Cover voting is live!

One of my favorite things about the Swoon Reads experience is the amount of involvement members of the site get to have. From rating and commenting on submitted stories to voting on cover directions for selected manuscripts, Swoon Readers get a big say in many aspects of the books published by Swoon Reads.

Now’s one of those times when Swoon Reads needs your help — let’s select the cover direction for my debut, Kissing Max Holden!

Guys, I can’t tell you how long I’ve anticipated seeing my name on an actual book cover, and now it’s on FOUR. Four lovely covers that all capture different aspects of Jill and Max’s story in really beautiful ways…

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Above, you’ll find a piece of each of the four options. Remember — these are cover directions, not necessarily final products. The winner will likely undergo adjustments and fine-tunings, but it’ll be the cover you help select!

Head over to the Swoon Blog to see the full cover concept images and vote for your very favorite(s). Can’t wait to see which you choose…

The winner will be announced soon!

IT’S AUGUST 1ST!

Guys, you know what this means, right?

Kissing Max Holden debuts in exactly one year! 

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Let’s celebrate with a giveaway, shall we?

One lucky winner will receive FOUR of my favorite YA novels — each signed by its author!

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That’s right: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally, and The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh will go to one randomly chosen winner!

⬇️  Enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter link below. ⬇️

**** A Rafflecopter Giveaway ****

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Fine print: This giveaway is for US residents only (why is shipping so expensive?!) but please look for international giveaways in the future. If you are under 18, please secure parental permission before entering. All entries will be verified. Giveaway begins August 1st and continues through August 9th at 12 a.m. The winner will be announced and contacted shortly thereafter. 

Any help in spreading the word will be much appreciated.❤

July Reading Wrap-Up

July reviews are short and sweet, friends. In case you missed it, I’ve got an adorable foster kiddo in my care, plus I’m drafting a new novel and working on edits for two others. Frankly, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do any reading at all, but I did, and I’m eager to chat about these fantastic books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston – This novel about a girl who is raped at cheer camp is smart and nuanced and, in a way, refreshing. While E.K. Johnston realistically portrays the trauma of sexual assault and the viciousness of teenagers in the wake of a “scandal” like the one featured in this book, main character Hermione never reads as weak. She’s sad and confused and angry and afraid, but she’s so resilient, too, and that comes in large part from her caring parents and supportive friends. Of course Hermione struggles through the aftermath of her attack, but she never lets what happened at camp bury her, and I love that. I also love how cheerleading is depicted — as a legitimate, kick-ass sport. Hermione and her friends aren’t vapid pom-pom shakers; they’re loyal athletes who rally around their own. Big, big recommend.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Long story short: Cancer was killing teen Travis’s body, so he had his head removed and frozen until doctors could attach it to a healthy donor body, allowing Travis to live on, only five years in the future. Of course everything’s changed and Travis is having a hard time letting go of the life he knew, particularly his then-girlfriend Cate, who’s now an engaged adult. While the premise of this novel is bizarre, it allows for some interesting dialogue regarding who we are and who we can choose to be, as well as the ethical and moral quandaries that might stem from a procedure like the one Travis receives. More than that, though, this novel is deeply entertaining and a lot of fun. Travis’s voice rocks, and his friendships are awesome. Loved it!

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf – The setting of South of Sunshine made it for me. Main character Kaycee and her friends live in Sunshine, TN, and Dana Elmendorf does an amazing job portraying not only the rich landscape and small-town energy, but the mostly close-minded population, too. I enjoyed Kaycee and love interest Bren, but it’s Van who I adored most. He supports Kaycee, while at the same time challenging her and giving her room to grow. I also love how Dana Elmendorf conveys emotion. Kaycee’s kind of all over the place — grappling with her conservative upbringing and oft judgmental classmates while learning to accept her sexuality and herself, as well as navigate her new relationship with Bren. Pick this one up if you’re into contemporary YA romance, particularly LGBT romance.

Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison – While I liked this contemporary YA’s setting and supporting characters, I had a hard time relating to MC Cecelia/Lia. The situation she finds herself in is serious (she’s run away from her high-profile family to hide out in a small Tennessee town), and while she does find a job and try to make a life for herself, she’s mostly just focused on wooing a guy who I didn’t find charming. Like, at all. I didn’t love this book’s ending, either. It’s going to have a sequel so I suspect we’ll get some closure eventually, but the major cliffhanger didn’t feel like enough of a payoff for me. Still, check it out if you like small town dynamics and contemps with a heavy focus on romance.

