July Reading Wrap-Up

July Reads — all young adult contemps. Go figure. :-)
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu – Such a fascinating novel. Devoted focuses on a fictional Quiverfull family not unlike the Duggars. It’s a story that’s clearly well-researched, and its the book’s authenticity that makes it so unsettling. There are real girls living exactly the way MC Rachel does at the beginning of Devoted — girls who are taught to live subserviently, girls who are raised to believe that their only contributions to society are marrying and procreating, girls who are sheltered from the “regular” population. Watching Rachel slowly transition from dutiful Quiverfull daughter to strong, independent young woman was incredible. She’s forced to make some very tough choices and her courage is enviable. While Rachel has serious doubts about her family’s way of life and her church’s teachings, her faith in God never waivers, a dichotomy that brings even more complexity and nuance to this story. Devoted‘s secondary characters are just as interesting. Mentor Lauren is kind of a badass, strong but still vulnerable, and a wonderful example for Rachel. Cute boy Matt brings just the right amount of humor and charm. If you’re into YA that’s thoughtful and deep and not so romance-focused, definitely give Devoted a read.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway – Not sure I could love this story more. I’m a big fan of Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait!, but Emmy & Oliver… There’s something so special about this book. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and romantic and sorrowful, infused with a slightly subdued version of the humor that first made me a Robin Benway fan. Emmy is a fantastic narrator. Her voice is flawlessly teen, and her observations about friendship and love and life feel spot-on. Her uncertainties and insecurities are incredibly relatable, and I love how fiercely loyal she is to her family, friends, and, especially, her next-door-neighbor/childhood BFF, Oliver, who was kidnapped by his father when he was seven-years-old. Speaking of Oliver — he is adorable. After ten years away, he’s plunged back into a life he hardly remembers while his father, the only parent he truly knows, is on the lam. I had so much sympathy for Oliver, torn between allegiances to his mom and dad, trying to fit in at a new school, and attempting reconnect with former friends. Together, Emmy and Oliver are pretty much the greatest. They’re so considerate and affectionate with one another, and I love they way they support each other unconditionally. Emmy & Oliver is a story about friendships and family, first love and sacrifice. I’m pretty sure it’ll be on my Favorites short-list for 2015.

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller – Oh, man, this book is a trip. It’s dark and raw and sexy and scary, and I could not put it down. Trish Doller is one of my few auto-buy authors; her style is unique, and she is fearless when it comes to writing about provocative topics and gritty relationships. The Devil You Know‘s protagonist, Cadie, is such a captivating character. She’s different from a lot of YA protagonists in that she has no idea what she wants out of life. Her mom died when she was young and her dad fell apart, and Cadie’s been expected to raise her little brother and maintain the household ever since. It’s a dismal, frustrating existence. When she meets road-tripping cousins Noah and Matt, she becomes swept up in the idea of escape and, even though she knows very little about the guys — with the exception of one’s certain criminal history — joins them on their journey. There are a few delightful road trip moments in this story, but mostly I was just waiting for things to go bad. And they do — like, really bad. The Devil You Know is a thriller mashed with a romance, and it’s incredibly well done. Its quick pace, swampy Florida setting, and impending sense of doom make it unputdownable.

