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Joanna has been at Annie Bloom's since November 2021. She primarily reads young adult, sci-fi/fantasy, graphic novels, children's books, and romance (so much romance!), and loves nothing better than giving long lists of recommendations. She's delighted that Annie Bloom's has started a new romance-specific section, nestled between fiction and mystery. Come talk to her about books and Dungeons & Dragons.
I sobbed my way through this beautiful, all-too-relatable book, which has one of the most fabulous hate-to-love romances as well as one of the best portrayals of depression I've ever read. There's not an author I trust more than Olivia Dade to take me into such a heavy subject and get me out on on the other side, all the better for having suffered and healed through it. Dade deftly balances the kicking-my-feet-in-delight, swoonworthy and sweet romance with very real mental health struggles as well as hilarious comedic moments. (If hurt/comfort is your go-to fic tag, this is for you.)
Athena and Matthew are everything I could have wanted and so much that I didn't expect, and I'm still thinking about it months later. I also fell in love with the small, quirky town of Harlot's Bay, and can't wait to read more about its residents through the rest of this series. Calling it now: one of my top 5 romance novels of 2024, guaranteed.
An important note for readers: through this book, our main character Athena realizes she has clinical depression, and takes essential steps to crawl out of the bad place she's gotten to. I read this book at a time when seeing my own mental health struggles reflected back at me in the pages of this book was a healing process for me, but that might not be where you're at. Please consult Olivia's Content Guidance section on her website for specifics about the kinds of topics dealt with in this book, or come chat with me about it.
An extraordinarily good historical romance you don't want to miss out on, especially if you're a fan of reformed rakes who become great dads. (In the vein of Lisa Kleypas' Devil's Daughter! Truly, that's the caliber we're talking about here!) Lovely and tender with beautiful growth between the main couple (plus, super well-written child characters that spent exactly as much time on the page as they needed to). A little spice and a lot of heart, brilliantly crafted by an author whose work I will now read religiously.
Yes, this is self-published, and yes, it's a non-returnable special order book, but it's incredibly worth it. (There's this one line that's so full of character growth and emotion that even thinking about it months later makes me tear up.) Please read this book and then make your friends read it.
A high-stakes international heist competition with romance, family drama, and betrayal? This book has it all. If you love the mix of romance and mystery in The Inheritance Games, the clever, intricate heist planning of Ocean's Eleven, or the high-stakes game mechanics of The Hunger Games, this had better be your next obsession. I can't wait for everyone to read this so I have people to freak out with about it!
Ally Carter’s The Blonde Identity is pure fun: a swoonworthy spy rom-com filled with amnesia and mistaken identities and danger and a whirlwind escape across Europe and fake newlyweds and bodyguarding and secrets. This book was absolutely made for me, mixing the action and twists of my favorite spy movies with the banter, heart, and pining of my favorite romances. This time, however, the woman isn't sidelined or killed off—she gets to be center stage and she absolutely shines. What a delight!
If you like Jason Bourne, Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, the action-romance combo of The Lost City or The Spy Who Dumped Me, or the grumpy/sunshine trope? Maybe it was made for you, too.
Now I need to go find something to fill the void this book left in me—or maybe I’ll just reread it.
In Business or Pleasure, Rachel Lynn Solomon gives us a romance as relatable as her previous offerings. (Perhaps too relatable at times? I ended up quitting a freelance gig that was as unfulfilling personally as Chandler's ghostwriting gig almost immediately after reading it, and my life has improved significantly since.) But it's not primarily the relatability or the voice that captured my heart: for me, as a huge fan of the "teach me sex" trope, I've never seen it handled with such tender care and purpose. Chandler and Finn are a couple you really root for, who put the work into their relationship and have a lot of fun along the way. A true joy to read!
Everything I could have wanted in a siren fantasy, but with so much I didn't expect! Saoirse is one of the most complex, morally gray heroines in YA; the rest of the cast is fully-formed and memorable, and the writing itself sings. This book is utterly stunning.
We Could Be So Good is absolute perfection. Normally when I read historicals, they're set at least 200 years ago, so I wasn't sure how the 1950s was going to work for me. But Cat Sebastian can do no wrong, so I knew I had to give it a try—and I was completely devoted to these characters by 10 pages into the book.
