Staff Reads: April 5

Staff Reads: April 5

Staff Reads

Do you wonder what the Bookish team is reading? Do you want to take a peek at our bookshelves? You’ve come to the right place. Here are the Bookish staff’s personal weekend reading recommendations. Tell us what you think in the comments!

If you’re still looking for some inspiration, check out our Spring Previews for a look at the best books of the season.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

In the New York Review of Books, Madeleine Schwartz calls Sally Rooney’s novels “mild and tender portraits of Irish college students.” I beg to differ. The changes her characters go through are the same changes most people experience in their late teens and early 20s, but rendered with such intensity that I remembered how a few months could change the course of my whole life when I was 19. Normal People is about characters self-consciously shaping themselves and beginning to see a difference between who they were in their hometown, who they have become, and who they still might become later. Normal People chronicles the relationship between Marianne and Connell, as they graduate from secondary school and attend Trinity College in Dublin. When we meet them, Marianne is the friendless but wealthy social outcast who Connell is ashamed to tell his friends he is sleeping with. Then, as they reach university, Marianne transforms into an elegant and popular co-ed, while Connell can’t seem to find his footing outside of his small-town social world. And then, things shift again. And again. I was riveted, reading the ebbs and flows of power and desire between them. —Nina

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

I read and loved Prince Charming, previously titled Royals, last year and even attended the amazing launch party at Henri Bendel. This series, which came out around the time Meghan and Harry were getting married, follows a fictional Scottish monarchy that mirrors England’s. Her Royal Highness follows Millie, a bisexual American teen who gets accepted on scholarship to a prestigious Scottish boarding school that is similar to Gordonstoun, where British royals have attended. There, she meets Princess Flora. In the previous book, Flora was portrayed as a mean girl, but was hiding a secret relationship with her best friend. Flora and Millie are thrown together as roommates and don’t like each other right off the bat. As they get to know one another, they become close friends and then develop romantic feelings. Rachel Hawkins did such a great job humanizing Flora in this book. She starts out as a bratty princess, but we gradually see her become more vulnerable with Millie. I absolutely loved Millie! She was the perfect relatable character. I want more YA romances with gay characters that are just fun and happy, and not necessarily a dramatic coming-out story. I think young LGBTQ+ readers need to see healthy and sweet romances just as much as they need the heart-wrenching coming-out stories. Her Royal Highness is a great summer YA contemporary romance that I whole-heartedly recommend. I can’t wait for more books in this series and hopefully we will get one for Prince Sebastian. —Dana

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Wow, this book was unusual. I knew from early reviews that Susan Choi’s novel Trust Exercise took some big risks in terms of structure, and I started the book happily anticipating the moment when everything would get turned on its head. I loved getting immersed in the world of a performing arts high school in an unnamed city in the South, and I quickly found myself invested in each of the characters I encountered. When the twist came, it absolutely was not what I expected. It takes an incredibly talented author to pull off what Susan Choi does in this novel. I was on the edge of my seat as I read this, excited to see what trick Choi would pull out of her hat next. —Elizabeth

A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Cat Sebastian novels are my catnip. She excels at writing my favorite trope (grump falls for cinnamon roll) and it’s on full display here. A Duke in Disguise is a delightful friends-to-lovers tale of the growing romance between a bisexual publisher and an illustrator. Verity and Ash have known each other for years but their bond begins to change when Verity commissions erotic drawings from Ash for a book she’s publishing. Cut to seduction over cheese plates and me losing my heart over these two. Ash adores Verity to the point of keeping a stash of hairpins in his pockets at all times, knowing her hair never stays in place. He’s grappling with being abandoned by his family and fears how a secret he’s recently learned about his past will impact their dynamic, so he decides to keep it from her. Verity is an excellent heroine. She’s wonderfully prickly, preferring to hold people at arm’s length to avoid dealing with the complexity of emotions that come along with growing close to others. But over the course of the novel, she lets her walls down for Ash and she even begins to mend her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. As usual, Sebastian doesn’t disappoint. There are twists that I won’t reveal here, but I will say it takes a dramatic turn at the end that I loved. Readers looking for a slow-burning historical romance will find a lot to enjoy here. —Kelly

Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau

I’m currently reading Kingdom of Exiles. This is a fantasy romance novel following the main character, Leena, on her adventures in charming magical beasts for a group of very likable, brutal, undead assassins (who, of course, are contracted to kill her). I did not realize this was a romance when I picked it up—all I saw was the book being marketed as “Fantastic Beasts meets Assassins Creed,” which immediately sold me—but I was still really into the chemistry between Leena and Noc, the leader of the assassins guild. I don’t read a lot of romance. I actually don’t think I ever have, but I feel like this one is a really interesting and exciting introduction to the genre and I won’t be afraid to pick more up in the future. —Amanda

(Psst: You can read an excerpt on BookishFirst!)

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

So I finally listened to Kelly who has raved countless times about her love for all of Alyssa Cole’s books and Cole did not disappoint. I think it’s pretty clear that I love anything with royalty and strong female characters, which is why I fell head over heels for this series. I found the beginning of this novel to be so funny: Naledi receives emails from an African country claiming she is betrothed to a prince. She promptly marks them as spam. The mix-up that allows Prince Thabiso and Naledi to finally meet was such a great role reversal. Thabiso is the epitome of a perfect gentleman and he was just a lovely character to read about. The latter half of this book was so interesting, and I really enjoyed how Alyssa Cole introduced Naledi, a character raised in America, to her African culture. The twists and secrets regarding Naledi’s family, her friendship with Portia, and her drive to succeed were excellent. I am ready to push this book into the hands of everyone I know as The Prince & Me meets Black Panther. —Dana

Fence, Volume 1 by C.S. Pacat, illustrated by Johanna the Mad

Meet my new obsession, readers! I blame Check, Please for transforming me into someone who craves queer sports graphic novels (and anime such as Yuri on Ice). I flew through this first volume of comics, which follows fencer Nicholas Cox as he enrolls at Kings Row, a private school with a top-tier fencing team. Nicholas is on an athletic scholarship that hinges on him making the team. Unfortunately, he’s picked up some bad habits from his last coach that he’s struggling to break. To make matters worse, he’s roommates with his nemesis Seiji Katayama. This installment introduced a number of characters that I can’t wait to learn more about, and I’m excited to see how the tension between Nicholas and Seiji builds. Plus, I’m learning a lot about fencing! I’d definitely recommend this for comics fans looking for inclusive stories set in a contemporary world. This weekend you can be sure I’ll be at my local indie, WORD, picking up volumes two and three. —Kelly

The Secret Place by Tana French

I was on a real Tana French kick earlier this year, and it may have been too much of a good thing. Having taken a few weeks away from the Dublin Murder Squad, I’m feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into the series with what Kelly tells me is one of French’s best. After some time apart, I feel like returning to French’s writing is like reuniting with an old friend. I’m looking forward to many happy hours spent reading this weekend. —Elizabeth

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

This was the cutest graphic novel that I have read in a long time! It follows a young girl named Greta who lives in a fantasy world where there are different kinds of dragons for different professions. Greta is a blacksmith’s apprentice and has a little dragon named Brick. The book reminded me of Pokémon or The Golden Compass in that way. One day Greta finds a lost tea dragon in the market and goes to return it to the tea shop. There she meets the Tea Dragon Society, a group that has dwindled over the years down to two people. Greta begins visiting the shop and learns about different types of tea dragons (dragons that grow tea leaves) and eventually becomes a member of the society. The art style is so bright and cheerful that you can’t help but smile as you read. I love that O’Neill has created characters of different skin tones and sexual orientations in her fantasy world. This is a perfect graphic novel for young readers and lovely for adults looking for a pick-me-up kind of read. —Dana

I Live with You by Carol Emshwiller

While reading obituaries for seminal feminist sci-fi writer Carol Emshwiller back in February, I realized that I knew of her but hadn’t actually read any of her work. I’ve started with I Live with You, an absurdist collection of short stories that “explore themes of war, seduction, and censorship.” After only two stories, I feel like a fan and am thrilled there’s so much more of her work to explore. —Annie