A Summer Like No Other by Elodie Nowodazkij – Love this sweet and steamy YA novella! It’s a prequel/set-up story for Elodie’s up-and-coming October release, Always Second Best, and it’s super entertaining. I had so much fun reading Nick and Emilia’s quick-witted banter, not to mention their dance scenes, which feel intensely charged and full of longing. A Summer Like No Other‘s not a fluffy story — these characters have goals, and they’re facing turmoil and some serious challenges. Nick’s parents are on the verge of splitting; his father doesn’t support his dream of dancing, and he’s incredibly demanding. And Emilia, who’s adopted, is on the hunt for her biological family, a task that proves to be more painful than she ever could have imagined. Together, Nick and Emilia create such a spark. There are plenty of reasons they shouldn’t be together, yet their chemistry is off the charts. Fair warning: A Summer Like No Other‘s ending is going to leave you desperate for more of these characters, which is actually sort of perfect, since you can read the rest of their story this fall when Always Second Best releases.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – In the grand tradition of Sarah Dessen’s many contemporary YA novels, Saint Anything is heartfelt, character-driven, and focused on friendship and family. Main character Sydney’s older brother, Peyton, has always been the shining light of their family, but now he’s in prison for crashing his car while driving drunk and critically injuring a teenage boy. Sydney’s parents are reeling, trying to come to terms with Peyton’s sentence, and Sydney feels lost in the shuffle. She leaves her ritzy private school for the local public high school, and ends up making a eclectic new group of friends. It’s these friends, sister-brother duo Layla and Mac, the members of his fledgling band, and their fun-loving, rag-tag family, who give Saint Anything its spark. I loved getting to know this crew alongside Sydney. It was so compelling to watch the small ways in which they helped her come to terms with her family’s difficulties and grow into a more courageous, more autonomous person. I was interested, too, in Sydney’s complicated and ever-evolving relationship with her parents, plus Ames, her big brother’s creepy (Sydney’s word) friend. Saint Anything is a quiet book about stepping up and out, and finding people who help you to become your best self. Plus, there’s a really (really!) sweet romance — Sarah Dessen writes the dreamiest YA boys. <3

So? What’s the best book you read in July? 

RSW – Update 7

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Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at with our writing projects—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin FunkElodie Nowodazkij, and myself.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1. Revise The Road So Far. –> In progress. I’m ~almost~ done!

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I finished Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything, as well as Elodie Nowodazkij’s A Summer Like No Other. Two fantastic contemps! I’m up to seven books so far this summer.

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I hit the elliptical twice and practiced yoga three times. I seriously wish I had the time to get my yoga on daily.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! My daughter and I visited our local farmers’ market, and we made a family trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I (slowly) draft my WiP. Also, I was totally going to plant my herb garden this week, and I found some fantastic herbs at the farmers’ market, but we walked there and I had no way of transporting a bunch of plants back home. Next time, I’ll drive. :-)

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Finish my The Road So Far revision and send it off to a few wonderful and gracious readers. Read Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not. Keep up with my exercise routine. Plant a damn herb garden!

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

My jaw tightens. “Don’t tell me what I should be. You have no idea what you’re doing—what kind of mess you’ve made. You lied to your dad. To me.”

“Yeah, and if I hadn’t, you’d still be sitting in Bell Cove, just as lost as you’ve always been.”

There’re a million comebacks I should spit at her, but they scatter like roaches under a naked bulb.

She stares me down, unblinking.

Who the hell is this girl?

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

Finding time to work has been tricky. My girlie’s on summer break and my husband’s back to work, so it’s up to me to keep our kiddo engaged during the day. We’ve been having all sorts of fun, but at the cost of my revising time. Totally worth it, though!

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

This road trip story? It’s my favorite of any I’ve written. There’s something about it… its characters, their adventures, their emotional journeys… I could work on it indefinitely without ever getting tired of it. I mean, hopefully I won’t have to work on it indefinitely, but you know what I’m saying. :-)

Are you participating in RSW? 
Don’t forget to link to your update below.
(Also, another giveaway coming next week!) 

RSW – Update 6

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Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at with our writing projects—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin FunkElodie Nowodazkij, and myself.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> Success! I’ve reached 30K in my messy, confusing, crazy-making story. And now I’m going to put it aside for further reflection. I need to work some stuff out, and I’m thinking I need distance to do so. But summer’s only half over, you’re probably thinking, and that’s true. Which means it’s time for a new goal…

Revise The Road So Far, the story I drafted during last summer’s RSW. It’s been hanging out in MS purgatory ever since, and it’s in desperate need of attention. Also, it’s my favorite of all the things I’ve ever written, so I’m excited!

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I’m working my way through my fifth book of the summer, Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything, which is wonderful so far. (I need to pick up my pace to reach this goal!)

