Anita Lock

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Love stories inspired by classic lit take center stage in these two new comedic coming-of-age teen romances. 

THE WIDE WORLD OF WEB DATING
Sixteen-year-old Emma Nash wallows in self-pity when Leon Naylor dumps her for another girl. Attempting to move on with her life, Emma shifts her private blog titled “MissH” (where she channels Miss Havisham from Great Expectations) from a place for her self-deprecating chatter to a site where she documents her chain of awkward social-media dating experiences. Complications arise when Emma begins to stalk Leon, her ex-boyfriend who ghosted her, online at the same time. As her online and real-life situations get out of hand, Emma seeks the advice of her two trusted friends, Steph and Faith, since she can’t rely on her habitually on-the-prowl mother. Amid a string of convoluted (and often hilarious) circumstances, it remains to be seen whether or not Emma can win back Leon’s affection.

Hormones and emotions run amok in this laugh-out-loud debut. Dating Disasters of Emma Nash is told in blog entries and is laced with Briticisms, teen angst and all things sarcastic, ironic and lewd. Author Chloe Seager includes a small but cosmopolitan and relatable cast to surround her white protagonist, Emma. The plot focuses on sexuality, but self-esteem and healthy relationship-building play equally important roles. A sidesplitting YA read with crossover appeal, this novel is a blast from the past for any older readers who remember obsessing to the max.

BETTER IN BOOKS
Romantic bookworm and sophomore Merrilee “Merri” Campbell is convinced that “boys are so much better in books” until she switches from an all-girls school to Hero High, an elite co-ed prep school. Although Hero High is a bit out of her caliber, Merri acclimates well to her new surroundings and makes friends fast. What she doesn’t expect is an accidental kiss from bad-boy junior Monroe Stratford that quickly throws them into a tumultuous Romeo and Juliet-style romance, but it fizzles just as quickly as it begins. The last thing Merri wants to read after breaking up with Monroe is another romantic tale. Ironically, Merri’s English teacher, Ms. Gregorie, assigns her Pride and Prejudice. While reading, Merri discovers parallels to her own life between the covers, and like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth, finds herself falling head over heels for the least likely person.

Author Tiffany Schmidt’s Bookish Boyfriends has many of the same romantic inklings and relatable characters as readers can find in Dating Disasters of Emma Nash, minus Emma’s teen angst and lewdness, and with the addition of a great cast of multicultural characters.

Love stories inspired by classic lit take center stage in these two new comedic coming-of-age teen romances. 

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Kelley Armstrong’s latest YA novel is a gripping, plausible thriller influenced by real school tragedies, but with a twist.

A mass shooting at a high school leaves four dead and 10 injured. Three years later, 16-year-old Skye Gilchrist reluctantly returns to the school that has haunted her dreams ever since. Skye’s brother was one of the shooters, and she shudders when she sees her one-time best friend Jesse Mandal walking down the hall—his brother was one of the victims. Armstrong’s dual narratives highlight two intelligent teens, desperately attempting to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

After reconciling due to a shared class, the pair begin to search for the truth about the dreaded day that changed their lives forever. Their efforts soon uncover cryptic texts and videos, leading to a mysterious fire and a break-in at Skye’s apartment. Armstrong’s crisp writing is replete with enough foreshadowing, cliffhangers and red herrings to keep readers hooked to the very end.

A fast-paced and unnerving novel, Aftermath is a top-of-the-line read with nothing less than silver-screen potential.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Kelley Armstrong’s latest YA novel is a gripping, plausible thriller influenced by real school tragedies, but with a twist.

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Everything starts with a French horn and a wish for 11-year-old Augusta “Gusta” Neubronner once she moves to Gramma Hoopes’s Orphanage in 1941.

Her papa abruptly vanished during their bus trip from New York City to see her grandmother at her orphanage, leaving her to fend for herself until Gramma Hoope takes her in. Gusta can’t help but apply what she’s learned from her activist father and his connections with immigrant workers and union organizers when she learns of an uncle who’s out of work and can’t pay for a factory-related surgery. Her good intentions—including plans to sell her beloved French horn for cash as a last resort—are met with opposition, and soon Gusta has even more to contemplate when she learns of buried secrets that could threaten her grandmother’s orphanage.

