Thank you! 💕


I am endlessly grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read, rate, and review Kissing Max Holden at Swoon Reads over the last few days. I’m humbled by the kind comments, delighted by the tweets and Facebook shares, and excited about the traction my little story is gaining.


Jill and Max say, “THANK YOU!” :-)

If you’re interested in reading Kissing Max Holden, you can check out the first chapter HERE, or head straight to Swoon Reads for whole story.


So, here’s a fun thing I’m trying…


From the Swoon Reads “FAQ” page: “Swoon Reads publishes young adult and new adult romance novels. Writers can submit their original, unpublished manuscript to the Swoon Reads website, and readers who sign up can rate and comment on manuscripts to help us [editors] choose which titles we want to publish. Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan publishing under Feiwel & Friends and was founded by Jean Feiwel.”

So, basically, you can visit Swoon Reads, read awesome currently-unpublished stories, then rate them and comment on them. Manuscripts that are highly rated are considered for a publishing contract from Macmillan. How cool is that?

Since Swoon Reads is all about swoonworthy romance, I decided to submit my swooniest — Kissing Max Holden. Below, you’ll find a brief summary of the story, plus the first chapter in its entirety. If you’re intrigued, I hope you’ll visit Kissing Max Holden‘s page to continue reading — totally free!


When Max Holden’s father suffers a life-altering stroke, seventeen-year-old aspiring pastry chef Jillian Eldridge has no idea how to help her longtime friend. Max, once bright and bold as lemon meringue pie, is sinking into a spiral of beer and self-destruction. Then, late one night Max knocks on Jill’s window, and she can’t turn him away. When her father catches them in the midst of a sizzling kiss, Jake Eldridge gives Jill a choice: Stay away from Max Holden, or find a way to fund culinary school on her own.

Jill doesn’t want to risk her future, but thanks to all the angst at home, she’s drawn to Max like sugar to butter. Her fertility-challenged stepmother is finally pregnant, but instead of elated, Jake is irritable and elusive. When he misses the birth of Jill’s baby sister and her parents’ fighting escalates, she turns to the boy across the street for escape. The more stolen time Jill and Max spend together, the closer they become. Then Jill stumbles upon the truth behind her father’s sketchy behavior, she knows her fragile family is about to shatter. Only Max—who’s more involved in the Eldridges’ drama than he realizes—might be able to help put the pieces back together.


The pounding at my window comes after midnight, and it scares me shitless.

A second knock quickly follows, rattling the glass in its pane and my heart in my chest. There’s such force behind the sound, I’m half expecting a bloodied, glass-encrusted fist to poke through my curtains.

Who the hell…?

Our house is inky dark, and quiet. The last of the trick-or-treaters have called it a night. My dad and stepmother have stowed the leftover Snickers bars and checked the locks; they’ve been asleep for hours. And my friends, they’re all at a Halloween party across town.

Another knock. More subdued, but still resolute. There’s comfort in the knocking’s persistence. Someone with deviant motives would be sneakier. And besides, this knock, his knock, is faintly familiar.

Fear gives way as curiosity blooms, and my stuttering heart resumes a steadier beat.

It’s been years since Max visited at night, years since I let him sprawl out on my carpet and talk my ear off until early morning. It’s been ages since we’ve talked at all, really, but I can’t ignore him now. It’s not in Max’s DNA to give up. He’ll keep knocking and eventually he’ll make enough noise to wake my dad, who will come to investigate. Max is little more than a brotherly figure these days, but my dad won’t take kindly to the sight of him lurking outside my window like a creeper.

I flip on a lamp and slide out of bed, straightening my skewed pajama pants as I pad across the carpet. I catch a glimpse of my disheveled reflection in my mirrored closet door and pause to adjust my tank top and smooth my ponytail.

I jump when he knocks again, as if he senses my ill-timed vanity.

He’s there as I draw the curtains back, peering at me from the unlit side-yard.

Max Holden used to be equal parts zesty and sweet, like lemon meringue pie. Bright and jovial, so brilliant I had to squint when I looked at him. Now, his dazzle has dulled, flattened like a biscuit that refuses to rise, yet I can’t help but hope for his once-trademark shit-eating grin, the one that says, I knew you’d come.

