Taproot by Keezy Young
Heat Factor: Sweet little kisses
Character Chemistry: Lots of pining and angst
Plot: Ghost follows gardener home, Gardener can see ghost, things seem good, but darkness lurks
Overall: I read this in about 30 minutes and it was 100% worth it
Blue is a ghost who one day found Hamal and, believing that he was invisible, followed the interesting gardener home. But Hamal could see Blue, and they found comfort in each other as their unconventional friendship grew.
Encouraged by Blue, Hamal gets a job at a garden shop and makes beautiful plants grow while also talking to all the ghosts that hang out with him that no one else can see, which is great until the ghosts start to experience episodes of finding themselves in a dark, dead forest. As the blurb states: “When Blue realizes Hamal’s strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means…leaving him.” Which makes it sound like this is Not A Romance. But, friends, BUT! I have read this book so you don’t have to worry. It is a romance. But how that all happens is kind of spoilery, so I can’t get into it.
I’ll conclude by noting that the Reaper is extremely entertaining. And for a moment I thought this was maybe an episodic webcomic type thing because the first story is kind of…resolved…and then there’s a whole other story with a whole other problem. Just shorter. Presumably this is to resolve the question of a debt Hamal owes, as this is not a serialized story and there appears to be no plan for any sequels.
Chef’s Kiss by Jarrett Melendez et al.
Heat Factor: The kiss at the end of the movie
Character Chemistry: Ben has a crush
Plot: Having graduated with a degree in English and a goal of a writing-related career, Ben winds up working at a restaurant to make ends meet, only to learn what he thought he wanted maybe wasn’t right for him
Overall: Somehow serious and bonkers
This is a very new adult book. Ben loves to cook when he’s stressed or trying to impress a guy, but his whole life has been books and writing, and that’s where he’s planning for his career to be now that he’s out of college. He’s the only one of his roommates without a job when they move in together, but he has interviews lined up, so things are looking good. Ish. Except that everyone wants experience, which is not so good.
There’s a lot of relatable content for millennials and probably also Gen Z or whatever they’re calling themselves. Why are we spending all this money on a degree that’s supposed to make our lives better only to discover that getting a job is almost impossible and/or that we can get a job but not pay down the debt incurred to get the job? And why is working in a restaurant inherently worse than working in an office?
On the other hand, there’s a pig that makes business decisions for the restaurant where Ben ends up working.
At the end of the day this book is fun and playful and a good reminder that sometimes we need to think harder about the choices we’re making in our lives instead of simply following the predetermined path.
Moonstruck by Grace Ellis et al.
Heat Factor: They’re too busy solving crime to get hot
Character Chemistry: Dating can be challenging when villainous monsters get in the way
Plot: Julie’s best friend, Chet, a centaur, has their horse form stolen in a sketchy magic show, so Julie, her new girlfriend Selena, Chet, and some others go all in on rescuing Chet’s magic and shutting down the criminal operation.
Overall: Cute, but the interstitials were kinda weird and distracting
This is an urban fantasy alternative world in which monsters are simply part of life (my kid thought the angry Medusa character was hilarious), and the color palette is very soft and pastel, which is a good match to the content.
Julie has just started dating Selena, and is super into her, but she’s also pretty shy/awkward and sensitive. So of course why wouldn’t she bring her best friend Chet along on their date to act as a buffer?! In the course of the date, Chet’s magic—which is to say their centaur body—is stolen by the villain, and the rest of the narrative ends up being an absolute bananas quest to take out the villains and restore Chet’s magic. Along the way, Julie and Selena have to figure out how to navigate their differing approaches to solving the problem, and things don’t always go great. It’s definitely fun, but maybe not super substantive. I did like that a character who was more sensitive than what’s usually portrayed got to be herself and still have her romance.
There are these peculiar, comedic interstitials that are supposed to be like a Q&A newspaper article that made absolutely no sense, and there’s also a comic within the comic that both women love and bond over, but that didn’t seem to add to the story.
Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
Heat Factor: They’re eventually sharing a bed, but if anything’s happening, the door’s closed
Character Chemistry: Former best friends to feelings are blooming
Plot: Nova’s minding her magical business when her childhood bestie, Tam, reappears. Together, and with the help of Nova’s grannies, they battle dark forces trying to unleash in their small town.
Overall: This is so sweet. And the story was exciting!
This is a single volume with one narrative plot arc that I really enjoyed. Nova is a young adult witch who works in her grandmothers’ magic bookstore and investigates magical happenings in their small New England town. She hears of a mysterious and dangerous wolf in the woods and goes to investigate, discovering her childhood friend—and crush—Tam battling a demon horse. Tam has been wandering alone for a long time, but they also remember Nova and that childhood friendship fondly, so they accept Nova’s invitation to stay as long as they’re in town.
The story is about the young people finding themselves and their place in the world, but there’s also the sinister subplot of how to capture the demon and save the town. There’s a lot of pressure on Nova to solve the mystery, and on Tam to figure out how their magic is tied to the demon, but when it comes to the climactic moment, our favorite characters pull together to save Tam and the town. It’s charming, especially when both young people are so wholeheartedly supported by Nova’s grandmothers.
Punderworld by Linda Šejić
Heat Factor: Life keeps getting in the way
Character Chemistry: a whole forest of pining
Plot: Workaholic Hades has been pining for Persephone for ages, and the same is true of Persephone, although she doesn’t know Hades’ real identity. Zeus, being Zeus, decides to stir the pot.
Overall: I am so charmed and really want Vol. 2
This one’s firmly adult graphic novel, but it’s also the most charming, low-key Hades and Persephone retelling I’ve ever seen. Hades and Persephone have been pining for each other for two-hundred years, NBD. It’s not like anything can come of it anyway, because Hades is a workaholic and Demeter never lets Persephone do anything. Of course, Zeus finds out Hades’ little secret and decides to help the relationship along, in questionable Zeus fashion.
The fun part of this is that Demeter told Persephone that Hades was just a minor deity when she was trying to discourage Persephone’s interest, so Persephone has no idea who Hades is when he sweeps in to try to fix Zeus’ “helpful” mess. Because she has no idea what she’s dealing with, she makes some foolish mistakes while blowing off Hades’ attempts at explanation. It’s at once frustrating and completely relatable and it’s definitely entertaining.
This story ends, though, with Hades and Persephone coming to a difficult understanding that should segue into the next volume of trying to figure out how to convince Demeter to give her blessing so they can actually be together, but this project was a spontaneous side project by Šejić, so there seems not to be a set publication date for any further volumes.
Twelfth Grade Night by Molly Horton Booth et al.
Heat Factor: Prom kiss (except it’s the 12th Grade Night dance, not prom, but w/e)
Character Chemistry: Honestly, I thought Vi and Olivia had better chemistry than Vi and Orsino
Plot: Shakespeare retelling pretty true to form but with more self-aware queerness and gender identity components
Overall: A good, inclusive retelling for the high school crowd.
This Twelfth Night retelling is set in an alternate universe of humans and fairies and fauns, which is actually very similar to the original, now that I think about it. In this version, Vi is starting high school at the public school, and she thought her twin brother would be joining her there, but he’s staying back at the private school they attended together. No one at her new school knows Vi is a twin, of course, in part because she’s trying to find her place in all the social groups, but also she’s mad at her brother for abandoning her when they’d been together all the time in the past.
The romance between Orsino and Vi is probably not developed to adult romance levels, but if we consider that these are high school kids (and young ones, at that), then Orsino’s flopping interest from Olivia to Vi makes a bit more sense. Orsino is a tortured artist poet who Thinks Big Thoughts, Olivia is the most popular girl in school and also a LARPer. Vi, a budding musician and a geek, connects to both Orsino and Olivia thanks to an overlapping friend group. Instead of Olivia believing that Vi is a boy, as in the original, the kids all make assumptions about Vi’s sexual orientation based on her androgynous style of dressing, so, both believing Vi to be into girls, Orsino writes her off while Olivia develops a crush on her.
If you like retellings and are content with a narrative full of charming teen angst, this one’s cute.
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