This is a lovely, tender, deeply felt romance. Its setting in a difficult time for queer folks in the United States does not overshadow the romance itself, but instead elevates it. I've rarely read a romance quite so loving to its core. Please read this book!
The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich has gorgeous art, adorable cheese puns, and a queer coming-of-age romance that will capture the hearts of fans of Heartstopper, The Prince and the Dressmaker, and The Girl From the Sea. I adore this little book!
A gorgeous exploration of depression and suicidal ideation—one girl's struggle to want to live when the whole world has a handful of days left. I admit I was worried before I started reading, but the thoughtful author's note eased my fears and I handed over my trust. I'm so glad I did. This book was as tender as it was excruciating, and I can't wait to see what this author writes next.
The Fiancée Farce not only features one of my very favorite tropes (marriage/engagement of convenience) but also executes it very, very well. Tansy and Gemma have instant chemistry so delicious I had to put it down for a while and come back later, and Bellefleur's writing is impeccable on the line level as well. This one will go on my shelf to be read and reread many times over.
A stunning exploration of humanity and de-radicalization, with complex character relationships, major moral questions, and some very big swings that Tesh manages to pull off exquisitely. I don’t think I can say I enjoyed this book (it’s quite dark; read the content warnings) but I did love it. It fully had me in its clutches for several days and I don’t think it will let go for a long time.
An absolute delight of a mystery, filled to the brim with heart and humor and tea. I want to be a regular at Vera Wong’s tea shop, but I’ll settle for rereading this book.
Enter the Body finds a group of Shakespeare's young women characters below stage (think: somewhere beyond, somewhere not quite real—if all the world's a stage, these characters are just outside of it) and they begin to ask each other questions and share their own stories in verse.
The discussions among the characters are meta and in-depth in this strange, provocative experience, but not so much so that it becomes academic in tone—meaning that at the root, it always comes back to the characters. And the characters are so distinct, too, with each given their proper space to tell their story, form their opinions, explore their trauma, and simply exist. Absolutely gorgeous.
A gorgeously lush fairy tale bursting with beauty and horror alike. It's more about the journey than the destination, with beautiful writing and a dark sense of inevitability to the plot—but with some surprises along the way.
I’m calling it now—Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute is THE young adult rom-com of the year. Talia Hibbert delivers a masterclass in character, voice, and banter, all with an emotionally resonant core. Celine and Bradley are ex–best friends, current nemeses. She’s a content creator and conspiracy theorist, he’s an athlete with OCD, and they couldn't be more different. When they both get into a program that involves being extremely outdoors, they're suddenly back in each other’s orbits, and the two start to realize that maybe they're not so different after all—especially when it comes to their feelings.
Bradley and Celine’s friends-to-rivals-to-something-else journey is funny and sweet, while their end-of-high-school, worried-about-their-futures journey is incredibly relatable. Fans of Hibbert’s adult romances and newcomers alike will adore her first foray into writing romance for young adults.
Do you play Dungeons & Dragons but end up befriending beholders and being kind to kobolds? Do you long for high fantasy that maybe isn't so end-of-the-world high stakes? Are you feeling a little bit emotionally vulnerable about where your life's at right now? Legends & Lattes is exactly what you need. Debut author Travis Baldree is here to give you a break from harsh reality with this cozy, slice-of-life fantasy gem. Full of sweet, non-human fantasy folks just trying their best, Legends & Lattes invites you to grab a steaming mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll fresh from the oven, pull up a chair, and stay awhile.
I need a thousand more cozy fantasies, and I need them now.
A Caribbean Heiress in Paris is quite possibly my favorite romance novel of 2022, with a fiery, competent heroine and a Scottish, equally competent hero, both of whom have good reason to want a marriage of convenience. A wonderful romance for any fan of the genre, newcomers to historical romance (hi, Bridgerton converts!), or readers of historical fiction that might consider dipping their toes into romance. Plus, I'm always on the lookout for books that ask for a little more accountability from their romance heroes about where they/their family got their wealth.
Strike the Zither was a surprise favorite of the year for me, coming in late in the game, and Zephyr is a new favorite morally grey character—I’d call her unlikeable except for the fact that I absolutely adore her. She’s a genius strategist for a warlordess vying for control of the realm, and she’s the best of the best (and knows it); however, a mysterious strategist for a rival faction might just be her match.
