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Second Chances in New Port Stephen by TJ Alexander

A December Read This Next! Title

Second Chances in New Port Stephen is the perfect mix of heartwarming holiday charm and queer romance. The author does a wonderful job of acknowledging and addressing so many important topics (like being trans in Florida) while remaining hopeful and lighthearted. I loved that the characters are more mature and older – this is not a YA story. And I loved that we get a second chance story, which fits for the age group and for the holiday themes. The tension and slow-burn is great and readers are rewarded at the end! I won’t give any spoilers, but I loved the ending. The characters made my heart ache, they made me laugh, and they gave me the warm fuzzies that come from knowing there are wonderful, genuine, and kind people in the world. Second Chances in New Port Stephen is full of joy and hope and inclusivity with just a dash of holiday cheer. It’s the perfect queer romance for December!

Second Chances in New Port Stephen by TJ Alexander, (List Price: $17.99, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 9781668021965, December 2023)

Reviewed by Emily Lessig, The Violet Fox Bookshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren

You’ve heard of book boyfriends, but have you heard of book best friends? Let me introduce you to Fizzy Chen – wickedly smart, unabashedly sex positive, and a bit lost in life. I absolutely adored Fizzy. She is wit and feminism and courage – all with an extra sparkle. She may not have had the best luck in relationships lately, but all that’s about to change…I think I made more noises reading this book than any other – laughing out loud, snorting from laughing so hard, squealing at the cuteness, yelling "WHAT!", and telling my husband approximately 1500 times how amazing this book is! I laughed, I cried, and I laughed while crying.

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren is the spicy, hopeful, romance that will leave you bursting with joy. Beyond being super cute, funny, and swoon worthy, The True Love Experiment had it’s serious moments that I really appreciated as well. The deep and honest conversations between characters, not just about romantic relationships, but about co-parenting, friendship, and careers added another layer of richness to the story. And the commentary on how the romance genre is so often pigeonholed, misunderstood, and minimized was much needed!

The True Love Experiment is a 5-star read! It’s everything the romance genre should be and more – vulnerable, heartfelt, funny, and full of joy. The romantic and sexual chemistry will have you holding your breath and frantically reading, wanting more. Nobody writes love quite like Christina Lauren. Do yourself a favor and go pre-order The True Love Experiment – you won’t be sorry.

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren, (List Price: $27.99, Gallery Books, 9781982173432, May 2023)

Reviewed by Emily Lessig, The Violet Fox Bookshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling

Michelle Min Sterling’s debut novel, Camp Zero, imagines the world in the year 2050. Climate change has made much of the world uninhabitable, natural disasters are more prevalent and more dangerous, the wealthy are wealthier, the poor are still poor, and white men are still trying to colonize land belonging to indigenous people with the foolish notion that they can make it better by "civilizing" it. Sounds pretty bleak, right? It is, but there are glimmers of hope and beauty too. While some people in the future are still choosing money and power, others are choosing love and community.The story is told from three alternating perspectives: Rose, a second-generation Korean-American woman who is both a sex worker and a spy. Grant, a young white man with generational wealth and status trying to run away from both. And White Alice, a collective of female scientists at a radar station who are forming a new community. Each of them are struggling to survive, to leave the past behind, and to forge a better future for themselves. Camp Zero is the kind of dystopian novel that is both terrifying because of how plausible it is and incredibly important because it explores how we might change that future world. It also asks deep questions, like who will survive and what will it take? And will doing what it takes to survive just make us monsters in the end? Amidst the questions, one thing is clear – we must open our eyes. This story is a road sign to our blind spots, whether it be hope blinding us to reality, privilege blinding us to our own malice, or grief and fear blinding us to love. Camp Zero is a collection of deeply personal stories set in a world on the verge of collapse. If you’re hungry for the next piece of dystopian literature, Camp Zero will feed that craving. This book will swallow you whole and spit you back out again with a new perspective.

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling, (List Price: 28, Atria Books, 9781668007563, April 2023)

Reviewed by Emily Lessig, The Violet Fox Bookshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter

The Thick and The Lean by Chana Porter is part sci-fi, part speculative fiction, part cookbook, and part love story. At its core, it’s a simultaneous celebration of life’s pleasures – including food, sex, community, nature, and reading – and a critique of the things that plague our modern world – namely corporate greed, classism, and the shame we’ve been taught to feel for who we are and what we desire. The story itself is captivating, the characters are wonderful, and the world-building is incredible. Beyond being a great book, The Thick and The Lean also feels important. It asks big questions like what makes a person worthy or good? And where do our societal values come from? Why do we deny ourselves things like food, ambition, and love? And what happens when we embrace our nature, our history, and begin living in a way that’s not only true to ourselves but also better for our world as a whole?

The Thick and The Lean is a small revolution all by itself. It’s a sort of handbook for subtle and not-so-subtle civil dissent, one act at a time, one person at a time. It encourages you to focus on the real important things in life rather than the superficial ones we’ve been taught. The Thick and The Lean was eye-opening in the most refreshing way. It will make you stop and think about body politics, self-esteem, and your body image (not just in terms of weight, but race and fashion as well). While reading, you will start consider your own hunger – for food, for success, for happiness, love, community, equity and equality. And you’ll finish the book knowing that hunger is the most lethal weapon you have in fighting for a better world. Your shame might even melt into pride.

The Thick and The Lean does deal with a lot of heavy topics, but don’t let that deter you. It’s chock full of hope and beauty too. In a world where reality is quite bitter, it’s a story of human kindness, found and chosen family, and the power of a good book. The Thick and The Lean is a buffet of delicious characters, a story meant to be savored and explored. In a word, it’s umami. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of devouring this book!

The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter, (List Price: 28.99, Gallery, Saga Press, 9781668000199, April 2023)

Reviewed by Emily Lessig, The Violet Fox Bookshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia

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