May First Impressions

May brings flowers and we can go outside and…wait, what? We STILL have to stay inside? Well, crap. Okay… let me rethink this. May is a time to stay safe, healthy, and explore the world in these amazing books! (And no…I will not be giving a First Impression of Hunger Games Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.) *EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, he is.* Coming at you with TEN books publishing in May that everyone should be checking out.

Last Girls – Demetra Brodsky

Demetra Brodsky’s Last Girls is a twisting, suspenseful YA thriller about sisterhood, survival, and family secrets set in the world of doomsday prepping.

No one knows how the world will end.

On a secret compound in the Washington wilderness, Honey Juniper and her sisters are training to hunt, homestead, and protect their own.

Prepare for every situation.

But when danger strikes from within, putting her sisters at risk, training becomes real life, and only one thing is certain:

Nowhere is safe.

Last Girls, Demetra Brosky
May 5, 2020

Now, where better to start than a book about doomsday prepping? This book may not only be informational, but it will certainly be entertaining. Personally, I’m interested in the dynamic between the sisters. I mean, when one sister’s name is Honey Juniper you just know that this book is going to have some characters you want to either fight or love.

The cover instantly caught my eye, obviously. Just look at it! Plus, with a tagline like, “this is the way their world ends” I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be interested in this book. Plus, the depictions of the sisters on the cover have been dying to know, on a scale from me to Ronda Rousey, how badass these sisters are. I’m willing to bet that the scale will be further referenced as the Juniper Sisters scale because they look like they could take a grizzly bear, a pack of wolves, and anything else that challenges them on…and win.

Also,…it’s Last Girls. Can we just take that in for a second on what that means this book will tackle? It’s not Lost Girls or Last Girls (in this area). It is LAST! GIRLS! These sisters are going to probably fight for their lives, freedom, and happiness. A story like this is exactly what all of us need right now.

This is Demetra Brosky’s second book, but I’m sure one book of experience doesn’t prepare you for these unprecedented times. I know I will be picking this awesome looking read as soon as I can and hope our loyal readers and listeners will too. I can’t wait to read this and discuss it with anybody else that picks it up.

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The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea – Maggie Tokuda-Hall

A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall
May 5, 2020

Alright, am I a bit biased towards this book because I play a Ranger in Dungeons & Dragons with a Pirate background? Like, does that make me more likely to pick up, read, and love a book about pirates? Yes, to both those questions. And is this REALLY a first impression when I was watching a YALLWEST webinar that featured Maggie Tokuda-Hall that talked about “Suckage” that really resonated with me? No.

That being said, look at that cover. Scroll back up and check it out. Read that back cover again. How absolutely AWESOME does this book sound? I can’t wait! Colonialism? Heck yeah, burn it down. Pirates? Heck yes, get that booty! And before you even have to ask…yes, this book talks about two pirates becoming closer than expected because of some fun LGBT romance! What more do you need? This is one of those books that makes you self conscious about your own D&D character. I’m willing to bet that. I’ll bet a copy of this book on that.

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The Henna Wars – Adiba Jaigirdar

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

The Henna Wars, Adiba Jaigirdar
May 12, 2020

*Sorry, I’m supposed to be writing a First Impression of this book, but instead I ordered it and am now standing next to my mailbox waiting for it to arrive.*

Alright, I have to try to encapsulate my first impression here. Okay, as if this book doesn’t scream everything that everyone needs on their bookshelf… As if this cover alone doesn’t melt your heart… As if the fact that Adiba Jaigirbar is a debut author with a book that screams everything YOU want… As if, THERE’S A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST TO LISTEN TO WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THIS BOOK TO ARRIVE!

For real though, this book sounds wonderful. If this book list was a ranking from most excited to least excited, it would be impossible to finish. That being said, this book would easily take the number one spot. I don’t know how a book can sound so perfect in three paragraphs. I ordered it. I hope I can interview Adiba Jaigirbar. I hope I can meet Adiba Jaigibar. I hope I can become a uber fanboy of Adiba Jaigibar. Don’t be surprised if this shows up on my end of the year “Best Books List” and wins every single award in the Young Adult Literary world. Don’t be late to the party. Order it now.