This book has deeply fascinating characters, a genuinely cunning lead, and plot twists that surprised the hell out of me. I can’t wait for the sequel, Sound the Gong, next year.
I didn't know what to expect when I started Nona the Ninth, and yet this book — this precious book, with its lovely, warm-hearted, unforgettable Nona at the center — exceeded every hope I could have had for this third installment. Nona is more of a character portrait than it is particularly plotty, but the payoff is so good, and we still get some incredibly fascinating, terrifying, critical pieces of worldbuilding that set us up for a wild ride to the finish with Alecto the Ninth. Despite the surprise of Nona in the midst of what was originally supposed to be a trilogy, Alecto will be the actual final book in this series, I'm sure, because something as singularly lovely as Nona cannot happen twice.
A literary marvel about translation, colonization, and revolution. Kuang’s profound and exacting prose—as well as her mind-blowing magic system based on the power and pitfalls of translation—had me in its clutches for two weeks straight as I read it exclusively on the bus to and from work. This book is absolutely unforgettable, and I can’t wait for people to read it so we can discuss.
This book. This book. Childhood-best-friends to he-thinks-she-died-in-the-war to strangers to lovers? Starring a trans main character? Sign me all the way up.
Alexis Hall deals with trauma and heartbreak so tenderly, my own heart broke and healed several times over. The absolute PEAK of historical romance pining.
A brutal, action-packed mix of sci-fi and fantasy inspired by the only female emperor of China. After her sister is killed by a mecha pilot, Wu Zetian knows there is only one path forward: revenge. This book has anime-style giant mechas, gender criticism, romance, a war against aliens, and a heroine at its helm that I truly believe could take over the world. Hands-down my favorite book of 2021.
No book has blown my mind (or activated my queer pining!) quite like the first two installments in Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb series. Set in a complex universe with both reanimated skeletons and sleek space ships, Gideon the Ninth explains absolutely nothing to you. Instead, it drops you into the deep end and trusts that you'll learn how to swim through the soup by the end—and somehow, Harrow is even more bonkers. I might have been intimidated away had I not been so incredibly invested in these characters—not to mention puns and meme references that had me banging my head on the wall and a dad joke that actually made me scream. Harrow and Gideon (both the characters and the books) are everything to me, and I'll gladly hyperfixate on them until Nona the Ninth comes out in September, at which point I expect I'll have a new love. Please come talk to me about these books!
A fantastic middle grade adventure, and one I simply won't stop talking about, ever. Middle school kid Zachary Ying has always been a little bit out of place—never more so than when the spirit of the First Emperor of China possesses his AR headset and drags him on an absolutely bonkers adventure across China involving heists, legends, tyrants, and epic battles. And amid all the twists and turns, at its core, this book has incredible heart. You should absolutely buy Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor for the kids in your life, and also for yourself. No equivocations.
With this as Xiran Jay Zhao's middle grade debut following their veritable YA masterpiece, Iron Widow, they have cemented themself as one of my all-time favorite authors.
An absolutely gorgeous YA contemporary, a heroine at its center with incredible grit, heart, and voice. Yamilet is a YA heroine for the ages, incredibly real and deeply relatable, and the writing itself is piercing and true. At once hilarious and heartbreaking, this book is one I'll be yelling about for a long time to come. Many tears were shed—and I can't wait to jump back in and feel it all again.
All My Rage is a stunning, complex novel about family, trauma, love, rage, and hope spanning two generations of Pakistani Americans. I'm convinced that these characters are as real as anyone I know. Tahir's prose is a lyrical gut punch, bruising and tender in equal measure, that left my heart feeling raw for days. Fans of Tahir's previous work and newcomers alike will be struck by this unforgettable book.
Legendborn is the Black Girl Magic Arthurian retelling that you've been waiting for. Secret societies, generational magic, descendants of King Arthur's Round Table, a war against demons, and a teen girl drowning in grief who threatens to disrupt the whole system. Bree is a refreshing protagonist with grit and a level of assertiveness I can only aspire to, and Deonn handles the narrative deftly and with flair. An absolute rush of a read, with some of my favorite characters in recent memory. I cannot wait for the second book!
Vanja is one of my favorite YA protagonists in years—she's not good, not nice, not sweet. Instead, she's greedy, vicious, and clever. Her journey involves heists (gotta save up money to flee the country—and a distasteful future bound to one of her (literal) godmothers), running from a nosy detective-in-training who's hot on her trail (really, doesn't he have anything better to do?) and an eclectic and supportive found family (ugh, emotions). Fans of Six of Crows will love this group of miscreants and their shenanigans. An absolute gem of a book. (If you know, you know.)