No Love Allowed by Kate Evangelista – The perfect poolside read! This YA romance’s plot and mood reminded me of Gossip Girl which, hello — yes please! Despite their dramatic circumstances, Caleb, a rich boy who needs a fake girlfriend, and Didi, a girl with mental health challenges who needs cash, feel very real. So does their chemistry; Kate Evangelista writes some steamy kisses, and some fantastic banter, too. She handles Didi’s health issues in a way that reads as authentic, giving her traits and interests that go beyond the “girl with mental illness” we sometimes see in fiction. And Caleb, who could’ve very easily come off as a privileged and entitled jerk, was really quite adorable. So looking forward to seeing what Kate Evangelista writes next!

What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass – I loved this story so much. Author Alexis Bass writes some of the most realistic high school experiences in YA, and I think her books deserve far more hype than they appear to get — they’re so good. MC Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother, Jonathan, has just finished a year-long prison sentence after killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Jonathan is very complex, as is his relationship with Amanda. Every time they shared the page, I could feel myself literally tensing up. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. This whole book, guys… The character arcs are so steep and the writing is so affecting. My heart hurt through the better part of it, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Definitely give What’s Broken Between Us a read, and check out Alexis Bass’s debut, Love and Other Theories, too!

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in July?

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

Watching my daughter compete with her swim team. It’s been such an amazing experience for her, and she’s improved SO MUCH in two months. Her times are dropping and her strokes are looking better and better, and I’m just really, really proud of her. I swam in high school, and it’s awesome to see her enjoying (and beginning to excel at!) a sport I love.

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Reading

I just finished Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison. While I enjoyed the setting and found the secondary characters to be super likable, I don’t think the “Gone Girl meets the TV show Nashville” comparison is at all fitting. Also, that ending, man… 🤔  In other news, my girlie and I are reading Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, and whoa. Equally beautiful and heartbreaking and magical. It’s also initiating a lot of interesting conversation. We’re loving it so far!

Watching

Parenthood. Still obsessed. Also, my husband and I recently started watching United States of Tara, about a woman struggling with her family and her dissociative identity disorder. Toni Collette is so good!

Listening To

Invisibilia, an NPR podcast about “the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” The topics are fascinating, and they’re discussed in a very accessible and entertaining way. Recommend!

Thinking About

Camp NaNoWri Mo. I’m participating, and I’m chipping away at my 15K word goal. Currently sitting pretty at 8,471 words, and I just passed 60K on my WiP — whoop! Now I need to figure out how to wrap the story up (why are endings always so hard?!)

Anticipating

Remember the annoyingly vague “top-secret” news I mentioned two weeks ago? Well, I can finally share about one of the things I’ve been anticipating… The Uppermans are an officially approved foster family, and we recently received our first placement. I can’t share details or photos of the child, and we’re not yet sure how long the placement will last, but I can say that we’re very happy. Also, very tired.🙂 Here’s my cat resting on a Boppy pillow, in case you’re wondering how she’s adjusting…IMG_4178Wishing

You’ll sign up to receive my monthly newsletter, chock full of current favorites (reads, shows, movies, recipes, products, quotes, etc), plus occasional updates on my own book-ish pursuits. It’ll be all kinds of fun — promise!

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Making Me Happy

All of the well wishes we’ve gotten regarding our decision to become foster parents. I’m overwhelmed by the kind words of family and friends from afar, as well as the support and excitement and help we’ve received from our local friends. Makes my heart full.❤

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

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

This vanilla scone recipe. The town where I grew up has an awesome fair every fall, and they sell the yummiest scones. I miss them! I’ve tried to reproduce them before, raspberry jam and all, with little success. The scones I made Sunday morning, however, were incredible! So flaky and buttery and delicious. Big thanks to Jessica Erin of Stuck on SweetIMG_3912Reading

I recently finished Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, which I loved. It’ll definitely have a place among my 2016 favorites — big recommend! Now, I’m reading Dana Elmendorf’s debut South of Sunshine, a f/f contemporary YA, and so far I’m enjoying it very much.

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Catch up on all of my June book recommendations HERE.

Watching

Parenthood. It’s so good! I just started season 3 and man, if I didn’t have a family to feed and a house to maintain and a manuscript to write, I’d sit on the couch and watch episode after episode after episode.

Listening To

John Corey Whaley’s Noggin, the story of Travis Coates, head transplant survivor. Cool concept, right? I’m loving Travis’s voice, which is insightful and really funny, and I can’t wait to see how the novel pans out.

Thinking About

Camp NaNoWri Mo. I’m participating, and I’ve set a 15K word goal. If I meet it, I’ll be very, very close to finishing the manuscript I’m fondly referring to as Camp WiP (because it takes place at a camp — duh). Also, I’ve got the ~best~ cabin, and I’m having all sorts of fun cheering my cabin mates on.