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By the Book – Amanda Sellet

As a devotee of classic novels, Mary Porter-Malcolm knows all about Mistakes That Have Been Made, especially by impressionable young women. So when a girl at her new high school nearly succumbs to the wiles of a notorious cad, Mary starts compiling the Scoundrel Survival Guide, a rundown of literary types to be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, Mary is better at dishing out advice than taking it—and the number one bad boy on her list is terribly debonair. As her best intentions go up in flames, Mary discovers life doesn’t follow the same rules as fiction. If she wants a happy ending IRL, she’ll have to write it herself. 

By the Book, Amanda Sellet
May 12, 2020

It takes half-a-second of looking at Amanda Sellet’s author page to know how fun of a rom-com this book is going to be. Likewise, the stare between the two assumed lovers from the cover sends chills of glee down my spine. Any book about a bookworm falling in love I am going to be a sucker for. Nothing strums my heartstrings quite like bookworms finding love.

Also, Amanda Sellet’s story seems to have a genuine care to it. I’m not sure if it’s the cover, the back copy, or her author page, but there seems to be a deep true love that inspired this story. I mean, anyone that makes the pun on the cover of “prose and con” has to have a heart worth loving and enjoying. That pun alone makes me smile and I am sure it is not the first smile of many this book provides.

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The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly – Jamie Pacton

Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a wench―i.e. waitress―at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But the Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other wenches join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval―if they don’t get fired first.

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, Jamie Pacton
May 5, 2020

A little behind the curtains moment. I requested the Advance Reader Copy of this book because I immediately fell in love with Kit Sweetly from the cover and title alone. Then, after reading the back copy, I became hungry for this story in my life. This book’s first impression felt like discovering a book you’ve been waiting for years to discover. I mean, A contemporary story set in medieval times? How can you not want to read that story?

Kit Sweetly sounds like the Lisa Lionheart (from The Simpsons episode where Lisa wants a strong, female role-model doll instead of Malibu Stacey), or a contemporary Katniss Everdeen, or a medieval times (minus the magic) version of Hermoine Granger. It won’t surprise me if young people look up to Kit Sweetly as a role model. It won’t surprise me if Kit Sweetly becomes a subject of adoration on Tumblr by artists. It won’t surprise me if Kit Sweetly takes on a life of her own from the pages written here by Jamie Pacton. This book could be one of those books that you talk about in thirty years to young kids about how you remember when it came out and how YES! Kit Sweetly is still as awesome as they were in 2020.

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Stay Gold – Tobly McSmith

Debut author Tobly McSmith delivers a coming-of-age teen love story about a transgender boy who’s going stealth at his new Texas high school and a cisgender girl who is drawn to him, even as she’s counting down the days until graduation. Perfect for fans of David Levithan, Becky Albertalli, and Jenny Han.

Pony just wants to fly under the radar during senior year. Tired from all the attention he got at his old school after coming out as transgender, he’s looking for a fresh start at Hillcrest High. But it’s hard to live your best life when the threat of exposure lurks down every hallway and in every bathroom.

Georgia is beginning to think there’s more to life than cheerleading. She plans on keeping a low profile until graduation…which is why she promised herself that dating was officially a no-go this year.

Then, on the very first day of school, the new guy and the cheerleader lock eyes. How is Pony supposed to stay stealth when he wants to get close to a girl like Georgia? How is Georgia supposed to keep her promise when sparks start flying with a boy like Pony?

Funny and poignant, clear-eyed and hopeful, Stay Gold is a story about finding love—and finding yourself.

Stay Gold, Tobly McSmith
May 26, 2020

This book has everything? Yeah, everything. I can’t think of a book I’d rather read than this one except for other ones on this list, obviously. I’m glad this comes out towards the end of the month that way I can end May with a book that looks absolutely amazing. Especially considering this is a story written by someone who is proudly trans, it should be acknowledged that this story will undoubtedly resound with the truth. Sure, it is a love story at the end of the day, with one of my favorite allusions clearly being made, but this book seems absolutely genuine, heartfelt, and gorgeous.

