Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

The recent restock I did of my Bath & Body Works cache. I’ve been a fan of their body creams and shower gels and candles since I worked there a million years ago, which is also when I discovered my signature scent: Moonlight Path. (A Thousand Wishes is a new favorite.) You can stock up, too, because Signature Scents are currently buy three, get two free. Such a bargain!

Reading

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore which is like Romeo and Juliet if the Capulets and Montagues were traveling circus-esque performers. The writing is lovely and the story is so imaginative. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Watching

Season 2 of The 100, finally! I’m woefully behind on TV viewing, but I’m definitely wrapped up in this second season of a show I never would’ve imagined liking. Movie-wise, my husband and I recently saw The Revenant, which was excellent. Super graphic and visceral and intense. I can totally see why Leonardo DiCaprio is getting so many accolades during this award season.

Listening To

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, a non-fiction book that’s both compelling and accessible. It centers around a set of identical twin brothers, Jonas and Wyatt, and Wyatt’s slow (often rocky) transition into his true self, a girl named Nicole. I’ve learned so much about gender and gender identity thanks to this book, and I’m so impressed with Nicole and her strength. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Thinking About

The #AuthorLifeMonth photo challenge, hosted by Dahlia Adler. It’s all about books and writing and inspiration, and I’m having a blast with it. Check out the hashtag on Instagram for pictures from days 1 and 2, then join us!

Anticipating

My birthday… It’s in a few weeks and I’ll be 35 and I’m feeling pretty chill about it, actually. Here’s to another year of wisdom and experience, I guess. ;-)

Wishing

For another month of excellent reading. January was full of stand-out books, all of which I reviewed in my monthly Wrap-Up post. If you’re looking for recommendations, I’ve got four YAs and an adult fantasy (The Night Circus — love, love, love!) for you to consider. Hopefully February will bring just as many amazing stories.

Making Me Happy

Remember my last Currently… post, in which I wished for snow? Well, we got it! A legit blizzard hammered the east coast; it started snowing last Friday at lunchtime and didn’t stop until late Saturday night. We had feet of snow — there’s still tons of it lining the roads. My daughter and her friends have had so much fun playing in it (she was out of school for seven days, plus the weekend in-between) and we didn’t lose power, so well done, winter.

 
 

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

January Reading Wrap-Up

Starting 2016 off right with five incredible novels.
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – Hello, Katy Book. The Distance Between Us is everything I look for in contemporary YA romance. Its protagonist, Caymen, is full of pluck and sarcasm; her personality sparkles, and she made me laugh repeatedly. She feels so authentic — I think we would’ve been friends in high school. :-) Her romantic interest, Xander, is all sorts of swoony. He’s filthy rich and Caymen’s definitely not, and while Xander is never anything but sweet and gracious, the class differences make for some interesting conflict. Bear in mind, most of the discord is created by Caymen, her feelings of inadequacy, and her prejudices against the wealthy, but her issues make sense and come from struggles in her — and her mother’s — past. Speaking of Caymen’s mother, I really enjoyed her. She’s present and kind and, while she has her issues, it’s very clear that Caymen is her sun and moon. The Distance Between Us is full of heart, romance, and perfect, perfect voice. Some might call it fluffy, but I disagree. It’s a cleverly told story about real people with real problems, and I loved it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – I had high expectations for this sophomore effort. In fact, I had very specific expectations — I was itching to read something outwardly lighthearted, but with an underlying depth. More specifically, I wanted a book with a complicated romance, a likable and layered protagonist, a small-town setting, and eccentricities guaranteed to make me smile. Dumplin’ was everything I was hoping it’d be, and more. Willowdean Dickson is incredible — I dare you not to fall instantly in love with her. She’s spirited and resilient and smart, and she faces challenges that will likely be familiar to anyone who’s experienced high school: self-consciousness, envy, bullies, evolving friendships, parental expectations, and unrequited love. I adored Willowdean’s voice and her sense of humor; even when she was screwing up, causing me cringe by making choices I knew she’d regret, I never stopped cheering her on. I loved so many aspects of this novel, including Will’s new friendships, her complex relationships with Bo and Mitch, her confidence and her inhibitions, every single scene leading up to and set during the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, and the many Dolly Parton references. Dumplin’ is a delight from start to finish — recommend!