Of course I’ll come. He’s Max and I’m Jillian, and that’s how things have always been.

But he doesn’t smile. He looks tired. Defeated and deeply unhappy.

I push the window up. I don’t officially invite him in, but he braces himself with two hands on the sill and catapults through the opening like a cat burglar. He stretches to his full height—several inches taller than my five-seven—and I look him over, an eyebrow lifted in unconcealed shock: I’ve never seen him so eccentrically unkempt.

His feet are shoved into tattered moccasin-style slippers—cast-offs of his father, probably—and he’s thrown on faded McAlder High sweats, ratty things he wears to wash his truck, another hand-me-down from Bill. His torso is draped in a blousy white shirt with a black, jagged-edged vest over top, a white skull-and-cross bones embroidered over his heart. His dark hair is spiked in every direction, like he recently ditched a too-tight hat; he runs a hand through it when he notices my scrutiny. And his eyes, a gray-blue so deep they’re capable of drowning the unsuspecting, are rimmed in liner, black and thick and smudged.

Max isn’t a makeup kind of guy.

I stare, perplexed. I look away. Then, because I can’t help myself, I peek again.

“What?” he asks, gruff, like he’s spent the evening shouting.

“Um. You’re wearing makeup.”

He shrugs. “And you’re not.”

“It’s the middle of the night, Max. What are you doing here?”

He sinks wearily—and without an answer—to the floor, as if he’s too fatigued to remain upright. He leans against my bed, unfolding his long legs across the lily-white carpet my stepmother, Meredith, had installed after she married my dad and took over our house and our lives. Max’s eyes fall shut. His breathing is shallow and irregular.

I stand awkwardly over him as he shifts to get more comfortable. Now that his eyes are closed, I study him again, turning over the facts I’ve collected… He’s a mess. Drunk is a definite possibility. He went to Linebacker Leo’s Halloween party, like the rest of our high school’s population. From what I heard, he was going with his girlfriend, Becky McMahon. Who could blame him if he emptied a keg to tolerate her presence?

A draft eddies in from my open window. It doesn’t appear to bother Max, but I’m cold in my thin pajamas. I’m also self-conscious in my thin pajamas, which is absurd. Max’s eyes are still closed, and it’s not as if he hasn’t seen me dressed for bed; we’ve been neighbors for ten years and his sister is my best friend. But this—this—is different. We’re alone, and we’re seventeen instead of twelve.

The air feels suddenly gelatinous, hard to inhale. Does he sense it? Probably not. He looks seconds from sleep in his wacky getup.

My brain cranks into overtime… Max, in my room. Shouldering an air of gloom like heavy armor. The gloom isn’t implausible or even surprising, but what is surprising is the fact that he’s come here. Though I’ve tried to get him to talk, he hasn’t willingly engaged with me—with anyone—in months.

Shivering, desperate for practical action, I step over his idle legs and push my window shut. He’s staying, at least for now.

He opens his eyes to the quiet click of the window latch, gazing up at me from beneath heavy lids. “You let me in,” he states thickly, as if he’s just now realizing.

“You didn’t give me much choice. You would have woken my dad if I’d left you out there beating the glass, all drunk and disorderly.”

He smirks. “You’re glad I’m here.”

He doesn’t deny the drunk or the disorderly, I notice. “You think so? I was in bed. We have school tomorrow, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Is that why you weren’t at Leo’s? ’Cause it’s a school night?”

Leo, a huge middle linebacker whose father owns the Chevrolet dealership in town, is one of Max’s closest friends, and I wasn’t at his Halloween party for a variety of reasons. First, I hate the limited selection of costumes available to girls my age (slutty nurse or skanky angel… no, thank you). Second, I hate social gatherings that include more than my core group of friends (Leo invites half the school over anytime his parents go out). Third—and probably most significant—I hate watching Becky paw Max like a scratching post.

I don’t feel compelled to explain any of this though. Max and I may have been buddies in another lifetime, but I don’t owe him anything now.

“Ivy made a big show of missing you,” he says, folding his hands behind his head. The toothed edges of his vest ride up around his ribs.