Inspired by Nesbet’s mother’s childhood, The Orphan Band of Springdale is a story filled with thought-provoking metaphors and a host of colorful characters. Nesbet’s narrative has a lilting quality that makes her storytelling both unique and attractive, and young readers will appreciate her well-rounded characters as well as a small but highly engaging group of antagonists. Nesbet also incorporates factual information of the era to highlight relevant themes of injustice, immigration and the labor movement. The Orphan Band of Springdale is a heartwarming and educational read.

Everything starts with a French horn and a wish for 11-year-old Augusta “Gusta” Neubronner once she moves to Gramma Hoopes’s Orphanage in 1941.

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Tensions—sexual and otherwise—run high between two stubborn people with shadowy pasts in the final installment of Lori Foster’s Body Armor series.

Sahara Silver took over Body Armor, a boutique protection agency, after her brother Scott’s death. While building up her roster of bodyguards, Sahara recruits Brand Berry, a professional MMA fighter with a cocky attitude. Even though their physical chemistry is magnetic from the start, he turns down her attempt to take things from the professional to the personal. But when Sahara is kidnapped, Brand immediately leaps into action to rescue her, and the pair must finally confront the connection between them.

Foster’s fourth and last installment of the Body Armor series is a sensual and action-packed romance. As much as Sahara and Brand are attracted to one another, their unresolved issues with family and grief provide realistic obstacles to a possible relationship. But although her narrative is riddled with danger and mystery, the undeniable connection between Foster’s antagonists is the beating heart of her latest novel. Fast Burn offers a satisfying close to this riveting and steamy series.

Tensions—sexual and otherwise—run high between two stubborn people with shadowy pasts in the final installment of Lori Foster’s Body Armor series.

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It’s a battle between corporate avarice and Wild Magic in The Boggart Fights Back, the third installment of Susan Cooper’s Boggart series.

It’s been five years since Allie and Jay Cameron visited their Granda in Scotland. The twin siblings are in for an adventure of mythic proportions soon after their arrival. William Trout and his monstrous corporation intend to convert the Loch Linnhe area—including Castle Keep, Granda’s store and his family home—into a luxury resort. Wasting no time, Trout’s crew sets to work by clearcutting ancient trees. Even though the whole Cameron family and the magical Boggart of Castle Keep, along with his cousin, the Loch Ness monster, get involved to put a stop to the disastrous demolition, all of their efforts are in vain—until Allie and Jay discover the truth about Trout’s plans. That’s when the real magic begins.

We then meet the Old Things: the Caointeach, Each Uisge, the Blue Men of the Minch, and the dreaded Nuckelavee. Newbery Medal winner Cooper has created another shape-shifting adventure with these mythical creatures, right in the heart of Loch Linnhe’s breathtaking landscape. Punctuated with all things Scottish, Cooper draws her middle grade audience into a fast-paced plot replete with lilting dialogue, Gaelic phrases, traditional songs, and “the defiant regular beat of a drum.” The Boggart Fights Back is an appealing read that provides readers with an appreciation for the environment and a chance to learn a bit about Scotland’s mythology in the process.

It’s a battle between corporate avarice and Wild Magic in The Boggart Fights Back, the third installment of Susan Cooper’s Boggart series.

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Sibling rivalry looms over an unexpected romance in Want You, Stacy Finz’s next installment in the Garner Brothers series.

Deb Bennett is in a fiscal dilemma and seeks the savvy expertise of TJ Garner, the CEO of his family-run touring company, Garner Adventure (GA). TJ’s solution is to hire Deb as GA’s retail store executive. TJ has harbored a longtime crush on Deb, even though she’s had a long-running on-and-off relationship with TJ’s youngest brother, Win. But Deb and Win aren’t currently an item, and suddenly Deb finds the idea of getting to know TJ more attractive. It doesn’t take long before romance enters the scene, providing a ray of hope for Deb’s romantic future until unresolved sibling issues interfere. The situation escalates when the company becomes embroiled in a lawsuit, and Deb finds out that she may be out of a job.