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I ran twice and practiced yoga three times.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! We visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s beautiful historical estate. The house’s exterior was a mess of scaffolding thanks to a roof replacement project so no pictures, but here’s my girl at one of the farmsteads on the property.

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. My weird0 WiP will fulfill #17 (if I ever finish it!). And I’m planting an herb garden this week — for realz!

* Stretch Goals: Success! I wanted to journal every day last week, and I did. I also wanted to see Taylor Swift, which I did. My girl and I road the train into D.C. to watch her perform. She was predictably amazing, and we had the BEST time!

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Make The Road So Far work. Finish Saint Anything and start A Summer Like No Other by Elodie Nowodazkij. Cardio twice, yoga three times. Continue journaling. Plant an herb garden.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

“She’s after Colby,” Antonia says, tugging on her swimsuit’s straps. “She had breakfast duty with us this morning and you should’ve seen the way she was flirting with him. It was wildly inappropriate, and I was right there. So were two hundred guests, all trying to digest their omelets while watching Gretchen hump my boyfriend’s leg.”

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

Figuring out how to turn The Road So Far, which was written as a sequel, into a novel that stands all on its own. Way harder than I anticipated.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

Tricky as it is, it’s been really fun to think about The Road So Far again. I adore its characters, and I think road trips are pretty much the greatest.

In other news…

Big congrats to Liz Parker, lucky winner of last week’s Ready. Set. Write! prize package. More giveaways coming in August… Keep working hard and linking to your RSW posts so you’ll be eligible to win!

Are you participating in RSW?
Don’t forget to link to your update below.

RSW – Update 5

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Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at with our writing projects—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin FunkElodie Nowodazkij, and myself.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> In progress. This week I wrote 5,490 words, putting my WiP at a grand total of 28,962 words.

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I read Robin Benway’s Emmy & Oliver, and Trish Doller’s The Devil You Know. Highly recommend them both!

 

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I ran twice and practiced yoga three times.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! We kayaked in the Occoquan River, which was lovely. My husband and daughter also went on a West Virginia camping trip, but I stayed home because camping… ick.

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP. Also, I think I’m going to plant an herb garden in the next week or two.

* Stretch Goals: Organize our basement and get a library card. –> Success!

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Write at least 2,500 new words. Read Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. Run twice, and practice yoga three times. Journal every day. GO TOMORROW NIGHT’S TAYLOR SWIFT CONCERT!

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

I’m not tired; I’m buzzing. I remember last night, how safe I felt in his arms, how my skin tingled beneath his fingertips, how my heart sought the rhythm of his pulse and matched it beat for beat.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

Writing-wise, the last week has been productive. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but I haven’t hit any real snags. Weird.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

I’ve decided to incorporate these little backstory vignettes into my manuscript. They come every few chapters, they’re each only about 300 words, and they’re written in 3rd person, while the rest of the story is written in 1st person. Too soon to say if they’re working, but for now I’m kind of loving them.

Are you participating in RSW? 
Don’t forget to link to your update below.

In other news… Big congrats to Susan Crispell, lucky winner of last week’s Ready. Set. Write! prize package!

This week we’re offering our second giveaway — a fantastic writer’s care package assembled by Elodie

giveaway 2

Elodie’s package includes: a mini “Believe in Yourself” gallery, a to-do note pad, Twizzlers Bites, Ritter Sport Chocolate, a “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” notebook, stars stickers, and nail files.

Giveaway open internationally, to RSW participants only.
To enter, click the link below!

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

RSW – Update 4

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Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at with our writing projects—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin FunkElodie Nowodazkij, and myself.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1. Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> In progress. I drafted a total of 4,085 words this week. Feels good to be back to writing!

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I read Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, which was absolutely fascinating.

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. This week I ran twice (a total of 7 miles — I’m trying to get back into running without destroying my old lady joints) and practiced yoga three times. I’ve been keeping track of my workouts in my planner, which is super motivating.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! We visited D.C. and saw the Lincoln Memorial, The White House, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. So cool. We also visited the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland, an interesting and sobering experience.

 

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP.

