Books Forward November 2021 Newsletter

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Books Forward October 2021 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

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Books Forward BFFs October Influencer Newsletter

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Books Forward September 2021 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

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18 Books for All Ages on National Grandparents Day

Happy Grandparents Day! Similarly to Mother’s/Father’s Day, Grandparents Day shares the love for our older generations. Spend it with your loved ones or perhaps you’ll give them a call! But what’s a better way to celebrate the day than sharing some great books to read together or on your own?

Since people of all ages celebrate their grandparents, we put together a comprehensive list of books featuring grandparents for everyone. Check out our list below!

Picture books:

The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka

The kitchen window at Nanna and Poppy’s house is, for one little girl, a magic gateway. Everything important happens near it, through it, or beyond it. The world for this little girl will soon grow larger and more complex, but never more enchanting or deeply felt. Her story is both a voyage of discovery and a celebration of the commonplace wonders that define childhood, expressed as a joyful fusion of text with evocative and exuberant art that garnered the highest honor in children’s book illustration in 2006.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty–and fun–in their routine and the world around them. This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights the wonderful perspective only grandparent and grandchild can share, and comes to life through Matt de la Peña’s vibrant text and Christian Robinson’s radiant illustrations.

Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh

Every morning Papa follows his normal routine. He drinks his tea, waters his plants, tidies up, and takes the bus into town. Papa enjoys his daily tasks, but there’s one day each week that is extra special. That’s the day he might visit the craft store, get two orders of dumplings to go, and possibly pick some flowers he sees along the path. With its spare text and wonderfully warm watercolor and cut-paper illustrations just begging to be pored over, Joowon Oh’s tale of the singular love between a grandfather and granddaughter will nestle within the heart of every reader.

Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

When Grandma Mimi comes to visit, she always brings warm hugs, sweet treats…and her purse. You never know what she’ll have in there–fancy jewelry, tokens from around the world, or something special just for her granddaughter. It might look like a normal bag from the outside, but Mimi and her granddaughter know that it’s pure magic! In this adorable, energetic ode to visits from grandma, beloved picture book creator Vanessa Brantley Newton shows how an ordinary day can become extraordinary.

Middle grade books

Roll with It by Jamie Sumner 

Ellie’s a girl who tells it like it is. That surprises some people, who see a kid in a wheelchair and think she’s going to be all sunshine and cuddles. The thing is, Ellie has big dreams: She might be eating Stouffer’s for dinner, but one day she’s going to be a professional baker. If she’s not writing fan letters to her favorite celebrity chefs, she’s practicing recipes on her well-meaning, if overworked, mother. But when Ellie and her mom move so they can help take care of her ailing grandpa, Ellie has to start all over again in a new town at a new school. Except she’s not just the new kid–she’s the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in the trailer park on the wrong side of town. It all feels like one challenge too many, until Ellie starts to make her first-ever friends. Now she just has to convince her mom that this town might just be the best thing that ever happened to them!

Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out. Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, as strong and thoughtful as Merci is, she has never been completely like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. And Merci is left to her own worries, because no one in her family will tell her what’s going on. Winner of the 2019 Newbery Medal, this coming-of-age tale by New York Times best-selling author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia–in the COUNTRY The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck, Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he hides it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans). How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house–as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into–a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out–he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all. Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder–is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal. The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score–but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen? Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common–and that they each need the other to get what they want most. This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

YA books

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy–a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2. When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil. Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough? Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life. Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

Faith Herbert is a pretty regular teen. When she’s not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, she’s volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove. So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there’s also that small matter of recently discovering she can fly…. When the fictional world of The Grove crashes into Faith’s reality as the show relocates to her town, she can’t believe it when TV heroine Dakota Ash takes a romantic interest in her. But her fandom-fueled daydreams aren’t enough to distract Faith from the fact that first animals, then people, have begun to vanish from the town. Only Faith seems able to connect the dots to a new designer drug infiltrating her high school. But when her investigation puts the people she loves in danger, she will have to confront her hidden past and use her newfound gifts–risking everything to save her friends and beloved town.

Adult books

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family. Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. The Mountains Sing is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first novel in English.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some long-overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen. So they decide to try a two-month swap. Eileen will live in London and look for love. She’ll take Leena’s flat, and learn all about casual dating, swiping right, and city neighbors. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire: Eileen’s sweet cottage and garden, her idyllic, quiet village, and her little neighborhood projects.

But stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected. Will swapping lives help Eileen and Leena find themselves…and maybe even find true love? In Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, it’s never too late to change everything….or to find yourself.

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers–even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers. Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador–to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back. Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children–four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear. Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man. But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family–knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future.

Books Forward August 2021 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

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BFFs August Newsletter

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Books Forward July 2021 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue celebrates a NYT-bestselling author, features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

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Video games spark author’s creative passion and inspire debut novel

To celebrate National Video Game Day, Books Forward author Mark A. Alvarez II is dishing on how one popular game became the catalyst for his creative pursuits and ultimately led to the 10-year endeavor of crafting his first novel.

“Why defy your fate?”
“Is the will to live that powerful..?”