18711172Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore – This one was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story of addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. CeCe Price’s big brother, Cyrus, has been hooked on OxyContin since suffering a soccer injury. He used to be CeCe’s hero, but now he’s something of a tragedy — lying and manipulating, abusing CeCe, stealing from their father, disappearing for long stretches of time. Money’s tight in the Price household and, thanks to an unfortunate but seemingly unavoidable series of events, CeCe begins dealing pills she’s filched from her brother. Cyrus ends up dead and CeCe’s accused of his murder and this story… it makes me sad, sad, sad. I have experience with an addicted family member, and Kelly Fiore’s narrative hit hard. Her depictions are unflinching, devastating in their accuracy, and, thanks to the novel’s before/after format, there’s a sense of inevitability that makes it hard to put down. CeCe is easy to relate to (even if you haven’t encountered addiction first hand, I think), and even while she stands trial for killing her brother, she’s incredibly sympathetic. I haven’t read anything quite like Thicker Than Water before, and its authenticity impressed me. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – This book is SO impressive. It’s got everything: a strong, fully developed protagonist, tons of action, a setting unlike any other (the Oregon Trail!), perfectly planted plot twists, an incredibly diverse cast, and prose so evocative, you’ll feel like you’re trekking across the prairie with Samantha, Annamae, and the cowboys they befriend along the way. Last month I read Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road and it converted me into a true Western fan, which is why I decided to give Under a Painted Sky a go. It didn’t hurt that I’ve been reading excellent reviews of this debut for the last year. All that hype is well deserved. This is such a strong novel — reading it is a complete experience, and it is intense. These characters who I grew to love face all sorts of hardships along the trail: unforgiving elements, outlaws, cholera, wild mustangs, rushing rivers, and unrequited love (obviously — this is a YA novel <3). My very favorite aspect of Under a Painted Sky is the friendship that forms between Samantha (a Chinese violin prodigy) and Annamae (an intrepid runaway slave). The way these girls care for each other through unimaginable adversity is incredibly moving. Definitely give Under a Painted Sky a read — I think you’ll love it.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I want to live in this beautiful, beautiful book. The spun-sugar prose, the lovingly crafted characters, the wonderfully vivid settings, the way multiple layers of story tie together in the end… The Night Circus is perfection. I listened to Jim Dale’s narration of the audiobook, then immediately bought myself a physical copy because I will definitely reread, and because I can’t not own this novel — it sits among my top five favorite stories ever. The Night Circus is about illusion, and competition, and sacrifice, but it’s mostly a story about love. Marco and Celia are adversaries in a dangerous, high-stakes game, yet they’re too well matched. They fall for each other and their romance is pure magic. Like, I got literal chills pretty much every time they were on the page together — their chemistry is that amazing. I adored, too, Bailey and Poppet and Widget; their friendship is so lovely, their immediate bond so charming. Erin Morgenstern’s writing is exquisite. She’s so imaginative, and her ability to engage the senses with her dreamlike descriptions is unparalleled. Her prose is elegant and arrestingly powerful, and I found myself hoping it would seep into my brain and stay with me forever. Please, please, please give The Night Circus a read (or a listen, because Jim Dale is fantastic!) if you haven’t already.

What’s the best book you read in January?

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

Last Friday I came home to the most amazing surprise — a “congrats on your book deal!” package from my friend Tracey Neithercott. All kinds of wonderful things were included (First & Then, Jelly Bellies, and adorable paper products) but my very, very favorite item is the framed art below. It features a line from Kissing Max Holden and it made my heart incredibly happy. Thank you so very much, Tracey! <3

Reading

Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore, which is fantastic so far. It’s a dark contemporary YA about drug addiction and its impact on a teen girl and her family. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here…

Watching

Over the last two weeks, I binge watched Making a Murderer, which was excellent. Obviously the documentary is biased and I’m still not 100% sure of the accuseds’ guilt, but I feel certain the trials were unjust. This decades-spanning story was both terrifying and utterly captivating. I recommend watching if you’re into true crime and/or criminal justice (or lack thereof).

Listening To

Erin Morenstern’s The Night Circusand it is magical. I’m not sure how I missed reading it when it was first published in 2011, but I’m so happy to be listening now. It’s narrated by Jim Dale (of Harry Potter audiobook fame) and he’s just as remarkable as the story’s plot and atmosphere and prose.

