birds are twitterpated. It's the perfect time to launch a story that centers around that colorful celebration of the blossoming of womanhood, the quinceañera. I hereby present to you all Monica Gomez-Hira's fabulous debut: Once Upon a Quinceañera!

What I really needed to read this Valentine's Month was not a sappy love story but something a little more irreverent, bordering on caustic, but eminently humorous. Wibke Bruggemann's debut novel Love is for Losers was absolutely all those things and more!

One of the first things I learned in my Buddism/Hinduism studies this year is that Westerners have a twisted perception of karma. Karma is more like spiritual thermodynamics: Every action, intent and deed a person does has an effect on their future. That future might happen now, or a lifetime from now, so it's really just better all around to stay on the side of good. Karma is not, as many have come to know it, a punishment or reward by an external force.

Unless you happen to be Prudence Barnett.

When I heard that Jillian Cantor's The Code for Love and Heartbreak was a Jane Austen retelling, I was all in. A STEM-nerdy Emma where the heroine likes numbers more than people? Sign me up!

I bought Austenland on DVD last fall. It's one of my happy place movies. Unsurprisingly, I've watched it several times already this year, this tumultuous year in which so much is going on that I was on Chapter Three of Kind of a Big Deal before I thought to myself, "This story feels like Austenland." I flipped to the acknowledgments and spotted screenwriter and director Jerusha Hess's name. Well DUH, Alethea. At which point, I just relaxed and let Shannon Hale take me away to that safe, happy place again.

I was one of those introvert kids with an empathy for inanimate objects that went well beyond stuffed animals. Looking back, it makes sense — I was obsessed with fairy tales and poetry. The worlds of Grimm and Andersen and Carroll were filled with just as many talking sticks, stones, teapots and washtubs as animals and people. Plus, being Greek meant that anyone or anything one encounters might be cursed, arbitrarily, at any time. When it comes right down to it, if it exists in my world, it has an attitude.

Have you ever wanted to go back in time and fix your past? Even just one tiny little thing you regret? It's certainly a tempting proposition. But how might that one tiny thing change everything else in the landscape of your life? In Jennifer Honeybourn's The Do-Over, that's exactly what Emelia O'Malley is about to find out. And fair warning: Make sure you're paying attention on page one, because this story moves FAST!

Before I begin this review in earnest, I would first like to bestow upon Miss Amanda Sellet several Bonus Points for the most puntastic title of 2020 (Get it? "BUY the Book"). And then I shall implore you, Dear Reader, to brew a cup of your favorite tea and settle in while I tell you the tale of this most intriguing and delightful tome about the misadventures of a teen who grew up steeped in classic literature — and little else.

I started reading Jessica Pennington's Meet Me at Midnight on an empty beach in Florida, near where I live on the Space Coast. There are rarely many people at the Canaveral National Seashore, and I thought it would be a fitting place to celebrate a new "summer at the lake" title. That beach is closed now. Looking back, this book and that sand feel like they happened a lifetime ago, in a different world. But that doesn't make Meet Me at Midnight less wonderful in any way!

I'm not sure I know anyone around my age who doesn't have a special place in their heart for the 1992 film The Cutting Edge, where a spoiled figure skater is forced to team up with a smarmy injured hockey player and sparks fly. When I saw Sara Fujimura's skating book pop up on my radar, all I could think was, "Toe Pick!" I anticipated a similar enemies-to-lovers story, and I was totally on board.

Hannah Capin's most recent book, Foul is Fair, opens with a sensitive content warning and a dedication to every girl who wants revenge. I ask that readers here please keep that in mind for the length of this review, should you elect to continue.

As soon as I opened to the title page of A Castle in the Clouds, something seemed familiar. I saw Romy Fursland's translator credit, and then flipped back to Kerstin Gier's bio. She was indeed the German author of the fabulous Ruby Red trilogy, books I read many years ago. While A Castle in the Clouds is far more of a cozy mystery than a sweeping historical fantasy like the Ruby Red series, its precocious main character and huge, quirky supporting cast make this new novel just as enjoyable.

The holiday season that You've Got Mail was released, I saw it in the theater with my grandmother. Now that she's gone, I rewatch the silly, heartwarming Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan classic every year right around this time. Tiana Smith's How to Speak Boy was absolutely the perfect book to dovetail right into my tradition.