“I’m sure she had a fantastic time.” I helped her with her peacock costume, or, rather, the indigo leotard we did a crude job of gluing iridescent emerald and violet feathers to. Though my best friend did her damndest to convince me to come to Leo’s, I didn’t get the impression my absence would have much bearing on her fun-meter. Besides, there was no way I was going to squeeze into the black cat “costume” she offered up.

I eye Max’s attire, lips pursed in contemplation. “Don’t tell me… Jack Sparrow?”

“Nah. Just your general parrot-toting, sword-wielding, beer-guzzling buccaneer.” His words are perfectly pirate-slurred.

“Sounds like all you got right was the beer guzzling.”

He sneers. “Becky was my wench.”

“Speaking of your better half, where is she? Oh! Wait! Did she walk the plank? Was she swallowed by a giant squid?”

His laughter, low and inhibited, surprises me, and brings an unexpected wash of nostalgia. It’s the sound of my childhood: leisurely afternoons spent tossing a football back and forth in the street between his house and mine, gross-out comedies in the Holdens’ big bonus room, dripping fudge pops devoured on summer evenings.

His bloodshot eyes crinkle at the corners and his head tips back against my bed. A small, selfish part of me is flattered that he’s here, with me, sharing a chuckle at Becky’s expense. I’ve missed his laughter.

When it dies out, he looks uncomfortable, like he might feel guilty at having experienced a tiny bit of joy. He studies his watch, a vintage thing on a worn leather cuff that belongs to his father. Bill has no use for it these days; Max is the one who wears it unfailingly.

He shakes off whatever memory he fell into and says, “Becky went home a while ago.” He makes a swilling motion, as if throwing back a drink. “I might’ve had one too many. Think I pissed her off.”

“You think you pissed her off?”

“I spilled beer on her costume. Maybe in her hair. But yeah, she’s definitely pissed. She made a scene at Leo’s, and then she left.”

“Wow. Some girlfriend.”

Not the first time Max’s drinking has pushed Becky to leave a party upset. I can’t say I blame her. Becky and I aren’t friends anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t give her credit for sticking with Max in the wake of all that’s happened. She could’ve followed through with the Semester Abroad program she was accepted to last spring. Instead, she gave up six months in Italy to hang out in McAlder, where she’s done nothing but watch her boyfriend’s slow but impassioned demise. Still, no matter what sacrifices she makes in the name of Max’s welfare, my loyalty will always be his.

“Right?” he says. “For all she knows, I tried to drive home and ended up in a ditch.”

I blink away the image of Max’s F-150 mangled on the side of a dark road. “Don’t joke about that. She really left you without a ride?”

“Ivy brought me home.”

Of course she did. Ivy’s barely a year older than Max and me, a grade ahead of us in school, but she looks out for him—for both of us. “Does your sister know you’re here?”

“Does it matter?”

I shrug, but inwardly I freak. The last thing I need is my best friend questioning me about my late-night rendezvous with her brother.

“She doesn’t know I’m here,” Max concedes, “and neither does Becky.”

So, he ticked his girlfriend off, caught a ride home with his sister, then stumbled across the street to my house. How scandalous. And yet, there’s something surprisingly right about his visit. Something natural and innate about him seeking me out, even after all this time. I shiver again, though the window’s sealed tight. Sure, Max is tanked, but he came to me.

He inhales like he’s preparing to admit something of upmost importance. He’s so sullen, so un-Max-like, I stoop down and give him my full attention. Quietly he says, “I don’t wanna go home, Jill. I hate home. I’ve hated it since…”

His voice fades, but I know what he intended to say: Since my dad’s stroke.

He pretends to be impervious. He parties with Leo and Kyle and Jesse, boozes it up every weekend. He acts like he hasn’t a care in the world—but those of us who know him, really know him, see how much he’s changed in the aftermath of his father’s stroke. My chest squeezes with sorrow so big I worry my blood has stilled in my veins.

Ivy talks about the stroke all the time, that afternoon almost six months ago when Bill Holden—patriarch, football fanatic, and my dad’s longtime friend—keeled over while pushing his mower across the lawn. Max, the only other Holden home at the time, found him several minutes later and called for an ambulance. Bill was rushed to the hospital, and a diagnosis was made: hemorrhagic stroke, the outcome of an undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm that burst and caused bleeding in his brain.

