August Reading Wrap-Up

Four young adults, an adult, and a classic. A varied month. :-)

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – What to say about this novel…? First, 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. (Ha! This is pretty much the vaguest review ever, right?) Anyway, MC Aaron’s had a really rough go of it. His father recently committed suicide and, shortly after, Aaron attempted to follow in his footsteps. He’s doing better now. He’s got a scar like a smile on his wrist, but he’s also got a great girlfriend, a supportive mom, and a fun(-ish) gang of friends. But then Aaron makes a new friend, Thomas, and sort-of-maybe-probably develops feelings for him. But Aaron likes his life the way it is, and considers the (fictional) Leteo Institute’s memory-alteration procedure to help him forget about his new and confusing feelings for Thomas, even if forgetting means letting go of who he truly is. More Happy Than Not asks  some really compelling questions about who we are and who we might choose to be — whether it’s even possible to choose. It’s a story about identity, family and friendship, love and loyalty, and it is smart. I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a truly unique YA.

All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder – Reading this book was just… wonderful. It 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. Inspired by a man who selflessly aided them, they spend their time helping others make their wildest dreams come true. And it’s lovely. I almost forgot, at times, that the end of the world was dawning, but then Em or Vince or one of this book’s many vibrant supporting characters would mention making the most of their time — the most of their lives — and the utter grimness of the situation would come rushing back. My favorite part of this story (surprise, surprise) is Emerson and Vince’s emerging romance which, considering the awful timing, feels dreadfully unfair. Still, watching Em come to terms with her feelings for kind and generous Vince gave me all the butterflies. They’re so supportive of each other, and so freaking cute, but they call each other on bullshit, which I love. I also love how this story concluded in a fresh and real and, for me, totally unexpected way. Big recommend.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica – This book 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 (I adored Mary Kubica’s debut, The Good Girl). 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. Early on, I knew I was dealing with at least one unreliable narrator, which made my reading experience feel like the unraveling of a tightly woven mystery. This is a dark book, and it made me tense. It made me worry about all of its characters, but particularly Ruby, the baby, and Zoe, Heidi and Chris’s preteen daughter (if there’s one thing I wanted more of in the pages of this story, it’s Zoe — I found her fascinating). Pretty Baby scared me, to be perfectly honest, because really… How well do we know the people we love? More than anything, though, this novel made me reflect on motherhood, family, sacrifice, and commitment. I’m so looking forward to seeing what Mary Kubica comes up with next.

Play On by Michelle Smith – What a fantastic debut! Michelle Smith writes an awesome male narrator. Baseball loving Austin’s got voice for days, and I really enjoyed being in his head. He’s all about baseball, and his knowledge of the sport and passion for the game feel genuine. He’s struggling with the loss of his father, but he’s super sweet to his mom, and he’s loyal to a great group of buddies, who charmed me almost as much as Austin himself. And, he’s falling head-over-heels for Marisa, a fellow baseball fanatic who’s struggling with depression. Austin is exactly the sort of YA boyfriend I love to read about — he’s kind and considerate and devoted, but he keeps his head about Marisa and their intensifying relationship. I love how thoughtfully and sensitively Michelle Smith portrays Marisa. She’s much more layered than The Girl With Mental Health Issues who I’ve seen in depicted in fiction before. I love, too, that while Play On‘s conclusion is satisfying, things don’t wrap up too tidily for Austin and Marisa, especially when it comes to her depression; their relationship feels as real as they do. Definitely give this one a read if you’re into contemporary YA, particularly if you like a well-drawn male narrator.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – This book was not the summery poolside read I was hoping for. It was heavy, y’all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hold it in high regard. Sometimes I have a tough time with “classics” because I prefer contemporary language and descriptions that don’t span twenty-eight pages, but the prose in Lord of the Flies didn’t bother me. In fact, I quite liked William Golding’s writing style, and I found myself taking mental notes on his vivid descriptions of the story’s setting and characters. It probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that a novel about a gang of boys trying to survive a deserted island isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but Lord of the Flies was riveting. Fun fact: My husband totally lied to me when he saw me pick this book up. I mentioned seeing something about how savage these marooned boys became, and how I’d heard that they basically took pleasure in killing each other off. He looked at me all wide-eyed and earnest and said, “Nobody dies on that island.” (Uh, yeah they do.) Lord of the Flies is many things: “an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse” (thanks, Goodreads), but more than anything, I found it to be an examination of how brutally kids can treat one another when left to their own devices. That is a very scary thing, which makes this a very important novel.

Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally – Aside from the first thirty or so pages, I read this novel in a day, and then I wanted to flip back to the beginning and start all over again. It’s a perfect music-infused, tons-of-banter, charged-with-swoon, end-of-summer read. Jesse’s Girl is mostly set in Nashville, which is one of my very favorite cities, it’s full of song references (country <3 and otherwise), it’s got a narrator, Maya, who’s about as likable as they come (she’s confident and autonomous and forthright, plus she’s got a killer sense of style), and a love interest, Jesse, who’s sort of mysterious and really guarded and, oh-by-the-way, a world famous country music star. Jesse’s Girl bonuses: silly shenanigans, a The-Voice-like singing competition, and Sam and Jordan (!). Miranda Keneally writes fantastic romances. Her characters approach their relationships with candidness that’s refreshing and admirable. She lets her female characters act on their attractions in the same open and 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. And, she does this without coming across as awkward or preachy. All this to say that Jesse’s Girl is freaking fantastic and, quite possibly, my new favorite Miranda Kenneally novel.

What’s the best book you read in August?  

Ready. Set. Write! 2015 Wrap-Up

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.

*** Thanks so much to everyone who joined us for RSW this year. It’s been an incredible summer, and I’ve had so much fun following along with your progress and celebrating your successes. Thanks to my fellow hosts, too, who’ve been a constant source of support and encouragement. <3 ***

How I did on this summer’s goals…

1a.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end.

Success! My new WiP’s sitting pretty at 30,619. I plan to finish the first draft during the next few months. (Hopefully.)

1b. Revise The Road So Far.

Success! The Road So Far is currently with my agent.

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end.

Success! I actually read 14: Something Real, The Wrath & the Dawn, Devoted, Emmy & Oliver, The Devil You Know, Saint Anything, A Summer Like No Other, More Happy Than Not, All We Have Is Now, Pretty Baby, Play On, Lord of the Flies, Truth & Temptation, and Jesse’s Girl.

3. Get stronger.

Success! I kept up with my exercise goals all summer. Hoping to do the same through autumn.

4. Explore a new place each week.

Success! Guys, we’ve been all over the place, and seen so many cool things! Highlights: swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, a walk through Savannah, a ghost tour in Charleston, putt-putt golfing in Hilton Head, a tour of downtown DC, a journey around Antietam Battlefield, kayaking in the Occoquan River, a trip to Mount Vernon, a visit to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, shopping at the American Girl store, Taylor Swift and Toby Keith concerts, The Beach at the National Building Museum, a visit to the site of the Battle of Bull Run, and most recently, a tour of downtown Philadelphia and a day riding coasters at Hersheypark. So fun!

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

Success! I planted my herb garden and completed my 500 piece puzzle.

And now… Manuscripts and Manicures

I’ve chosen to focus on The Road So Far for Manuscripts and Manicures, first because it’s done, and second because it’s my favorite. It’s about Tucker, an eighteen-year-old who embarks on a west coast road trip with his girlfriend and two best friends in search of his mother, who’s been missing his whole life.

 Here’s the story’s Pinterest board, if you’re curious. 

  

And here’s an excerpt…

We fall back onto the highway. Callie pulls the pastries we ordered from their paper bag, tucks a leg under to twist in her seat, then feeds me pieces of croissant and coffee cake.

“You’re the best travel buddy ever,” I tell her between bites.

She smiles. “No, you are.”

I snag her hand and kiss her palm. “Seriously, Cal. You’re my compass.”

We drive on, through flat colorless terrain. The sky’s unobstructed and endless, an electric blue that’s incongruous with the scrubby, monochrome landscape. Puffy clouds drift by. Callie points out shapes: a dragon, an angel, a dolphin, an arrow pointing west, backward.

Not an omen, I tell myself. Not. An. Omen. 

It isn’t long before we’re approaching the Colorado River, marked by a sign with Arizona’s state flag, a golden star surrounded by rays of red and yellow. The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You, it declares. Callie squeezes my hand as we cross the bridge. She looks as anxious as I feel. If ever we’ve had a there’s no going back moment, this is it. We’re driving blind now, into a state none of us has visited, searching for a person who might’ve left years ago. We’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, for failure, and I’m leading the charge with my dumbass flag flapping proudly in the breeze.

And… my manicure! 

IMG_2351Dashed lines like the middle of a road, bright red like stop signs, silver sparkles like snow, and a heart, because romance (of course).

Did you participate in RSW this summer?
Don’t forget to link to your wrap-up below!

RSW – Update 11

RSW7

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.

–> –> SUPER IMPORTANT REMINDERS –> –> 

This is the last week of Ready. Set. Write! Next Monday, August 31st, we’ll be posting our wrap-ups. Seriously, how has this summer flown by so quickly?!