* Stretch Goal: Unpack and organize our home office. –> Success!

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Write at least 2500 words. Read Robin Benway’s Emmy & Oliver. Run at least twice, and practice yoga at least twice.Take my daughter swimming. Get our basement in order. Get a library card.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

I didn’t want to come to Camp DeLuca. It was a pull, a compulsion, an obsession. A constant, dogged whisper: closure. In hindsight, that’s stupid as shit–there’s no easy fix. And now, instead of reclaiming the peace that was wrenched from me thirteen years ago, my life’s complicated to the tenth power. All thanks to the russet-haired girl sitting cross-legged beside me.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

I’ve come to terms with the fact that this first draft of my WiP is an absolute disaster. I’m figuring things out about the characters as I go, which means that sections I wrote earlier are all wrong now, plus I’ve got plot holes the size of the freaking Grand Canyon. Discouraging. *breathes deeply* *chants drafting mantra: revisions are my friend, revisions are my friend*

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

Last week I wrote a Big Reveal scene I’m kind of proud of. And the main characters… I still love the main characters.

Are you participating in RSW? 
Don’t forget to link to your first update below!

And… Remember how, at the beginning of Ready. Set. Write!, we mentioned giveaways? Well… this week we’ve got our first — a gorgeous writer’s care package assembled by Jaime

Writer's Care Package

Here’s what’s included: a coiled journal with Every Summer Has A Story on it, a to-do checklist pad of paper, heart-shaped Post-it notes, Fineline markers (fine tip), a pencil case with flip-flop pattern, mini binder clips in fun colors, two rolls of washi tape, a Revlon sparkly nail file, Haute in the Heat Essie nail polish, EOS sweet mint lip balm, Maynards wine gums, Smarties, and a Cadbury Dairy Milk Cookie Crunch bar.

Giveaway open internationally, to RSW participants only.
To enter, click the link below!

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

June Reading Wrap-Up

Only four books this month, but all four were extraordinary!
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby – I’ve loved all of Jessi Kirby’s books, but this one’s neck-and-neck with In Honor as my favorite. What I found so brilliant about this story is the simplicity of its plot, and the nuanced, aching way the author lets her characters’ emotional journeys unfold. Things We Know By Heart is a quiet story about a sad girl and a sweet boy who fall slowly and convincingly in love, but both characters have secrets – Quinn’s last boyfriend died suddenly, and his heart now beats in Colton’s chest. I love how considerate and patient Quinn and Colton are with each other, even as they hold their secrets close. In moments of (understandable) dishonesty, there are no overblown fights or melodramatic break-ups; I got the sense that Quinn and Colton are meant to be, no matter how rutted and roundabout their path to each other has been. I also love this story’s secondary characters, particularly Ryan and Gran, who offer Quinn support that never feels preachy, as well its setting, the beautiful California coast, which allows Quinn and Colton some pretty amazing dates. Big recommend for fans of contemporary YA romance.


Something Real by Heather Demetrios – I must’ve been living under a rock when this story released in 2014, because I hadn’t heard of Heather Demetrios until I devoured I’ll Meet You There earlier this year. Shortly after, I read some friends’ rave reviews of Something Real and knew I had to get my hands on it. I’m so glad I did — this book is awesome! The “growing up on reality TV” situation is fascinating, and the “super enormous family” situation is compelling, and I always love a sweet romance. Something Real combines all three, and I could not put it down. Chloe (AKA Bonnie) is now one of my favorite YA protagonists. She’s just so real. Deeply flawed thanks to a supremely messed up childhood, but at the same time fiercely loyal, enviably tough, delightfully snarky, and heartbreakingly vulnerable. Her voice is almost conversational, and totally unflinching. Despite the utter chaos of her life, Chloe is surrounded by some wonderful people: her BFFs Tessa and Mer, her charming boyfriend Patrick, and her brother Benton, who’s funny and steadfast and, along with his boyfriend Matt, completely adorable. Something Real is a gripping sneak peek into a world that seems widely overlooked — the toll reality TV can take on its non-consenting minor stars. It’s also a story about relationships, and standing up for what’s right, and love of all sorts. Highly recommend!