The damage is irreversible. Bill will never recover, no matter how much his son drinks, no matter how often Marcy, his wife, prays. No matter how often his daughters—Ivy, Mya, and Zoe—reminisce or act out or micromanage.

The impact of Bill’s stroke was instant, and instantaneously unraveling.

Since my dad’s stroke… It’s there, hanging in the air, heavy as a storm cloud. I’m horrified when I notice Max’s clenched jaw and inflamed eyes. He’s had too much to drink, and now he’s battling emotion he’s kept corked for months.

Max Holden is dangerously close to tears.

I should let him say what he needs to say. Just spit it out and fall apart and be done with it. But I can’t stomach the thought of him sad or weak or out of control. The idea of tears rolling down his face guts me.

Impulsively, I reach toward him, brushing my fingertips along the smudged charcoal liner rimming his lids. He exhales, but stays still. There’s beer on his breath. Something spicy too—cinnamon, I think—and it’s inexplicably appealing. I have the briefest, most inappropriate thought: I wonder what he tastes like?, before I remember how damaged he is. Tonight he needs a friend, not a neighbor with indiscriminate hormones.

My fingers tremble as they skim the kohl line of his eye. Touching him this way tangles my emotions—surprise snarled with self-awareness, embarrassment twisted with wonder. We haven’t made physical contact since we were kids, but I committed the velvety quality of his skin to memory long ago.

The last thing I want to do is disrupt the trust he’s instilling in me, but there’s only so far I’m willing to go. Max has a girlfriend, one who’d be crushed if she knew I was touching him—if she knew he was letting me touch him. And I can’t help but think of Ivy. Ever since Max and Becky got together, she’s set firm boundaries when it comes to her friends and her brother.

Besides, he’s Max and I’m Jillian, and in the morning, after a night of anxious obsessing, this whole experience will seem dreadfully bizarre.

As my fingers drop away, Max opens his eyes. He catches my hand as it falls. He stretches it open, holds it close to his face, and studies my palm like he’s reading a map. My fingertips are stained an odd carrot color. I spent Halloween the same way I spend most evenings: baking. The orange food tint I used to color marzipan for Pumpkin Cupcakes is evidence. Layered over the orange, accentuating the dips and valleys of my fingerprints, is the black liner I lifted from Max’s pirate makeup.

He folds my palm into the web of his and drops our knotted fingers to his lap, like the two of us holding hands is the most natural thing in the world.

“Why are you being nice to me?” he asks blearily.

“I’m always nice to you,” I say, distracted by the heat of his hand on mine.

“Remember when we were friends?”

“Max. We’re still friends.”

“Not like we used to be.”

“Nothing’s like it used to be.” The admission hurts my heart.

“Remember when you used to hang out with me, not Ivy?” There’s a sharpness to his voice that’s alien. Whether he means to or not, he’s proving my point.

“Remember when you used to hang out with me, not Leo and Kyle and Jesse?” I counter. “Not Becky?”

Predictably, he ignores my rebuttal. “Why don’t we ever see each other anymore?”

Because you’re always playing football, or partying, or hooking up with your girlfriend, I want to say, but I’m tongue-tied. “We grew up.”

“That’s bullshit, Jillian.” He’s glaring now, no longer sleepy-drunk, but bitter-drunk.

I tug my hand out of his. The lost connection—not to mention the bite of his tone—makes my stomach roil. “Don’t put this on me,” I say. “A lot has happened, stuff I’ve had no control over.”

“What? You mean Becky?”

I mean his father and I want to say as much, but the hurt he wore a few minutes ago flashes in my mind and I can’t bring myself to mention Bill. Bill, who’s had to leave his half of the Hatz-Holden Logging management responsibilities to Marcy. Bill, who’s confined to a wheelchair and needs help eating. Bill, who has trouble communicating a simple hello.

I stand abruptly. I’ll go to my desk, littered with cookbooks and recipe cards. I’ll read my latest issue of Bon Appétit. I’ll ignore Max until he sobers up. Then I’ll send him on his way.

The ghost of his touch makes my palm tingle, but I feel better now that I’ve put some distance between us. I’ll pay for these late hours tomorrow, but there’s no way I can get comfy in bed with Blackbeard acting all wasted on my floor. How dare he blame me for the slow demise of our friendship?

