Alethea Kontis

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!

So. 2020. Yeah. What a year that was. I don't know about you, but I am Worn Out, like Cinderella run ragged by her evil stepsisters. Just as I was thinking, "You know, I could really use a fairy godmother right about now," G. F. Miller's Glimpsed entered, stage right.

Not only was this book utterly delightful, it was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I'm not sure if I fell in love with Charity's magical Memom first — or Charity's pepper spray face-off with Captain America, but this book wormed its sparkly way into my sad and tired heart pretty early on.

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'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.

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.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is a sad one, told by scholars and poets throughout the ages and painted by many a lovelorn Pre-Raphaelite. For those unfamiliar with the story, here it is in a nutshell: Orpheus falls in love and marries Eurydice, who is promptly bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus travels all the way to the underworld to plead his case to Hades, who tells Orpheus that he will release Eurydice on one condition. Orpheus must walk straight out of the underworld, with his wife behind him, but he must under no circumstance turn around.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed your Fall! If you blinked, you might have missed it. Yes, folks, the Hallmark Channel is primed and ready, the shelves at Michael's are fully stocked, and even in the publishing industry, the halls are decked for Christmas!

It's that time of year again. Fall is right around the corner. Pumpkin spice fills the air. Kids are going back to school, the days are getting shorter, and books are getting heavier. The pie-in-the-sky, read-them-in-one sitting summer-blockbuster releases now make way for complex novels filled with luscious prose, years of history, and serious issues. Books just like Maika and Maritza Moulite's Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

I'm a complete sucker for a good amnesia storyline. It's probably because I've always loved puzzles, which is exactly what the amnesia plot presents itself to be. There is a solution, but only the author knows what it is, because the story is meant to keep us guessing all the way to the end. The challenge is not for the reader to suss out the ending — that way only leads to madness and frustration. The challenge is for the author to provide just enough information to keep us interested, while holding just enough out of reach to keep us (and the characters) totally oblivious.

I was excited to get my hands on a copy of The Silence Between Us, as I had yet to review a book for this column featuring a deaf protagonist. I was doubly delighted to know that the story had been written by someone who is herself part of the deaf community — Alison Gervais suffered permanent hearing loss at a very young age, and is hard of hearing. Even the book's cover image is #OwnVoices, designed by deaf artist Nancy Rourke. I was absolutely ready to lose myself in a good book that both respected and celebrated deaf culture, and I was not disappointed.

Humor is incredibly subjective. It's unique to each person. So much so that my very first fiction writing teacher instructed us to never even attempt it. Instead of accepting the challenge this was probably meant to be, I took the lesson to heart. I already knew I had a strange sense of humor.

I must say, I really am enjoying this trend of contemporary novels starring young women who are 100% body positive. Laura Dockrill's My Ideal Boyfriend is a Croissant fits squarely into that category, pulling no punches right from the jump.

In the opening scene, our snarky, self-confident plus-size main character Bluebelle (aka "BB") is visiting the doctor after experiencing her first asthma attack. She immediately runs up against a judgmental nurse who callously informs her that many of her problems would be solved by losing weight.

I was 13 the year Doogie Howser, MD debuted on television, and I loved every minute of it. That charming, mischievous character played by Neil Patrick Harris would have fit right into my group of misfit, too-smart-for-their-own-britches friends. These days, I'm all about Grey's Anatomy. There's just that compelling magic surrounding doctor dramedies that pulls me in every time. Sona Charaipotra's new Symptoms of a Heartbreak falls right in line with the best of those, but it's specifically targeted to a YA audience.

There are a million books out there about intelligent young people who overcome insurmountable odds and triumph over adversity, all on their own. These far outnumber the books about young people that start out this way. I was happy to find that Lauren Morrill's Better Than the Best Plan is one of them.

There is a "Dear Reader" in the front of my advance copy of I Wish You All the Best, in which Mason Deaver explains that they are telling the story they needed to read when they were 15 (Deaver uses they/them pronouns). Authors typically say this sort of thing when we write the books of our heart. But the book Deaver needed to read was a particularly important one, one that explored nonbinary gender issues and queer life in a way that was gentle, yet real. I'm pleased to say that they accomplished that goal with flying colors, and the literary world is a better place for it.

My friend Chris happened upon me reading There's Something About Sweetie in a coffee shop and introduced her presence by laughing. "For a second, I thought that was you on the cover," she said.