Thinking About

The weekend I spent on the Chesapeake Bay with these writers…

So thankful for stunning sunrise walks, time dedicated to my revision, and the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by these girls. <3

Anticipating

The end of my first round of Kissing Max Holden revisions. I’m well on my way, and planning to be done by the end of February. I’m super excited about the changes I’m making — I think Jill and Max are benefiting. :-)

Wishing

Okay, this is going to sound crazy, but I’m wish for snow — though not for me. (I hate snow. And winter. And being cold.) My daughter wants to sled and make snow angels and have snowball fights very badly, but so far we’ve had a super mild winter. For her sake, I’m hoping we get a few flurries soon.

Making Me Happy

The beach — I’ve missed it since we moved from Florida to Virginia. I feel very lucky to have been able to enjoy these views over the last few days. The Chesapeake Bay is beautiful; even though it was very, very cold, I found seashells and sea glass and even a shark’s tooth!

  

What’s currently making YOU happy?

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

My new yoga studio! My husband bought me a membership for Christmas and it is aMaZiNg. I’ve practiced yoga for several years now, but mostly at home. I’ve never consistently attended classes, but after just a few short weeks in the studio with instructors who are deeply knowledgeable about the practice, I’m hooked.

Reading

Julie Murphy’s sophomore novel, Dumplin’, a contemporary YA about a small town girl who loves Dolly Parton and ends up an unlikely participant in a local beauty pageant. So far, it’s as glorious as its cover.

Watching

My husband and I just caught up on Homeland and, as per usual, my favorite character appears to have died in the season finale. I’m sad. My falling in love with a TV character pretty much guarantees his or her demise, which is why I don’t watch much TV.

Listening To

The new season of Serial, for starters. It explores the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier who was held as a POW by the Taliban for five years. I have a lot of feelings about Bergdahl and the circumstances under which he was captured, and I’m finding Sarah Koenig’s reporting compelling as usual. I’m also listening to a YA historical fiction, Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky (using the new-to-me OverDrive app). I’m enjoying the story and the narration very much.

Thinking About

Goal setting, and the sort of 2016 I’d like to have. In the past, I’ve set a focus word for the New Year (ResolveAcceptanceStoicism, and Present) and tried to keep that word in mind as I went about the business of being a wife, mama, friend, and writer. This year, though, I’ve decided to create a mission statement, one that will hopefully remind me to live my best life in 2016. Already, it feels like a postive step forward…

Anticipating

My upcoming writers’ retreat! I get to spend four days in a lovely Maryland house with five of my favorite writer buddies. I’ve got plenty to do as far as my Kissing Max Holden edits go, and I’m super excited about a girls’ weekend away. Can. Not. Wait!

Wishing

For smooth sailing as I tackle a fairly substantial revision. I know the changes on my To-Do checklist are going to make for a stronger story, but man… I’d forgotten how challenging revisions can be! One tiny alteration, and I’ve suddenly got a waterfall of adjustments to make. But! I love revising a thousand times more than drafting, so no complaints here. :-)

Making Me Happy

Guys, I signed a publishing contract. I have an amazing editor, and an edit letter I believe in. Kissing Max Holden is on Goodreads. I have an author page on Facebook. In 2017, my book is going to be a BOOK. How can I not be happy?!

What’s currently making YOU happy?

What I Read in 2015 + All My Faves

This is a long post, guys, but I hope you’ll find lots of awesome book recommendations while perusing. 

First up, I’ve listed all the books I read in the last year, organized by age category: adult, new adult, and young adult. Young adult books are broken down more specifically by genre.

FYI: Titles link to Goodreads pages. Titles with * were published in 2015. Books are categorized as I saw most appropriate; some may fit into more than one age category or YA genre, but I did the best I could. :-)

Adult 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Girl On the Train* by Paula Hawkins, Pretty Baby* by Mary Kubica, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Mud Vein and Marrow* by Tarryn Fisher, The Game Plan* by Kristen Callihan, and Sloth* by Ella James

New Adult 

I Was Here* by Gayle Forman, Flat Out Love and Flat Out Matt by Jessica Park, The Friend Zone* by Kristen Callihan, Last Will and Testament* by Dahlia Adler, and Surf & Surrender* and Truth & Temptation* by Riley Edgewood

Young Adult 

Next, a look at my favorite YAs of 2015, broken into genres and sub-genres and even some random categories that allowed me to feature the books I loved most. Covers link to Goodreads pages where you can learn more about each book, as well as find my full reviews. Again, genres and categories are subjective.