I step high over his legs, fuming at his audacity—his idiocy. He grabs the hem of my pants, and I lose my balance, wobbling on one foot like a dizzy flamingo. Frantically, I consider my options: collapse on the floor with a noisy thud, or—God!—fall quietly onto his lap.

The mere thought of my dad waking up to the sound of my ass hitting the floor tips my mental scale and my dodgy equilibrium, and I give in to the slight inertia of Max’s pull. Into his lap I drop, landing with an embarrassing oof. Judging by the look on his face—chagrin swirled with a healthy dash of unadulterated amusement—he’s more shocked by my new seat than I am.

I’m dazed and mortified beyond words—beyond recovery, apparently—while he stares at me, clenching his jaw against what must be hysterics. “Jesus, Jill. What’d you drink tonight?”

I struggle to right myself. “Nothing, thank you very much.”

He’s snickering, and I want to smack him. “Really? Because that was—”

“You pulled me down! And shut up, would you? You’re going to wake my dad.”

His laughter quiets. “Jake’s cool. Remember when we were in middle school and he caught us smoking the cigarettes we stole from Mya’s dresser? All he did was toss the pack and sit us down in front of a documentary about lung cancer.”

“Yeah, and neither of us smoked ever again.”

“My point is, he didn’t freak out. And by the way, I did not pull you down.”

“I was walking and you grabbed my pants!”

“I didn’t want you to leave.”

I whack his chest. “I was going to my desk, you moron.”

He rubs the spot where I hit him, as if I’m capable of causing him pain. When he’s satisfied there will be no bruising, his hand lands on my leg. It’s inadvertent, I think. A comfortable resting place, although his other arm is looped behind my back.

We must notice the position of his hands, my body, the close contact, at the same time because suddenly all the oxygen funnels from the room. Max doesn’t look so amused anymore. His attention flickers momentarily to my mouth before he drops his gaze. Heat floods my face. What the hell am I doing in his lap?

“Yeah…” Max says, shifting. He’s not such a cocky pirate after all.

I brace my hands against the floor behind me, muster the little dignity I’ve managed to retain, and prepare to push myself up. “Sorry. You’re okay, ri—?”

He tightens his hold on my waist.

“I’m okay,” he says. He’s recovered his swagger—I’m sure the copious amounts of beer he consumed earlier are helping—and his voice is low, throaty, familiar. It’s his flirty voice, I realize, the one he sometimes uses with Becky. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I try again to climb from his lap, but his hand glides up my spine, beneath my ponytail, and wraps tenderly around the back of my neck. Now he is flashing me that grin, the one I was hoping for when I opened my curtains, the one that exudes confidence and promises fun. I want to hate him for teasing me. For using me. For being so freaking enticing.

I could never hate him.

“You don’t have to go anywhere,” he says.

“Max.” It’s a warning. It’s an invitation. With a smile and a stroke of his fingertips along the curve of my shoulder, he’s drawn me in, and I’m losing the very fragile grasp I have on this situation… I need to get up—right now—but he’s not making it easy.

“What were we talking about again?” He’s so close I can see dark stubble on his jaw. I study it to avoid his eyes, but then I want touch it, to feel its coarseness against my fingertips. I focus on my hands, clasped in my lap. The beer, the cinnamon, the wintery-clean scent of the soap he’s used for as long as I’ve known him… I’m certain he hears my heart’s incessant pounding.

“How everything’s changed,” I say softly.


I melt into him as he whispers the nickname that never fails to thaw me. “Yes?”

“If you tell me to go home, I will.”

His declaration lets me see us from a distance, unencumbered by his scent and his warmth and his gentle touch. I’m a reasonable person. A smart girl. And Max is a mess. Showing up late—or not at all—for class, ditching football practice, staying out until all hours. Just last week I watched him shove a freshman on the Quad because the kid accidently bumped into him. Tonight he’s three-sheets and looking for distraction. As much as I’d like to help him out of the hole he’s been hiding in, I won’t be his no-strings-attached hook-up, the other woman to his waning relationship with Becky.