I adore this quirky little sci-fi series! Murderbot is my favorite robot character in years — endlessly charming and (sometimes distressingly) relatable. The adventures in each novella are bite-sized in length, but hold a whole lot of fascinating sci-fi worldbuilding, human (and non-human) emotions that punch you right where you're tender, and humor. I would die for Murderbot — a sentiment, of course, that would make it very, very uncomfortable.
This gorgeous sci-fi novella follows two women (rival agents in a war across space and time) who begin to connect by leaving a series of letters for each other in various timelines. This book is lyrical and intense, heart-wrenching and soul-healing—and, at its core, deeply romantic. The prose is so beautiful that I found myself snapping my fingers like I was at a poetry reading, with not an unnecessary word in sight. It's astonishing how well co-authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are able to mesh their writing together. I recommend this book unequivocally for any fan of sci-fi, romance, or poetry—there's something in there for any of you. A perfect book.
My go-to recommendation to get people into historical romance. The Duchess Deal is a rom-com in the truest sense of the word: it's got a lot of humor baked into the plot itself, with shenanigans galore, but has real heft and heart as well. A sprinkle of Beauty and the Beast, a dash of Shakespearean swearing, one mangy cat up to no good, a marriage of convenience, and two main characters who begin to heal from their traumas together. This may be a perfect book -- I'm rereading this series for the umpteenth time right now.
If you're an audiobook person, consider getting this book from Libro.fm or the library app, Libby—the voice actor who narrates this book, Mary Jane Wells, is absolutely incredible. I've listened to the audiobook multiple times.
Adorable and high stakes all at once! This charming adventure involves a magical town, an impossible task, several toads, and an uncertain destiny for three intrepid young witches. Claribel Ortega balances the whimsy and wonder of a magical society with the incredible danger inherent in a world of monsters (both supernatural and human). In Witchlings, friendship is magic—but only if you're also willing to fight hard, be clever, and take risks. A wonderful book that I hope brings on a new era of magical children's books.
This book instantly became one of the most important books I've ever read—as a fat woman, a longtime fanfic reader, and an avid disliker of the final season of Game of Thrones. It's funny, charming, introspective, and healing, all at once, with a couple at the center that is so easy to root for. Marcus is a gem of a hero and I aspire to be more like April/become her best friend. (Also, the miscommunication/ keeping secrets trope is actually done super well here!) I read Spoiler Alert during a particularly rough time in my life, but this book was there to heal pieces of me I didn't know were hurt. This book upgraded Olivia Dade from my TBR (extremely long) to my insta-buy list (extremely short).
A lush, gorgeous story about first love, secrets, and discovering who you are, with deeply resonant art and characers. I'm so glad The Girl From the Sea is an Oregon Battle of the Books choice for 2022/23, so more people get the chance to read this beautiful book! Absolute perfection.
A simply gorgeous coming-of-age novel about questioning your queerness, relationships, and identity. Racquel Marie deftly balances banter and charm with serious introspectiveness, exploration, and the high stakes of high school. I needed Ophelia when I was a teenager, but I'm glad I at least have her now. This book has my whole heart (and made me cry in a coffee shop at eight o'clock in the morning).
John Green is a prolific author of young adult fiction (of which I am a huge fan), but in my opinion, The Anthropocene Reviewed is his best work yet. His writing is both entertaining and deeply revealing as he reviews various items, moments, and concepts on a five-star scale. I cried three separate times over sports alone while reading this book, and I don't even care about sports. This form really suits his writing. This is due, at least in part, to his 15 years' worth of experience making video content for the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel he shares with his brother, Hank—videos which are, in essence, personal essays. The Anthropocene Reviewed is the story of what makes us human, told in bite-sized pieces. A truly precious book.
The literary heist novel of my dreams. A team of young Chinese Americans comes together to steal back Chinese artifacts from several Western museums, with a reward of fifty million dollars on the line—along with their promising futures if they fail. Grace D. Li weaves a narrative that is as much an engrossing heist story as it is a reflection on the Chinese diaspora, a critique of colonialism, and a series of complex character portraits. I was swept away by the high stakes, the writing, and the characters themselves, and I can't wait until more people get a chance to read it so I can talk about it. A fantastic debut—I eagerly anticipate whatever Li writes next.