Favorite 2015 YA Historical Fictions

 
Three Day Summer, an incredible debut set at Woodstock. Its voice is light and fresh, and not just when exploring bands and skinny-dipping and bad acid trips, but also when discussing the more serious issues of the time, like the draft and the conflict in Vietnam. Its romance, though quickly intense, is genuine and charming and really sexy. And Vengeance Road, a desert-set story of revenge and lost treasure; it’s rich, authentic, atmospheric, and incredibly well-researched. Protagonist Kate Thompson is stubborn and rash, but she’s also brave and loyal, making her a narrator worth rooting for. Loved this Western!

Favorite 2015 YA Science Fiction


As much as I enjoyed Their Fractured Light, I couldn’t read more than a chapter or two per sitting — it made me so anxious. That speaks to how much I’ve grown to care about these characters, but man — my pulse was racing for the better part of Sofia and Gideon’s story. The Starbound novels have some of the most incredible world-building I’ve read, and I was thrilled to see tiny threads from the earlier books picked up and woven into the tapestry of this final installment. Such a great conclusion!

Favorite 2015 YA Fantasy 


The Winner’s Crime‘s Arin and Kestrel are incredibly smart and courageous. They make difficult decisions with selflessness and poise. They make sacrifices for love. And, they have aMaZiNg chemistry — even when they’re hating on each other. My only complaint about The Winner’s Crime? Its brutal cliffhanger ending. I need The Winner’s Kiss, like, yesterday!

Favorite 2015 YA Contemporaries

 
I love that 99 Days is supremely messy, I love that its characters are deeply flawed, and I love that it made me think — that it changed the way I was thinking. That, for me, was the magic of the book — it’s rare that my perceptions are so entirely altered by fiction. It’s beautifully written, full of angst and duplicity, and it tackles some important issues in subtle, thoughtful ways. Violent Ends also tackles difficult subject matter: the before, during, and after of a high school shooting. It’s a heartbreaking, poignant, powerful story — chill-inducing in many instances. Though shooter Kirby didn’t earn my sympathy (how could he possibly?), he earned my regard, my consideration, my reflection. And his victims, those who died and those who were irrevocably impacted by the shooting, will continue to haunt me.

Favorite 2015 YA “Issue” Book


Made You Up is shrewd, unflinching, and really special, and it left me in awe of its author and her creativity (seriously — I still can’t believe this novel is her debut!). It’s a twisty, compelling read about family, friendship, and mental health, and Francesca Zappia’s prose is beautifully literary. This book was impossible to put down — definitely a 2015 standout!

Favorite 2015 YA Thrillers

 
The Devil You Know is dark, raw, sexy, and scary. There are a few delightful road trip moments, but mostly I was just waiting for things to go bad. And they do — really bad. This story 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. From Where I Watch You surprised me. I was expecting a story about a baker girl (love baker girls!) who’s getting some unsettling (though probably harmless) anonymous notes. While there were a few sweet moments between MC Kara and a very endearing boy, this is a dark book that addresses serious issues with frank, compelling prose. Its plot is gripping, and Kara is strong but sympathetic. Another impressive debut!

Favorite 2015 YA Novel With Verse


All We Have Now follows Emerson and Vince, two homeless Portland teens (absolutely believable BFFS), as they live out their final hours awaiting the arrival of a catastrophic asteroid. This one’s such an enchanting story, I almost forgot, at times, that the end of the world was dawning. Lisa Schroeder’s verse (and prose) are lovely as usual, and I was especially impressed by how this story concluded in a fresh and real and, for me, totally unexpected way.

Favorite 2015 YA Novel About Friendship


I found The Start of Me and You to be as close to perfect as possible. MC Paige’s character arc is so compelling. She’s struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of her first boyfriend, but her story never feels bogged down by grief. She wants to make changes and find happiness, and she takes steps toward her goals with the help of her most excellent group of girl friends, plus some new boys who enter her life rather unexpectedly. Totally heartwarming.

Favorite 2015 YA Mystery


Courtney Summers is a fearless author, and All the Rage is bold, gritty, and so, so good. MC Romy isn’t likable in the traditional sense (she lies, she gets into fights, and she thinks cruel thoughts) but I happen to love her. She’s so honest — an uncomfortable, exhilarating sort of honest. Her gut-wrenching story illustrates how complicated it is to trudge through life as a female, and how scary it can be to raise a girl in this world. Read it.