Engaging banter and realistic relational tension help Want You stand out from the host of small-town romances. Finz has created four confident, intriguing brothers whose friendly jabbing and straight talk reflect the deep respect they have for one another. They are not without their issues, though, as Finz eventually reveals both TJ and Win have lingering scars from competing against each other as professional skiers. Amid a handful of sudden injuries and business backlashes, Finz balances tense moments with charming family scenes and the sweet, mature relationship between Deb and TJ. Want You is another satisfying story in Finz’s warm-and-fuzzy romance series.

Sibling rivalry looms over an unexpected romance in Want You, Stacy Finz’s next installment in the Garner Brothers series.

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Melba Pattillo Beals follows up her award-winning adult memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, with a potent middle grade read that tells the extraordinary story of her childhood as a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who first crossed the color barrier to integrate Central High School in 1957. A precocious child, Beals listened to the political conversations around her and understood far more than the adults anticipate. As a result of these conversations and the social injustices she and her family experience, she constantly questioned the rules of the Jim Crow South: the differences in drinking fountains, not being provided dressing rooms to try on clothing, and waiting for hours to pay for her purchases because white customers are allowed ahead of her.

Fear was also ever-present in her life. When the Ku Klux Klan rides through her neighborhood, attacking or taking people, she recalls feeling fear, but she also experienced everyday fears such as saying the wrong thing or looking the wrong way. At first, Beals felt safe in her house, but that fragile illusion soon crumbled. Church was the only safe harbor—until the KKK took the sanctity of that place away from her, too. After this horrifying event, Beals turned to her books and became an excellent student. Propelled by her grandmother’s advice that sometimes you have to go where you’re not wanted, Beals is accepted into the first integrated class at Central High School in Little Rock.

Beals includes a stirring epilogue summarizing that year and critical years afterward to help young readers put her story into the context of the larger civil rights movement. March Forward, Girl is sure to inspire young people to take action against injustices in their world.

March Forward, Girl is sure to inspire young people to take action against injustices in their world.

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A woman’s mysterious new job leads to unimaginable challenges, especially when she’s faced with an infamous yet very irresistible man.

Julie Hughes’ first day as a nurse for the de Vincent household does not fare well when she recognizes Lucian, the youngest of the three male siblings, as the guy she hooked up with the night before. It only gets worse when she learns that the family manor is haunted. A spine-chilling scenario sends Lucian to her rescue and provides an opportunity for them to make amends and start anew. The two find themselves falling in love, but whether or not their relationship will survive a flurry of disturbing events remains to be seen.

The first novel of the de Vincent series, Moonlight Sins dances between four genres—thriller, mystery, paranormal and romance—with aplomb. Jennifer L. Armentrout’s prose drips with romantic tension, and well-crafted erotic scenes spark within a narrative shrouded in mystery and replete with unsettling preternatural elements.

Armentrout’s dialogue is engaging throughout—fun and flirty between her main pair, and guarded and sarcastic between the more evasive and mysterious de Vincent family members. In a book full of cliffhangers, unexpected scenarios and red herrings, Armentrout’s realistic interactions between characters ground the story.

While Moonlight Sins closes on a solid note, there are many unanswered questions, which means readers have plenty to look forward to in subsequent installments.

A woman’s mysterious new job leads to unimaginable challenges, especially when she’s faced with an infamous yet very irresistible man.

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Award-winning author Natalie Lloyd whittles a fortune-telling nursery rhyme (“Monday’s child is fair of face”) into the wacky adventures of seven beguiling children.