I resolve to tell him as much—that he should, in fact, go home. That he should drink a glass of water and swallow a couple of Aspirin before bed. That I’ll see him tomorrow at school.

But before I can utter a syllable, he’s charging forward, eyes glazed, lips parted. I’m so astonished, so stunned, I let him push his mouth against mine, and even though it’s aggressive and utterly unexpected, I reciprocate.

I can’t help myself.

I can’t process this frantic, feverish kiss, but it shoots straight through me, a streak of heat and want. Oh my God—it’s good.

Just like that, I forget all the reasons why kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.


Want to know what happens next? You can find all of Kissing Max Holden on my page at Swoon Reads. I’ll love you forever if, after reading, you take a moment to rate and review. <3


(Thanks to summertime and RSW, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a “Currently”but I plan to get back into posting every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)



My new “Soho” jeans from New York & Company. I have a really hard time finding jeans that fit my long legs, and pants that get saggy throughout the day are a major pet peeve, which is why I’m obsessed with this brand and fit — they’re perfect! In other news, my 2016 InkWELL Press planner arrived! It’s so pretty (I chose the “Modern Mermaid” cover), and it’s full of awesome organizational tools printed on lovely paper. Can’t wait to start using it!


I’ve been horrible about reading lately. I’m drafting one project and editing another, and there doesn’t seem to be room left in my brain for someone else’s words. BUT. I recently started Tarryn Fisher‘s Marrow (because Riley Edgewood said I had to) and it’s keeping me engaged with it’s weirdness and sadness and beautiful, beautiful prose. If you’re curious about what I read last month, check out my September Reading Wrap-Up.


I’m nearly done with the final season of Gilmore Girls and, I’m not gonna lie, I really hate how things appear to be wrapping up. (Spoilers ahead…) I’m so disappointed by how Luke was written during most of season 6. The fact that he morphed into a liar and was totally blasé about ending his engagement with Lorelai was grossly out of character. It’s so obvious that the two of them belong together! I do enjoy Logan, though, so I’m sticking it out ’til the end to see what happens with him and Rory.

Over the weekend, we saw The Martian, which was quite good. I’m not a big space person (terrifying), but I was definitely not bored. My husband read the book and he said the movie was even better. So, recommend!

Listening To

My usual podcasts. Plus (and I’m not proud of this), I am ~obsessed~ with R5’s All Night. I listen to it on repeat. Often. So fun!

Thinking About

All the fun I had at the Baltimore Book Festival. Living in the DC area is not my preference, but I do love being close to so many fantastic bookish friends and events. I spent a long weekend with a few of my favorites, listening to panels, eating yummy food, drinking lots of coffee, and writing, writing, writing.


Halloween with my girlie. She wants to be a black cat (sort of like our Daphne) and we’re looking forward to going costume shopping. She’s going to be such a cute kitty! We’ve got a Saturday at the pumpkin patch planned, too. I’m not an autumn person, but I do love some of the fall traditions. 🍁🍂

(Oh, and I have some exciting writerly news to share in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned!)


For some good news on the submission front. I’m due for some, right?

Making Me Happy

My new WiP! I’m about 18K in, and I’m feeling inspired, which is excellent. Also, I think I’ve mostly got an ending worked out, so this one just might be finish-able. And, it has a pretty, pretty mood board. <3

PicMonkey Collage

 What’s currently making YOU happy?

September Reading Wrap-Up

I read some excellent books this month!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Last month I read Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not and I had this to say about it: “…it is smart. I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a truly unique YA.” I echo that sentiment regarding Made You Up — it is shrewd and really special, and it left me in awe of its author and her creativity. I wish more people were talking about it! MC Alex is like none I’ve read before. She’s dealing with schizophrenia (she carries a camera and constantly takes picture of her surroundings so she can distinguish what’s real and what’s a delusion), which makes her an unreliable narrator by default, but still… I found myself trusting her, and I found myself wanting her to flourish. Made You Up‘s love interest, Miles, is also unconventional, at least as far as YA romance goes. He’s not likable in the traditional sense; he’s stand-offish (an explanation comes eventually) and his childhood has left him scarred. He’s kind of perfect for Alex, though, and while their relationship isn’t always the novel’s central focus, it’s so well done. Made You Up is a twisty, compelling read about family, friendship, and perception, and Francesca Zappia’s prose is beautifully literary. This book was impossible to put down — definitely a 2015 favorite!

Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher – So, I know this cover looks bondage-esque, but this book’s not about BDSM. It’s not erotica or even a romance, though love is definitely a strong theme. Mud Vein is a mystery, a drama, a psychological thriller, a story of survival. It’s one of the most intense books I’ve read. I loved it because it made me think, and it made me feel, and it wouldn’t leave me alone even after I finished reading. I’m not going to say anything about the plot because I honestly think your reading experience will be better if you go in blind like I did, but I will tell you that the story had me hooked within its first few pages. I’ll also tell you that it kept me hooked, even as it jumped timelines and perspectives, even as it left me scratching my head, even as it revealed its protagonist’s deep flaws. I’ll also tell you that Tarryn Fisher is gifted in the area of powerful, emotive writing; if you’re looking to be utterly shredded by fictional people, she’s your girl. And, finally, I’ll tell you that Mud Vein‘s ending, though not what I was hoping for, felt right and true and courageous.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – I have so many thoughts about this book. First of all, the writing is gorgeous. Nicola Yoon spins her prose in a way that reads as effortless. Her lovely words burrowed beneath my skin and made me feel. Also gorgeous: David Yoon’s illustrations, which are whimsical and fun, and give the story and its protagonist, Maddie, a whole new dimension. I love Maddie. She’s definitely got her faults and she definitely does some rash, selfish things, but I totally understand why she makes the choices she makes, and why she behaves the way she does. And Olly, the boy who moves in next door and throws Maddie’s life off its axis? Adorable. He and Maddie make the cutest couple. While their relationship develops quickly, the connection was there. It makes sense that Maddie, who’s been sheltered her entire life, would fall hard and fast for a charming boy who makes her feel alive for the first time, and I was totally onboard with the romantic aspect of this novel. The one element that left me conflicted was its conclusion, which I’m going to talk about in white, so as to avoid spoilers. Highlight the following section at your own risk… Everything, Everything has a BIG twist: Maddie’s not actually sick. Her mother (who is not okay, mentally) has made Maddie believe that she has this awful disease because she wants to keep her safe from the dangers of the outside world. So, there’s that which, for me, raised a few questions — namely, how did this woman get away with locking her child in the prison of their home for eighteen years? But. I was willing to suspend my disbelief because I wanted Maddie and Olly to find their happily ever after. Which they did. Which was a delightful moment, if I’m thinking about it from a hopeless romantic’s perspective–which I can totally do. But, when I think about it from a more critical perspective, I feel a little cheated. Like when Alice wakes up and discovers that Wonderland was all a dream. I wanted to learn about Maddie’s disease and how it impacted her life. I wanted to see her and Olly come to terms with the challenges their relationship and her illness presented, and I wanted to see them overcome those challenges. Because of the twist (which, admittedly, was well executed), I missed out on all of that, and I’m a little bummed. Still, there’s a lot to love about Everything, Everything, and I definitely recommend it. If you give it a read, let’s chat about that ending! 

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis – My very part of this debut is its voice — it is brimming humor and heart, and reading it feels like hanging out with friends. I’m not sure how to categorize The One Thing, but “contemporary with a twist” seems to fit best. It’s about a girl named Maggie, who’s recently lost her sight to meningitis. Despite her bitterness (or maybe thanks to her bitterness), Maggie’s kind of hilarious. She’s having an understandably difficult time accepting the turn her life’s taken, until she meets Ben, an adorable ten-year-old who has physical challenges of his own. Maggie can see Ben, but only Ben, and she can’t figure out how or why. Not only does Ben help Maggie see physically, but he also helps her to take a careful look at herself, and to realize that an amazing future isn’t out of reach just because she’s lost her sight. Ben’s not Maggie’s only new friend; he’s got a big brother, Mason, who (to borrow a phrase from Forever YA) is a bit of a mysterious loner dude. He’s part of an up-and-coming band, one Maggie’s obsessed with, and he’s all kinds of intriguing. I love the slow build of his relationship with Maggie; there’s no insta-love here (the scene on the beach… *happy sigh*). The One Thing is one of those hard-to-find books that’s inspirational without trying to be. It’s sad, and funny, and really beautiful. An impressive debut.