Favorite 2015 YA Retelling

The Wrath & the Dawn is a spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights and it’s full of tension, mystery, magic. MCs 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. Renee Ahdieh’s prose is gorgeous and evocative, and the world she’s built is rich and vividly described. I went in not realizing this novel had a sequel, so be prepared for a cliffhanger ending that just might break your heart. Can’t wait for The Rose & the Dagger!

Favorite 2015 YA Romances

 
 
I‘ll Meet You There is real and raw and unflinching, and its voice… extraordinary. I mostly love the seriousness with which protagonists Skylar and Josh come to take their relationship. Their absolute commitment to one another — baggage and all — is refreshing and beautiful and (for me) very relatable. There’s something so special about Emmy & Oliver. 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 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. Jesse’s Girl is a perfect music-infused, tons-of-banter, charged-with-swoon read. Miranda Keneally’s MCs approach their relationships with candidness that’s refreshing; she lets her female characters act on their attractions in the same free way male characters have been doing for ages, and she shines a positive light on the choices that come with the physical aspects of teenage romance. Things We Know By Heart is a quiet story about a sad girl and a sweet boy who fall slowly and convincingly in love. I appreciate how patient Quinn and Colton are with each other. Even 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.

Favorite 2015 YA Magical Realism

Bone Gap is fantastical novel about two sad brothers, a ballsy beekeeper, and a beautiful, missing girl. There are summer jobs and whispering cornfields and first kisses; there is a fascinating small-town dynamic, a twisted fairy tale, and a magical horse. Bone Gap is so beautifully written, so evocative and powerful, it’s the sort of book that makes me want to work harder on my own writing — a haunting, lyrical story about love and perception and feminism.

Favorite 2015 Genre Bender

Love Fortunes and Other Disasters has the feel of a contemporary, but its setting is most whimsical, and it’s all about fortunes and fate and magic. The romance in this super cute story feels inevitable, but somehow still wondrous, and the chemistry between MC Fallon (who’s smart and idyllic and easy to root for) and the boy who catches her eye (a “serial dater”) is slow to build and totally believable. Loved this charming debut!

Favorite 2015 YA Series Wrap-Up


** spoiler alert ** One of my most anticipated sequels of 2015 — I had very strong feelings about how I wanted this duology to conclude. While I adore MC Lara Jean’s voice, her unapologetically innocent personality, and her family’s dynamic, I knew my enjoyment of P.S. I Still Love You would depend solely on whether she and Peter, her love interest from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, ended up together. Good news: I LOVED THIS BOOK. Jenny Han is one of my favorite authors, and if you’re not reading her novels, you should be.

Favorite Prequel/Novella

I had so much fun reading Nick and Emilia’s witty repartee, 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. Warning: this novella’s ending is going to leave you desperate for more, which is actually sort of perfect, since you can read the rest of Nick and Emilia’s story in Always Second Best.

Favorite 2015 Debut

I read a lot of exceptional debuts this year, but More Happy Than Not impressed more than all the rest. First, simply, I loved it. Second, it surprised me. Third, it’s gritty, and intense, and its cast is super diverse, and it boasts one of the biggest holy hell?!?! moments I’ve experienced in a long time. Like, really, I didn’t see… it… coming. But wow! More Happy Than Not is a story about identity, family and friendship, love and loyalty, and it is smart. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a truly unique YA.

Favorite Reads Published Before 2015

   
I’ve read all of Courtney Summers’s published books, and I am officially declaring Fall For Anything my favorite among her extraordinary body of work. This book shredded me. It surprised me in ways I didn’t know I wanted to be surprised; I would have been perfectly satisfied (happy, even) if the plot had played out the way I’d anticipated, but the story took this phenomenal turn, leaving me staggered and gratified and very, very impressed. The Distance Between Us was my first of Kasie West’s books, and I adored it. It’s my favorite sort of contemporary YA: a real story about real people dealing with real issues–nothing melodramatic or over the top. Caymen’s voice is just so good, and Xander brings all the swoon. And Something Real‘s “growing up on reality TV” angle is fascinating, and the “super enormous family” situation is compelling, and I always love a sweet romance. This story is a gripping peek into 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 all three of these!

