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! **

RSW – Update 2

** I’ll be taking an unfortunate break from RSW this week. We’re mid-move — like, literally driving to our new home — and there just hasn’t been time to schedule a proper post. I’ll be back next week for Update 3. Until then, here’s a picture of my girl and me getting ready to hit the road. **

WRITE ALL THE WORDS THIS WEEK!

Though I won’t be linking up, here’s where you can:

RSW – Update 1

RSW9

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.

And now… My first update for RSW 2015!

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1. Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP. –> This week I wrote 6520 words.

2. Read 12 books. –> I finished Something Real by Heather Demetrios, which was so, so good. Highly recommend!

3. Get stronger. –> I practiced yoga 3 times this week, did a bunch of heavy lifting to prep for our move, and paddled a kayak (see below).

4. Explore. –> Yesterday we took our kayaks out for our last dip into the waters of the Gulf. Gorgeous as usual!

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 2500 words. Finish reading a manuscript for one of my CPs. Practice yoga at least three times. Make it to Virginia with my sanity intact.

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

He’s built… nicely. Like one of those ancient Greek sculptures, all sinuous and powerful — except, you know, his junk’s not hanging out. 

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

Prioritizing. I’m on a roll with my WiP, but I’m also beta reading a most excellent manuscript, and I’ve been trying to get my house in order for our move (packers are here TODAY!). I want to do everything, all at once.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

The freedom of drafting. My characters are saying ridiculous things (and dropping f-bombs unimpeded), I’m going crazy with descriptions, and I’m playing with plot elements I’ve never explored before. It’s all going to be thoughtfully revised later, but for now I’m just having fun.

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

Happy writing, friends!

RSW 2015 –> Goals

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. All the details are HERE.

Throughout the summer Alison, Jaime, Erin, Elodie, and I will be hosting Twitter writing parties using the hashtag #RSWrite (feel free to kick-start your own too!), giving away writerly care packages, and at the end of Ready. Set. Write!, we’ll be rewarding ourselves with what we’re calling “Manicures and Manuscripts.” Also, check out our RSW members’ list on Twitter. Stay tuned for more info!

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Today we’re setting goals for the summer. Here are mine…

1. Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP. (Average 500 words per weekday, hopefully, to keep this manageable.)

2. Read 12 books. (Average one book per week.)

3. Get stronger. (Practice yoga at least 3 days a week.)

4. Explore. (We’re moving to the D.C. area this month, where there will be plenty to do and see. I want to take advantage of museums, parks, pools, libraries, landmarks, etc. by seeing at least one new place each week.)

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list.

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And don’t forget — next week (Monday, June 15th) we’ll be posting our first update using these headings…

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

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

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

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

Are you joining us for Ready. Set. Write!? If so, don’t forget to leave a link to your Goals post below. You have all week to do so. :-)

See you next week for our first update. Happy writing!

Summer Book Recs

I have a soft spot for summer-set YA, and below are some of my favorites. If you haven’t read these, spread a beach towel, pour an icy drink, and thank me later. 11313640_1476823172608786_1103845857_n

99 Days
We Were Liars
I’ll Meet You There
This Is What Happy Looks Like
Nantucket Blue
Open Road Summer
Three Day Summer
In Honor
Wish You Were Italian
Twenty Boy Summer
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
The Summer I Turned Pretty
My Life Next Door
The Disenchantments

{Covers link to my Goodreads reviews!}

May Reading Wrap-Up

May = All the Romance
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – I found this sophomore novel to be as close to perfect as possible. I love Emery Lord’s debut, Open Road Summer, but The Start of Me and You was absolutely unputdownable. 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. Paige wants to feel better — 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. It was so much fun to watch her relationships with Ryan and Max unfold and grow and deepen. While this book had moments of sadness, it had many more moments of pure joy, and it gave me actual butterflies — Seven Minutes in Heaven <3. I loved, too, the TV show references, the Quiz Bowl scenes, Paige’s many true-to-life conversations with her BFFS, and the conclusion. Recommend!