This cover does exactly what it says to do. Likewise, this book makes me want to stay cool, strong, and myself. The cover is stunning. Those colors, right? And then the way Stay Gold is popping on the cover will undoubtedly catch eyes. I can only assume that this book will keep readers hooked because if the entire book is as well written as the back cover, then it will undoubtedly connect with any reader. It is also important to mention that this book is connected to https://www.staygoldfund.org/ which is worth checking out and donating to via purchasing this book. I cannot be more excited for this book to come out and end May on a much deserved high note.

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The Boy in the Red Dress – Kristin Lambert

A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery in this rollicking romp of truth, lies, and troubled pasts.

New Year’s Eve, 1929.

Millie is running the show at the Cloak & Dagger, a swinging speakeasy in the French Quarter, while her aunt is out of town. The new year is just around the corner, and all of New Orleans is out to celebrate, but even wealthy partiers’ diamond earrings can’t outshine the real star of the night: the boy in the red dress. Marion is the club’s star performer and his fans are legion–if mostly underground.

When a young socialite wielding a photograph of Marion starts asking questions, Millie wonders if she’s just another fan. But then her body is found crumpled in the courtyard, dead from an apparent fall off the club’s balcony, and all signs point to Marion as the murderer. Millie knows he’s innocent, but local detectives aren’t so easily convinced.

As she chases clues that lead to cemeteries and dead ends, Millie’s attention is divided between the wry and beautiful Olive, a waitress at the Cloak & Dagger, and Bennie, the charming bootlegger who’s offered to help her solve the case. The clock is ticking for the fugitive Marion, but the truth of who the killer is might be closer than Millie thinks.

The Boy in the Red Dress, Kristin Lambert
May 12, 2020

I think this book has one of those titles that makes you stop. Right? Am I wrong? Then you find out it’s set in 1929? Yes, that’s 91 years ago, alright. Then you find out it’s a murder mystery style story? How can you possibly say no to that, right? This book seems like such a wonderfully amazingly unique story. Plus, yet again, how can you not love that tagline, right? “He’s not a killer. She’s the only one who can prove it.” How is that book not one that you pick up? That cover, look at Millie’s smirk! LOOK AT IT! Millie is the type of character you hope Kristin Lambert will write a million novels so you can binge read them all the time.

It’s hard to write a murder mystery, it’s hard to write a historical fiction piece, and it can be hard to write a story involving LGBTQIA+ characters more involved in those two types of stories intended for young adult readers. I cannot wait to see how Kristin Lambert is able to combine all three of those narratives into one story that looks so fantastically promising. Likewise, I cannot wait to see the way this book effects and changes the expectations and acceptance of interesting, intersecting, and intelligent stories. I will not be surprised if Kristin Lambert becomes a very important name in the young adult literary canon.

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Wonderland – Juno Dawson

What happens when you fall down the rabbit hole? The compulsive must-have follow-up to CLEAN and MEAT MARKET from bestselling author Juno Dawson

Alice lives in a world of stifling privilege and luxury – but none of it means anything when your own head plays tricks on your reality. When her troubled friend Bunny goes missing, Alice becomes obsessed with finding her. On the trail of her last movements, Alice discovers a mysterious invitation to ‘Wonderland’: the party to end all parties – three days of hedonistic excess to which only the elite are welcome.

Will she find Bunny there? Or is this really a case of finding herself? Because Alice has secrets of her own, and ruthless socialite queen Paisley Hart is determined to uncover them, whatever it takes.

Alice is all alone, miles from home and without her essential medication. She can trust no-one, least of all herself, and now she has a new enemy who wants her head…

A searing exploration of mental health, gender and privilege, from the most addictive YA novelist in the UK today.

Wonderland, Juno Dawson

Wonderland is undoubtedly going to be another amazing story by the acclaimed Juno Dawson. The cover alone pulls you in, right? The neon-lit bunny does exactly what it means to do. It catches your eye and makes you want to know more about this story. Then give that back cover a glance? Yeah, it’s okay. I know. Look, we’re all in quarantine right now and this is another one that will undoubtedly let you feel like you are escaping not only your house but also this world!