Favorite 2015 New Adult Novels

 
I don’t know what it is about The Friend Zone that makes it so compulsively readable. Maybe it’s the football. Maybe it’s the fast pace, or the angst, or the (refreshing) lack of blown-up misunderstandings and melodrama. More than anything, though, I think it’s the characters. Kristen Callihan writes college girls who are smart, driven, confident, and relatable, and guys who are… hot. They’re star football players and they’re very much alpha-types, but they’re also flawed have interesting backstories. Riley Edgewood’s Surf & Surrender is equally incredible. Sawyer and Quinn are two of my favorite 2015 characters; I love their intense bond; even after years of separation, and their chemistry is smoking. I love this story’s unexpected surprises, its beach-y setting, and its lovely prose — even during Sawyer and Quinn’s steamiest moments. 

Favorite 2015 Adult Novels

 
Pretty Baby made me sad, sad, sad. I found myself thinking, a lot, about what I’d do in the multitude of messy situations presented in this beautifully written sophomore novel. Told from the point of view of three vastly different narrators (Heidi, an altruistic wife and mother; Chris, her driven but meandering husband; and Willow, a skittish runaway with an infant), Pretty Baby is character-driven, yet fast-paced and twisty. Marrow reminded  me a little of Dexter and a little of that Charlize Theron movie Monster, and it’s a total freaking trip. MC Margo endures a violent and upsetting journey throughout the course of the story; the brave, resilient woman she becomes is vastly different from the hopeless teenager who opens the book. Marrow made me think. It made me wonder. And most importantly, it made me feel.

So, tell me! What’d you read and love in 2015? 

December Reading Wrap-Up

A weird mix of books in December…
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – Guys, I would’ve sworn I didn’t like Westerns before reading this Arizona-set stand-alone. Now, I’m a convert. I loved Erin Bowman’s Taken trilogy, but Vengeance Road affected me in a completely different way. It’s a trek through a rugged and unforgiving desert, a quest for revenge, a treasure hunt, and a romance. It’s historical fiction at its best: rich, authentic, atmospheric, and incredibly well-researched. MC Kate Thompson is stubborn and rash, but she’s also brave and loyal, making her a narrator worth rooting for. And I love the people she meets during her journey — Will and Jesse and Liluye in particular. They’re fascinating in their own right, and they make this novel feel even deeper and more vivid. All of Vengeance Road‘s characters have enviable strengths and cringe-worthy weakness. There are no easy decisions in this story, and there are no perfect outcomes, but there are some super surprising twists which made for an intense reading experience. Vengeance Road is definite 2015 favorite, plus such a gorgeous cover!

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – A satisfying conclusion to a series I’ve loved since the release of its first book, This Shattered World. As much as I enjoyed this final novel, I couldn’t read more than a chapter or two per sitting — it made me so anxious. That speaks to how much I’ve grown to care about these characters, but man — Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner had my pulse racing for the better part of Sofia and Gideon’s story. It’s hard to chat candidly about Their Fractured Light because it’s full of spoilers from the first and second books in the trilogy, but suffice to say: I thought this story was amazing. It’s super fast-paced and packed with emotion. My heart literally hurt for these characters because they run into road block after road block, and they’re challenged in ways that are just awful (poor Tarver can’t catch a break… that boy needs a hug).  The Starbound novels have some of the most incredible world-building I’ve read, and I was thrilled to see tiny threads from the earlier books picked up and woven into the tapestry of this final installment. I’m endlessly impressed with this trilogy, and I recommend you pick it up, even if you don’t fancy yourself a sci-fi fan — it’s that good.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – This one was a reread for me; this time, I read it aloud to my eight-year-old daughter. While the story of Brain’s survival in the Canadian wilderness was just as riveting as I remember, it was the language, Gary Paulsen’s spare but evocative prose, that awed me most. Those scenes with the mosquitos, and the porcupine quills, and the turtle eggs — so visceral! This is a really cool story of perseverance and courage, and it’s packed with interesting facts about surviving with nothing but a hatchet and some serious gumption. Additionally, Writer Katy found Hatchet to be a compelling character study. I can’t remember the last story I read that featured a protagonist with such a steep arc. Check it out if you haven’t read this classic!