August 31st is also the date of our first ever Manuscripts and Manicures event. We’ll be painting our nails in a way that reflects our current WiPs, then posting a photo of our manicures, as well as anything else we want to share about the stories we’ve spent all summer working on, like a blurb or excerpt. So, get inspired, get painting, and enjoy this final week of Ready. Set. Write! 

In other news… Big congrats to Alicia Gregoire, lucky winner of last week’s Ready. Set. Write! prize package! I’ll be in touch for your contact info, Alicia!

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1.1a.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> Success!
1b. Revise The Road So Far. –> Success!

No recent progress on my new WiP, but I did incorporate the beta notes I’ve received into The Road So Far. Sent the manuscript off to my agent last night. Cue anxious waiting…

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> Success! I finished my twelfth book of the summer, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I elliptical-ed once and practiced yoga four times. I love yoga, y’all. I’m starting to notice tiny muscles in my arms and shoulders — yes!

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! We visited downtown Manassas, Virginia, as well as the sight of the Battle of Bull Run (AKA the Battle of Manassas). I’ve got plenty of gripes about living in this part of the country, but I do love that there are tons of (often free) things to do. Plus, there’s lots of history, and the landscapes are gorgeous.

My girlie and I also went back-to-school shopping. Below is a photo of her, lamenting one of the super cute outfits I picked out. All she wanted was graphic cat t-shirts and leopard print leggings. Isn’t parenting fun? ;-)

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> Success! I’m still working on #17 as I draft my WiP, but I’ve planted my herb garden and completed my 500 piece puzzle.

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Add words to my (somewhat abandoned) WiP. Read Miranda Kenneally’s Jesse’s Girl. Keep up my exercise routine. Lots of family time.

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

“It’s a California Historical Landmark,” Callie says after a sip of coffee. “It’s a good thing we stopped in Crescent City, guys. Lighthouses are good omens.”

Drew snorts. “Says who?”

“Says me. Their whole purpose is to guide sailors to safety.” She looks to me for confirmation, and I nod with exaggerated devotion.

Drew laughs. “Tuck, you’ll say the sky’s green if she tells you to.”

I shrug. “Maybe it is.”

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

Doing the REAL work on The Road So Far. I had no problem addressing the easy-to-execute notes from my betas, but I dragged my feet big time when it came to the down-and-dirty stuff. Revisions are rough!

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

Over the last couple of months, I revised a sequel into a stand-alone novel. It was hard. I’m proud of what I accomplished.

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

RSW – Update 10

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.

SUPER IMPORTANT REMINDER –> The last week of Ready. Set. Write! (8-24 – 8-31) we’ll be holding a fun virtual event called Manuscripts and Manicures. We’ll each be painting our nails in a way that reflects our current WiP, then posting a photo of our manicure creations. So, get inspired, and maybe treat yourself to a new bottle of nail polish! :-)

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1.1a.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> Success!
1b. Revise The Road So Far. –> Success! 

No progress on my new WiP, but I did incorporate lots of beta notes into The Road So Far. Hoping to finish up with that in the coming week.

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. This week I read books ten and eleven: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica, and Play On my Michelle Smith.

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I elliptical-ed two times and practiced yoga three times.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! My girlie and I met up with some old friends (a couple of families from the kindergarten class she was in three years ago when we lived in Monterey) at the National Building Museum. They construct a new, limited-time exhibit each summer, and this year’s attraction is The Beach, which is basically a gigantic, white ball pit. It’s really cool!

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP, and thinking about picking up a 500 piece puzzle to work on with my daughter in these final weeks of summer.

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Finish applying beta notes to The Road So Far, and send the manuscript off to my agent. Read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Keep up my exercise routine. Buy a puzzle. Shop for school clothes with my girlie.

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

My arms go around her and her head finds its place, the spot where my shoulder and neck fuse, and even though we’ve fixed nothing, we fit together like two pieces of wood in a dovetail joint. We’re better like this. Stronger.

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

Gilmore Girls. I’m watching the series for the first time, and I’ve got very little self-control when it comes to binging episodes. So good!

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

I feel like I’ve used this answer before, but the romance. It’s what keeps me motivated and inspired. <3

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

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

This week we’re offering our final giveaway — a writer’s care package assembled by… me!

Giveaway

My package includes: “If You Obey All the Rules You Miss All the Fun” journal, floral mini sticky note pad, lined floral note pad, Jelly Bellies, starry pencil pouch, Honey Pear hand cream, Lavender Lemonade candle, peppermint mints, various washi tapes, Eos Strawberry Sorbet lip balm, writerly quote pencils, Bigelow Vanilla Chai Tea, and Twizzlers.

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

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

RSW – Update 9

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.