From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan – This book surprised me. I was expecting a sweet 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, From Where I Watch You is a dark book that addresses serious issues with frank, compelling prose. Kara is struggling with her sister’s death, her father’s abandonment, and her mother’s sudden and extreme turn to religion. She’s got a stalker, she’s scarred by a past incident that’s keeping her from developing meaningful relationships, and she’s trying to figure out how to get to a baking competition in San Francisco, one that will hopefully help her escape life in Seattle. On top of all this, Charlie, the boy she’s loved for ages, has returned after a long absence. I know that sounds like a lot of story for one book, but it works. Shannon Grogan has crafted a gripping plot, and created a strong but sympathetic protagonist. Also, I’ve got to mention Noelle, who serves as something of an anti-BFF, something I don’t see a lot of in YA. She’s definitely flawed, but I think she’s so well drawn and so different. If you’re a fan of Courtney Summers and Trish Doller, I think you’ll love From Where I Watch You. Recommend!

So… What’s the best book you read in September? 

A WHOLE NEW WORLD Giveaway Winner

Good news! I have randomly selected a lucky giveaway winner…

Tonja Drecker 

Tonja, congrats! I’ll be in touch. :-)

Want to know more about about A Whole New World and Disney’s new twisted fairy tales?

Learn more at
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(Fine print: Disney-Hyperion provided me with a copy of A Whole New World, and will also provide the giveaway prizes.)

A Whole New World (Giveaway!)

How much do I love a twisted fairy tale? A LOT.

Disney is releasing retellings of three of my most beloved fairy tales: Aladdin (A Whole New World), Little Red Riding Hood (Once Upon a Time: Red’s Untold Tale), and Frozen (A Frozen Heart). Today I’ve got the down-low on A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (in stores now), plus an opportunity to win a copy of the book and some fantastic extras!

What if Aladdin had never found the lamp? This first book in the A Twisted Tale line will explore a dark and daring version of Disney’s Aladdin. When Jafar steals the Genie’s lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish. To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war. What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.

Such a cool concept, right?!

Interested in checking out A Whole New World?
Enter to win a hardcover and lots of cool extras…

Details –> One winner will receive: a copy of A Whole New World, plus a FAIRY TALE 2.0 tank, notepad, cosmetic pouch, and pillow. Giveaway will run through Friday, September 25th. The winner will be announced Monday, September 28th. Open to those in the U.S. only — apologies, international readers!


  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite character from the Aladdin movie OR about a fairy tale you’d like to see given a twisted reimagining.
  2. For an additional entry, tweet about the giveaway, including my Twitter handle (@KatyUpperman) and the hashtag #FairyTale2pt0.

Learn more on
Follow Disney on Twitter

Fine print: Disney-Hyperion provided me with a copy of A Whole New World, and will also provide the giveaway prizes. :-)

Podcasts For (YA) Writers

Guys, I love a good podcast. I listen in the car, when I’m cooking, while I’m folding laundry, when I put on makeup, and while I mow the lawn. I’ve got lots of favorites, but today I’m focusing on my preferred writerly podcast. The four I’ve featured below are particularly beneficial for YA writers, but I suspect all sorts of creative-types can benefit from these conversations on craft, industry, inspiration, relationships, and ingenuity. Images link to podcast websites. From iTunes: “Podcast interview series featuring authors, an epic road trip, music, bookstores, tall tales & more, hosted by Sarah Enni.”

From iTunes: “The craft of creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, children’s books, and literary fiction as discussed by Cheryl Klein and James Monohan. We share tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality prose fiction, screenplays, plays, English literature, etc. Each episode, we analyze popular novels, movies, Broadway shows, television shows, short stories, and more. Featuring various expert guests as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ app ‘The Storyometer.'”

From iTunes: “A candid discussion of sexuality, culture and young adult fiction, featuring YA authors Christa Desir and Carrie Mesrobian.”

From iTunes: “Author Sara Zarr in conversation with writers, visual artists, musicians, filmmakers and more, with a focus on the practical and psychological aspects of creativity and the creative process.”

What are your favorite (writerly or otherwise) podcasts?