Every Day by David Levithan – I listened to the audio version of this book and the narrator did a wonderful job. The story came to life as she read A’s tale and, overall, I enjoyed it very much. The concept is fascinating, the pacing is quick, and the flow is seamless. I have one issue, though: I didn’t feel as though I got to know A as someone other than a person who loves Rhiannon. Maybe I’m shallow, but without a physical appearance, or hobbies, or friendships, or a gender, or familial relationships to go on, I had a hard time connecting with A. Rhiannon, yes — she felt whole, fully formed and charming. Even the minor characters, like Justin and Nathan, struck me as complete. But A… A was mostly focused on checking for Rhiannon’s emails and plotting new ways to be near her. I get that — love was a new experience for A, but still… I wanted more. That said, I did feel like A was redeemed in the novel’s final scenes; A’s gesture and the way Rhiannon was left in a place of hopefulness were really lovely. My favorite aspect of this story is its vignettes (for lack of a better word) — the scenes where A is in random bodies and has experiences completely unrelated to Rhiannon. I found them captivating, and very profound. Pick Every Day up if you like a novel with a unique concept and a focus on romance.

Tell me… What’s the best book you read in December?

Let’s Talk About #ThirtyBefore35

  (New to the blog? Read my original Thirty Before 35 post HERE.)

Sun

So. I turn 35 in exactly two months. Time to reflect on my successes and get real about my unfinished goals.

Let’s take a look, shall we? (Completed goals {in blue} link to more information about each individual experience.)

  1. Bake a Rainbow Cake. So much fun, and my daughter loved it. 
  2. Sell a novel (or two!). I still can’t believe this is real! 
  3. Complete a 500 piece puzzle. Super relaxing. I’m going to start doing more puzzles. :-)
  4. Have a picnic on the beach. Dude. I wish I could do this every day.
  5. Read and review a Stephen King novel. Not too shabby, Mr. King. 
  6. Drink a Hurricane in New Orleans. *snort* This led to a night of Big Easy debauchery and a lot of fun. ;-) 
  7. Have professional family photos taken. Damn it if I still haven’t had any printed. Soon!
  8. Run Disney’s Princess 1/2 MarathonSo, this isn’t going to happen. I’m way out of shape, and you have to register far in advance, which I have not done. But! I’m going to start running again after the New Year (no, really!) and I’d like to at least do a 5K before my birthday. 
  9. Attend a writers’ conference or festival. Baltimore Book Fest. 👍
  10. Order a Stitch Fix box. Ha! And then some!
  11. See a musical. Still hoping to do this on time. Surely there’ll be a musical to see in the DC area in the next two months… 
  12. Plan and host a tea party with my girl. I think I can make this happen, too. 
  13. Make a quilt. My cat naps on it daily. 😻
  14. Take an international vacation. I wish! Unless my husband has an epic surprise up his sleeve, this won’t be happening in the next two months. Hopefully one day soon, though! 
  15. Watch Friday Night Lights in its entirety. Best decision ever. #33
  16. Complete a three day juice cleanseDo I even want to do this anymore? Not really, but maybe I’ll give it a go just for the experience.
  17. Write a manuscript that’s not contemporary YA. I’m working on it! I’ve got a magical realism manuscript that’s about half done. Guys, non-contemp is so challenging for me! 
  18. Pass 2K Twitter followers. Again, working on it. I’m somewhere in the mid-1600s. 
  19. Read Speak (my most shameful YA gap book). Totally lived up to all the hype.
  20. Host a brunch. Maybe I can combine this with the tea party? 
  21. Master “Space-A” travel. Yeah, I don’t care about this anymore. I looked into it, and it seems like more hassle than it’s worth. *shrugs*
  22. Attend a writers’ retreat. It was amazing. I’m going on another next month!
  23. Get a massage. Again, amazing!
  24. Make Chocolate BabkaOh, I’m totally doing this in a few days! Jillian, the main character in Kissing Max Holden, makes it, too.
  25. Add another child to our family. A source of frustration. We’re in the midst of applying to be a foster family so, while this won’t happen in the next two months, it is in the works. 
  26. Visit Mount Rushmore. Again, I wish! One of these days…
  27. Master “Crow” pose in yoga. Working on it! Must. Strengthen. Core. 
  28. Go to a(nother) country music concert. I’ve actually been to three since setting this goal — yay!
  29. Plant an herb garden. Definitely doing this again next spring.
  30. Teach my daughter to swim (really well). Guys, she’s a little fish!

So, we’ll see how the next two months go. I’m determined to knock a few more items off my list. Those I can’t fit in before the dreaded 3-5 will likely become part of a new Life List… Stay tuned!