Meet the Problim children, each born on a different day of the week: Mona, Toot, Wendell, Thea (Wendell’s twin), Frida, Sal and Sundae. An explosion demolishes the children’s Swampy Woods home, leaving them homeless. Fortunately, moving to another location shouldn’t be a problem, since they have the deed to Grandpa Problim’s Victorian mansion. Regrettably, they have no additional proof that will keep them in the house, and their parents, who are off on a mission, cannot vouch for them. Even more problematic is their next-door neighbor, Desdemona O’pinion, who covets the old mansion and will do everything in her power to turn the neighborhood against the children. With 21 days to come up with evidence of their rightful ownership, the children have to devise a plan to win over their neighbors before Desdemona’s clandestine plan to get rid of the children goes into effect.

Lloyd’s newest middle grade read is nothing less than a rip-roaring, rollicking ride through a wild and wacky world. Indeed, Lloyd has pulled out all literary stops to produce her inimitable cast. Replete with fascinating idiosyncrasies, including a numerically categorized list of farts from the youngest in the troupe, the seven children use their creativity to deal with life’s problems—of which there are plenty, especially with Desdemona continually stirring up trouble. Lloyd’s lyrical narrative and fun-loving storytelling are lightly sprinkled with rhymes, circus spiders, lively plants, a purple squirrel and even onomatopoeia—just to name a few.

The first in a new series that has silver-screen potential, The Problim Children flows from one crazy scene to the next with all the makings of a new favorite.

Award-winning author Natalie Lloyd whittles a fortune-telling nursery rhyme (“Monday’s child is fair of face”) into the wacky adventures of seven beguiling children.

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Love strikes amid the unexpected in Earl Interrupted, the second novel of Amanda Forester’s Daring Marriages duology.

The Earl of Darington and Emma St. James meet through a most unusual set of circumstances: He is kidnapped by mysterious ruffians and Emma risks her life to save his, forcing the two strangers to go on the run together. Dare, who goes by Captain Robert Ashton among privateers and pirates, wonders if these bizarre circumstances have anything to do with his recent windfall at sea. To complicate matters, Dare finds that he is falling hopelessly in love with the beautiful, strong-willed and innocent Emma, who claims to be engaged to a stranger in America. Dare endeavors to win her regardless, until he learns the truth behind his father’s death, the details of which could prevent him from marrying altogether.

Plenty of emotional and sexual tension is woven into this riveting tale of destiny. Earl Interrupted focuses on Dare’s perspective on love and life (as opposed to its companion read, If the Earl Only Knew, which presents the romantic tale of Kate, Dare’s twin sister). Dare may be of noble blood, but his life is riddled with hardship—something that he and Emma have in common. Earl Interrupted is replete with a continual string of twists, turns and lighthearted yet steamy sexual moments.

Love strikes amid the unexpected in Earl Interrupted, the second novel of Amanda Forester’s Daring Marriages duology.

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Activist and award-winning author Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, joins with novelist Renée Watson to give middle grade readers a glimpse into the early life of Shabazz’s mother.

“Count your blessings, young lady. Name them one by one—even the small things.” Eleven-year-old Betty Dean Sanders has no idea that when she takes this advice to heart, it will equip her for bigger life issues. These words, spoken by the woman who eventually becomes Betty’s adoptive mother, are a turning point in the preteen’s abusive childhood.

Betty is growing up during turbulent times in 1940s Detroit, but she maintains a thankful attitude toward family, friends and the opportunity to be involved with the Housewives’ League, which supports black businesses. Keeping sight of graciousness amid hostility helps Betty become “an outspoken advocate for human rights, women’s rights, racial tolerance, and the goal of self-determination and self-reliance.”

This engaging coming-of-age tale shines a light on one young girl’s hope for happiness and equality in the midst of apparent hopelessness and despair. Shabazz and Watson weave the historical horrors of racism into this lyrical story, making Betty Before X a provocative, powerful read.

“It is my hope that by reading my mother’s story,” Shabazz writes in an author’s note, “young people who may be feeling abandoned or neglected, fearful or hopeless, anxious or unsure, will find inspiration.” Shabazz’s goal is completed in this lovely book.

Activist and award-winning author Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, joins with novelist Renée Watson to give middle grade readers a glimpse into the early life of her mother.

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