These are words from the ending of “Final Fantasy IX,” the first Final Fantasy game I ever played and the first ending to any story to make me cry. I still remember it so clearly, watching every scene, listening to the score, feeling so moved by the words that came across the screen. It mesmerized me in such a way, it’s hard to forget.

To this day, I’ve yet to come across a game that has affected me as much as “Final Fantasy IX” (which is soon to have its own animated series). Granted, I was 8 when I first played and beat this game, but the ending to this game and the story overall would impact me long after that as I became more and more obsessed with the themes it exposed to me.

I know this might seem unlikely or rather unheard of, but the day I watched that ending would shape me as a writer more than anyone could ever know. But come on … a video game? How does that even happen? What can a writer learn from a video game, especially a budding one at the tender age of 8?

Even if I didn’t know it at the time, that game would sow the seeds of inspiration I needed to explore the darkest parts of myself, the parts of my life I struggled to face alone. This story spoke to me for reasons I was oblivious but obviously drawn to. And it did so with brilliant writing, a colorfully immersive world and an amazing score — among the best of any game I’ve ever heard.

Which brings me to “Dutybound: Light Wings Epic Vol. 1,” my debut novel. In reality, I started writing this story in 2009. But the story’s conception started long before that, while I was a kid fantasizing about building my own world, my own fantasy, my own game with a story as compelling as that of my favorite role-playing game.

Originally, I imagined Light Wings as a video game, inspired by “Final Fantasy IX.” I drew storyboards. I wrote character profiles. I even fleshed out roles, abilities and weapons for each of my characters.

Little did I know this would be the foundation I would build “Dutybound” upon. Pieces of this imaginary game would become the backstory as I introduced a new generation of characters by my freshman year of high school, the year I started writing my first draft of what was then called “Light Wings: Sinful Wishes,” desiring a fresh take on the philosophies I so eagerly sought to understand.

The connections between “Final Fantasy IX” and “Dutybound” lie in the themes they present and how each applied to my distinct outlooks and philosophies of life. 

“Final Fantasy IX,” as light-hearted as it is, dealt with some of the darkest topics to be explored in a Final Fantasy game. It posed questions of life and its purpose as many of the game’s characters had to come to terms with their creation and, ultimately, the finality of a death that was inevitable.

Its ending theme, “Melodies of Life,” presents something similar: a song about grief and loss that illustrates it as something bittersweet rather than tragic and all-consuming.

As an 8-year-old, I had already faced two near-death experiences. First, as a newborn and then as an infant when I was shot in the face by my younger brother. It’s no surprise why I would be drawn to these themes. Even if I didn’t quite understand them, they resonated because in those tight moments within my childhood, when things felt the most dark and hopeless, I often wondered why I survived those experiences. I pondered whether my life held a purpose because I was born into a life that felt nothing more than a series of mistakes. My birth, potentially, being one of them.

In truth, I was born of infidelity. My mother was unfaithful to her husband and had a son, a fatherless child, who was given a name that should have not been his. My younger brother was Mark Aaron Alvarez’s true-born son. Mark Aaron Alvarez II, however; I was a bastard. Nothing more, nothing less. At least that’s what I believed at the time. Despite this, it was in not knowing that second half of myself that I found myself exploring new possibilities and seeking to define my place, my destiny, and my purpose.

“We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever… To remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason — that our life has meaning.”

As I began to construct my somber tale of light and dark, I faced these challenges within myself, seeded by the imaginative and epic game that filled me with so much inspiration. I had to come to terms with aspects of my life I could not change, while also finding meaning in these events, as unfortunate as they may seem. Not knowing my real father or lineage. Being born of infidelity. Feeling like a mistake. Surviving tragic events that in some ways made my life feel meaningless. These issues, along with everything else, is a lot for a child to process. And in hindsight, I can say “Final Fantasy IX” was my first escape. Its story was the first I ever felt truly connected to. 

The game was an accessible way for me to cope with issues I didn’t quite understand, while my writing became a medium for me to explore my own doubts and fears about living in a world where I felt I had no place. A world where I felt alone. Where I could not find answers within my favorite video game, I sought to answer on my own, within a story, world, and fantasy I created, my second escape.

“What to do when I felt lonely, that’s the only thing you couldn’t teach me. But we need to figure out the answers for ourselves.”

“Dutybound” is a unique story, but it is also a personal one. My ego played no part in writing it. I didn’t write this story because I wanted to write a best-seller or be seen as an incredible writer, or even pitch it as a video game. The Light Wings Epic was written as a personal journey of introspection, as a means to come to terms with an unpredictable and turbulent life. And it would not exist if I never played “Final Fantasy IX” or been exposed to those themes of life, death and finding a purpose.

And for that, I’m immensely grateful. Because it was in not knowing that I found myself stumbling into something incredible, discovering that life is more than the circumstances we are born into. Our lives and our light come from the inside, from our own convictions, from our own choices. We will always hold the ability to choose the way we’d like to live our lives. And our choices will always be intricately connected to the things we desire most out of life. 

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t have a choice. I had to live. I wanted to come back to you. So… I sang your song. Our song.”