Truth & Temptation by Riley Edgewood – Lucky me! I got to read Riley Edgewood’s up-and-coming contemporary new adult novel early and it’s predictably amazing. Remember Teagan from Riley’s debut, Rock & Release? Well, she’s telling her own story now, one that’s sexy and fun, but also multifaceted and deep. Teagan’s childhood was not exactly charmed, and now she’s struggling with anger issues, plus a multitude of other difficulties that are uncovered as the story progresses. But things aren’t all bad. Teagan’s got a new job, a couple of fantastically loyal friends (Cassidy and Vera – yay!), and a new guy, Alec, who’s the perfect combination of steamy and sweet. Honest confession: I didn’t love Teagan when I read R&R. She struck me as petty and, sometimes, downright mean. But T&T sheds so much light on her backstory and the personality it fostered, and it didn’t take me but a few pages to find myself firmly on Teagan’s side. I desperately wanted to see her successful and happy and at peace with herself. If you’re into NA that’s weighty as well as sexy, check out Truth & Temptation when it releases in late July.


The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – I’ve read some outstanding fantasy over the last few years, and The Wrath & the Dawn is right up there with the best. I love this book. It’s a spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights — supposedly monstrous king takes a new bride each night, then kills her in the morning; clever girl marries the king, then saves her life by telling him an infinite story. The Wrath & the Dawn is full of tension and mystery and magic, and main characters Shahrzad and Khalid have some of the best chemistry I’ve read. She’s smart and courageous and cunning, while he’s dark and brooding and furtive. Their exchanges are witty, intense, and passionate, making them so easy to root for. The Wrath & the Dawn’s secondary characters are equally absorbing. I love Despina and Jalal and Tariq, and the way they interact with the story’s protagonists. Renee Ahdieh’s prose is gorgeous and evocative, and the world she’s built is rich and vividly described. I went into this book not realizing it had a sequel, so be prepared for a cliffhanger of an ending that just might break your heart. Can’t wait for The Rose & the Dagger!

RSW – Update 3

RSW2

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at with our writing projects—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin FunkElodie Nowodazkij, and myself.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1. Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP. –> Over the last two weeks, I wrote a total of 4,140 words. Not as many as I’d hoped for, but still forward motion.

2. Read 12 books. –> I finished book #2 The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, which I cannot rave about enough. Loved it! (Check out my June Reading Wrap-Up tomorrow for a detailed review.)

3. Get stronger. –> I haven’t done yoga in, like, ten days, but I have to believe moving heavy boxes and unpacking mountains of junk burns a significant amount of calories and maybe even builds muscle. Right?

4. Explore. –> Big success on this goal! Over the course of our move, we made stops in Savannah, Hilton Head, and Charleston — some of my very favorite cities. Obviously I took tons of pictures…



 
5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP.

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Draft at least 2,500 new words. Read one book (Devoted). Practice yoga at least three times. Completely unpack and organize our home office.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

What comes next is fast and fluid, like a sequence of flip-book images: she inhales a sharp breath, he drags a finger over her collarbone, she scrambles back, he licks his lips, lewd and disgusting. Her eyes fill with tears, and I’m just done.

“Hey, asshole,” I say, clenching my hands tight.

He starts toward me, but before he makes a full turn, Summer’s calling his name and squaring her feet and cocking her arm back.

She throws her fist right into his face.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

Um, that’s probably obvious. The move and the unpacking have sucked up all my time, and I didn’t get to do nearly as much writing as I would have liked. But! We’re just about settled, and I think this week’s going to go much better.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

I wrote my main characters’ first kiss last week. Kissing scenes are always fun, but first kisses are the best. <3

Are you participating in RSW? 
Don’t forget to link to your first update below!

** We don’t have WiFi at our new house yet (hurry up, Thursday!) so I’m going to do the best I can with commenting at our local Starbucks. But… the majority of my comments might come later this week. My apologies! **