99 Days by Katie Cotugno – I love this story. I love that it 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. MC Molly is in a tough spot. A year before the novel’s opening, she slept with her longtime boyfriend’s older brother. Then her mother wrote a best-selling novel based on the transgression. Molly’s getting harassed and slut-shamed, she’s grappling with guilt, and, after a year away, she’s feeling majorly displaced in her small hometown. As the summer drags on, she finds herself tangled up with the Donnelly brothers once again: Patrick hates her for her betrayal, and Gabe’s falling for her. Throughout the course of 99 Days, Molly makes decisions I fundamentally disagree with, and on occasion she’s hard to root for. Sometimes, I sort of hated her for what she was doing to the Donnelly boys. But then, I started to see things through a less judgmental filter, and my opinions began to reshape themselves. That, for me, was the magic of this book — it’s rare that my perceptions are so entirely altered by fiction. 99 Days is beautifully written, full of angst and duplicity, and it tackles some important issues in subtle, thoughtful ways. It made my heart hurt, but I can honestly say I’m better for the experience.


I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell – Overall, I found I Remember You to be poignant and absorbing. But… I did not enjoy MC Juliet. She has political opinions that really rub me the wrong way (she’s anti-military, which is a mindset I just cannot relate to), and I felt like she kind of lost herself and her backbone while falling in love. Thankfully, Juliet’s boyfriend, Lucas, balances her off-putting nature quite nicely; he’s the reason I enjoyed this story so much. The concept of this book is really cool: Lucas is dreaming the future in strange flashes, and comes to believe he’s going to die an early and painful death; it reminded me a little of The Future of Us and The Time Between Us. I was pretty much desperate to find out how this story’s plot would play out, and I wasn’t disappointed. I Remember You‘s conclusion literally gave me chills.


The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan – I mean, this cover… Thank God it’s an eBook, ’cause I couldn’t bring a physical copy of this one to my daughter’s guitar lesson. But the story! I don’t know what it is about Kristen Callihan’s Game On books that make them 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. She writes guys who are… hot. They’re star football players and they’re very much alpha-types, but they’re also flawed, full of personality and interesting backstory. I like, too, that these people Kristen Callihan writes fall hard and steadfast. Recommended if you’re looking for something fun and romantic and steamy (okay, smutty). ;-)


Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler – This story’s concept reminds me of that Kate Hudson movie Raising Helen, except Dahlia Adler’s NA debut is set on a college campus, its main character, Lizzie, is all sorts of feisty and headstrong, and it’s full of forbidden romance and hot hook-ups. Lizzie was easily my favorite part of this story — she’s genuinely funny, she’s determined to keep her brothers happy and her family intact, and she’s got this hidden soft spot, a vulnerability that made her feel very relatable. Teacher’s assistant Connor, too, was endearing, balancing his inherent need to do the right thing with his growing attraction to Lizzie — his student. I went into Last Will and Testament thinking it’d be a typical NA romance, but it took some unexpected turns that kept me hooked in the best way. I can’t wait to read Dahlia’s future Radleigh University novels.


Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash – This story’s mood perfectly matches its vibrant, feel-good cover. It’s hard to put into words what I love so much about this historical novel. It just made me all sorts of happy. Its setting is one of the greatest ever: Woodstock. Its pace is quick and engaging. It’s dual-POV main characters, Cora and Michael, are incredibly likable — even the one who cheats. 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. And its romance, though quickly intense, is genuine and charming and really sexy. Three Day Summer made me sorely regret not being present (not to mention alive) for Woodstock, but the spirit of the festival is so perfectly captured in this story, I wonder if maybe I haven’t completely missed out after all.


P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – 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 that my enjoyment of this book would depend solely on whether she and Peter, her love interest from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, ended up together. Thanks to Jenny Han’s stellar romance writing, I ship them SO HARD. I’m putting the remainder of my thoughts in white because they contain All the Spoilers. Highlight at your own risk! So… I loved this story! I’m so, so happy (and so, so relieved!) about how everything played out. Even though were are misunderstandings and miscommunications that could’ve probably been avoided with some frank conversation, this story felt real and authentically teen, and so true to who Lara Jean and Peter are. They both make mistakes and assumptions, but their feelings for each other are palpable, and I was legitimately awwwing over and over. I mean, that night in the treehouse… And the hug in the kitchen… And the ending! Additionally, I enjoyed learning about Lara Jean’s childhood friendships, and I’m a big fan of how her relationship(-ish) with John evolved. I felt that he was a fully-formed character, not just a love-triangle plot-device. In fact, I kind of want him to have his very own book. Same with Genevieve, actually. :-) As I’ve said on this blog before, Jenny Han is one of my favorite authors, and if you’re not reading her books, you should be. :-)

What’s the best book you read in May?