I don’t know about you, but this book gives me a sort of Black Mirror vibe to it. I mean that in the most absolutely kind and interesting way. I won’t be surprised if this book finds itself on banned book lists and I won’t be surprised if this book is hard for American readers to get their hands on. BUT based on the author being Juno Dawson and the concept of the story as well, I have to believe that this book will be one constantly on the tip of your tongue to ready to answer the question, “Read any good books lately?”

The Fascinators – Andrew Eliopulos

A magic-infused YA novel about friendship, first love, and feeling out of place that will bewitch fans of Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater.

Living in a small town where magic is frowned upon, Sam needs his friends James and Delia—and their time together in their school’s magic club—to see him through to graduation.

But as soon as senior year starts, little cracks in their group begin to show. Sam may or may not be in love with James. Delia is growing more frustrated with their amateur magic club. And James reveals that he got mixed up with some sketchy magickers over the summer, putting a target on all their backs.

With so many fault lines threatening to derail his hopes for the year, Sam is forced to face the fact that the very love of magic that brought his group together is now tearing them apart—and there are some problems that no amount of magic can fix. 

The Fascinators, Andrew Eliopulos
May 12, 2020

This book has some amazing things going for it, right? Let’s count them. Magic. Check! Friendship. Check! A beautiful cover. Check! An intriguing plot. Check! Apparently, being book one of a series? Wait…Yeah, that’s right! Sam, Delia, and James seem to be primed to be the new magical trio we all fall in love with. I know I am excited to see how their friendship will bend or break, mend or magically dissipate.

Andrew Eliopulos has something great right here. I don’t doubt that for a single second. The Fascinators will, like any great story featuring magic, make me wish I was playing Sam, Delia, or James in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign or video game. The closeness of the characters on the cover definitely show how close these friends will be in this book. There is undoubted love in their eyes. There is a longing to be together. This book undoubtedly has heart, soul, and magic.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the 10th annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to out charm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins
May 19, 2020

Yes, this book is on this list and I said it wouldn’t be. No, I am not going to talk about it. What I am going to say is there are nine books that came before this one on this list. Nine authors that deserve all the pomp and circumstance that this book has received. Instead, those authors, many of them, debut authors have been robbed of book tours and meeting future fans. The debut authors on this list have had to turn to social media and the awkwardness of asking people to give their book a chance during times of uncertainty. Even worse, those authors above now have to potentially compete on the market with something that is, honestly, unasked for.

Don’t forget, President Snow in The Hunger Games is a maniacal, power-hungry, wealthy, tyrant that puts his face on everything and uses misinformation to lie to his people. The best thing about President Snow is that he gets taken down by Katniss Everdeen. Now, who wants to hear, or read, some alleged sob-story about when Coriolanus was eighteen? He is a rich kid, a ridiculously rich kid, whose problem is that somebody he doesn’t care about will die. What? Why would anyone want to read that story? Coriolanus is the character with the absolute least reason to hear his backstory.

Sure, are we going to read it and review it for an episode? Probably. Take whatever we say about it and talk about that with your friends and then introduce them to any of the nine other books on this list. This book does not need you to clamor for it and order it immediately. It will get its proper recognition. The other nine books on this list deserve your attention and love. The same love and attention you gave The Hunger Games so many years ago. And yes, if this book is Suzanne Collins giving us 624 pages of a tyrannical billionaire getting emotionally destroyed maybe I’ll recommend it.

Maybe.

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Published by D.S. Davis

Hello, my name is D.S. Davis. I am a YA and Middle Grade writer currently seeking an agent. I am the MFA in Creative Writing program coordinator at Sierra Nevada University, where I graduated in January 2020 having studied specifically writing for children and young adults. I'm a Jersey boy who has moved to Truckee, California in pursuit of mountain living and to immerse myself in the writing program that changed my life. I can be found on Twitter and Instagram @thedsdavis

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