1.1a.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> Success!
1b. Revise The Road So Far. –> Success! (It’s with beta readers now.)

I’d been hoping to add more wordage to my WiP (sitting at just over 30K, but I was super lazy this last week. I read a lot, but the writing just wasn’t coming. Hoping to do better in the coming week!

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I finished my ninth book, All We Have is Now by one of my favorite YA authors, Lisa Schroeder. Loved this beautiful story about making the most of each day.

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I cardio-ed twice and practiced yoga three times.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Success! We headed to an outdoor amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia to see Toby Keith, who puts on such an incredible show. My husband and I saw him play something like ten years ago, and I’d totally forgotten how awesome he is live.

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’ve planted my herb garden, I saw (another) country music concert, and I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP.

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Apply beta notes to The Road So Far. Add some new words (just SOME — anything!) to the WiP I’m drafting. Read Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby. Exercise. Hit the pool a few times.

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

I have to tip my chin to look up at him; he’s blue-eyed and russet-haired, strong-jawed and serious, but with a smattering of freckles that don’t match, like Converse with a tuxedo.

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

Motivation. Ugh. I’m lacking it.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

That they’re YA. Occasionally well-meaning (non-writer) people try to sell me on drafting their ideas (which is strange, right?) and often, those ideas are for books that would fall into the adult category. Um, nope. I have zero desire to write adult fiction. I love reading it and I have all the respect for those authors who pull it off, but I’m a YA writer through and through.

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

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

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

Alison's RSW Package

Alison’s package includes: a “Be Inspired” journal with inspirational quotes and writing prompts, Jane Austen air freshener, sticky notes and page markers, “I like BIG BOOKS and I cannot lie!” bookmark, spiral index cards, WRITE journal/composition book, Werther’s Originals caramel hard candies, Paddy Wax Ginger Peach soy candle, Trident Island Berry Lime gum, spiral memo pad in a rainbow of colors, Sinful Colors Decadent nail polish, post cards with inspirational quotes, mini Ink Joy pens.

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

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

RSW – Update 8

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.

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

1a.  Draft at least 30K words in my new WiP by summer’s end. –> Success!
1b. Revise The Road So Far. –> Success! (It’s with beta readers now.)

2. Read 12 books by summer’s end. –> In progress. I finished Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, one of the grittiest, most intense YAs I’ve read. Think Courtney Summers, but with a gay male protagonist, set in the Bronx. Loved it. Eight books down, four to go! (In case you missed it, last week I posted my July Reading Wrap-Up. Find it HERE.) 

3. Get stronger. –> In progress. I hit our elliptical up once and practiced yoga four times.

4. Explore a new place each week. –> Yesterday we visited the American Girl store in celebration of my daughter’s 8th birthday (which is today!). We had lunch and cake, and got our shop on, which was tons of fun.

5. Cross at least two items off my Thirty Before 35 list. –> In progress. I’m working on #17 as I draft my WiP, and last week we finally got around to planting our herb garden — yay! We have rosemary, parsley, tri-colored sage, two types of oregano, and apple mint. Hopefully I don’t kill it all. ;-)

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Go back to my non-contemp WiP (even though I met the RSW goal I set for it, I’m nowhere near done drafting) and add more words — at least 2,o00 this week, to be specific. Read Lisa Schroeder’s All We Have Is Now. Celebrate my daughter’s birthday BiG tImE. :-)

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

We sat in the sand and she freaking wept, these gasping, body-shuddering sobs that sucked the spirit out of me even as I held her close. After, she apologized, face flushed, eyes red, voice raw, and I had a very clear, very singular thought: I will never be the reason she cries.

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

Nit-picking The Road So Far. It was “done” days before I sent it to my (amazing) betas, but I couldn’t stop going over it, obsessing about the tiniest things. Finally my (incredibly wise) husband said, “You’re just changing happy to glad. Send the thing off already!” So I did.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

The romance. Always the romance. <3

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

In other news… this week we’re offering our third giveaway — a fantastic writer’s care package assembled by Erin

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Erin’s package includes: “Embrace the Journey” journal with cork cover, “Enjoy the Little Things” notepad, Ink Joy mini pens, 2 pack of “Write On!” mini notebooks, Scrabble pencils that say: jot, note, write, create, compose, and inscribe, “Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy” pencil case, 2 packs of paperclips shaped like rabbits and crocodiles, manicure kit, Eos Fresh Flowers hand lotion, Revlon Fashionista nail polish (teal), David’s PomTango tea  (makes 34 oz.), Strawberry Fusion Tic Tacs, Cadbury Jelly Popping Candy chocolate bar, and Trident Very Berry gum.

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

A Rafflecopter Giveaway!

July Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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