A depressed-but-always-smiling-for-the-camera TV meteorologist and a single dad sports reporter star in this charming, funny, deeply personal office romance set in a Seattle news station. Ari Abrams and Russell Barringer (casual office acquaintances) team up to get their bosses (notoriously warring exes) back together—but in the process, they find themselves becoming something more than casual. Solomon’s writing is as delicious as always, with witty dialogue, a love interest that will steal your heart, and a narrator that just may make you feel a little less alone out there.
A lush, contemporary retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. Persephone escapes the glowing metropolis of Olympus and the fate Zeus has planned for her, and takes refuge on the other side of the River Styx with the mysterious, powerful Hades —but even as Persephone and Hades start to fall in love, Hades is keeping secrets. Katee Robert writes some of the sexiest romance books today, and Neon Gods is one of her very best. Fans of Lore Olympus looking for more Hades/Persephone content, as well as lovers of the spicier side of romance in general, will love this series starter.
A heroine inspired by Alexis from Schitt's Creek (a rich girl cut off from her funds and sent to a small Pacific Northwest fishing town) and a grumpy fisherman widower hero are an unlikely pair, but Piper and Brendan instantly became one of my favorite couples in romance. Not only is this book incredibly sexy, it also managed to hit me right in some of my most vulnerable spots. Like Alexis before her, Piper will worm her way into your heart until you want only the best for her—fortunately, Brendan definitely qualifies. I got this book from the library in an attempt to curb my buying habits, but ended up buying it from Annie Bloom's before I was even done—I just knew it would be one I'd want to keep forever.
The Duke Who Didn't is one of my go-to comfort reads—relentlessly kind and hopeful. Jeremy Wentworth is swoonworthy, not primarily because he's smooth or attractive or powerful, but simply because of how deeply in love with Chloe he is from page one. Chloe, in turn, is a heroine for the ages: smart, practical, and endearingly afraid to hope. This is perhaps Courtney Milan's best historical so far (which is saying quite a lot). Note that this book is non-returnable, so keep that in mind when ordering—but I promise it's worth it.
Sometimes a book gives you everything you didn't know you needed—in this case, it was a couple of queer idiots in space doing necromancy and swinging swords and hating each other *so much* (but they can’t stop thinking about each other). I spent most of Gideon the Ninth confused as hell, and I loved every second of it. I’d get to the point where I’d wonder, “Am I reading…a pretentious book?” but then a second later it would slap me in the face with the most absurd meme reference or pun. It’s probably not for everyone, but to me, this series is a damn delight, and I cannot wait for book 3.
Rafe is one of my most precious, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency comfort books; I reread it at least once a year. Dr. Sloan Copeland (a young surgeon who's the mother of precocious Black twins, recently divorced, and in desperate need of a new nanny) makes for a smart, vivacious, deeply relatable narrator. Our hero, Rafe, is truly a man pulled straight out of a dream—he's got tattoos, a motorcycle, and serious kitchen skills, and he's kind, sensitive, and attentive, both in and out of bed. Other than a very brief nasty moment with Sloan's ex near the end, this book is 100% pure comfort. Reading this book is self-care. The sequel, Xeni, is equally wonderful. (Note that this book is non-returnable, but it is absolutely worth it.)
One of my all-time favorite historical romances. In Unmasked by the Marquess, Cat Sebastian delivers a dramatic, emotional, cleverly plotted Regency romance while also exploring queerness and nonbinary identities. I've always loved characters who disguise themselves as other genders (whether for safety, advantage, or fun) and this book brings the irrevocable queerness of the act to the forefront. Of course, it's the tenderness and emotional depth of Robin and Alistair's relationship that has me coming back to this book again and again.
Love, Z is an utterly precious story about a robot who wants to know the meaning of love, a word that just does not compute for their robot family. So, Z goes on an adventure to try and find out what love means, and asks a lot of charming characters along the way for what they think the meaning is. In the end, when Z's family finds them, they're so worried about Z—and Z realizes they've known the feeling of love all along, even if they didn't know the definition. Jessie Sima is one of my go-to children's author/illustrators for good reason. This book is so sweet and emotional that I cried typing this review.