Anticipating

This is going to be annoyingly vague, but the things I’m anticipating are currently top-secret (but exciting!). The good news? I’m very much looking forward to sharing in the near future. 😘

Wishing

You’ll check out the recently revealed Swanky 17 covers! They’re all so gorgeous — my fellow Swanks are winning the cover lottery all over the place! Find the YA covers HERE and the MG covers HERE.

Making Me Happy

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It’s officially summer! The longest school year in history has finally come to a close (I have a 4th grader!) and now we’re spending our days (and a lot of our nights) at the neighborhood pool. Also, look who got a haircut…

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Also making me happy? Watching yesterday’s Independence Day in D.C. with my family. We had a fantastic time and walked a lot of miles.

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

It’s July 4th!

Happy Independence Day to my American friends, and (a belated) Happy Canada Day to my Canadian buddies!IMG_3846

June Reading Wrap-Up

Apparently in June I only read books with primary-colored covers…
{As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.}

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – I really enjoyed this story of Louisa, a cheerful caregiver, and Will, a man who has recently become quadriplegic and is (understandably?) bitter as a result. Me Before You is heartbreaking and intense, but it’s full of humor, too, and I found its message is inspiring. I’ve seen a lot of backlash about the #LiveBoldly tagline; it seems some people assume it means that those with physical challenges can’t live boldly, but as far as I can tell, Me Before You is Lou’s story, and she learns to live boldly through Will, even while he’s made the polarizing decision to end his life six months after the book’s opening (a decision he’s entitled to because he’s an adult with autonomy; I’m pro Death with Dignity, for what it’s worth). If you’re curious about this novel and have yet to give it a read, know that its portrayal of disability isn’t without flaws, but the overall story is an engaging and affecting read.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – This is a tricky book to talk about, seeing as how pretty much anything I say will spoil the earlier three books in the series. So, here are my super vague thoughts… Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is, as always, beautiful and enchanting. Her world building is exceptional. I’m a fan of how Blue’s and the Raven Boys’ arcs panned out, particularly Ronan’s and Adam’s, but I’m slightly underwhelmed by the conclusions given to to some of the lesser characters. Also, I wish the whole Glendower thing had played out differently. To me, it felt rather anticlimactic. Despite my minor gripes with this final installment, I love The Raven Cycle as a whole. It’s one of the most unique series I’ve read, YA or otherwise.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti (January, 2017) – This forthcoming debut is wonderfully fresh and achingly bittersweet. Main character Hawthorn’s voice is so great. She’s a lonely teenager with a quirky sense of humor and an enormous imagination. When Lizzie Lovett — a girl who graduated from Hawthorn’s high school a few years prior — vanishes, Hawthorn becomes fixated on discovering what might’ve happened to her, mostly because the assumed tragedy is more interesting (and more manageable) than her actual life. Hawthorn’s a girl with a devil-may-care attitude; she’s got wild theories about what happened to Lizzie, and she does things that many might momentarily consider, then brush off as far too reckless. The most fascinating aspect of this novel, for me, is Hawthorn’s relationship with Lizzie Lovett’s boyfriend, Enzo. It’s complicated and ill-advised (he’s significantly older, plus he’s grieving), and man did it make my heart hurt. I love, too, Hawthorn’s interactions with the hippie caravan that’s moved into her family’s backyard, and her brother’s best friend, Connor. I’m endlessly impressed with this Swanky book — definitely check it out when it debuts in January!

Wonder by RJ Palacio – I feel like this novel should be required reading in all elementary/middle schools. It was recommended to me by my daughter (how fun that we can now share books!) and I adored it as much as she did. Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a fifth grade boy with severe facial disfigurement who’s making the jump from homeschool to public school. He’s worried because he hasn’t had an easy go of it as far as friendships and fitting in, and despite his unique situation, he’s easy to empathize with. Auggie is such an honest, earnest protagonist. While Wonder is told mostly through his his first-person lens, there are plenty of chapters told by his family and friends, too, which were fascinating perspectives through which to view his situation, as well as an important reminder that we all face challenges and make mistakes and are capable of becoming heroes. It’s common knowledge that I’m not a book crier, but this one definitely made me tear up — it’s just so heartfelt and, well, wonderful. Read it, then pass it on to the kiddos in your life.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – It’s easy to see why this debut won the William C. Morris Award last year — it’s smart and funny and awesomely voice-y. Protagonist Simon is a drama kid who’s being blackmailed because of his sexuality, and he’s also dealing with changing friendships, his slightly offbeat (but cool) family, and his own identity as it contrasts with the assumed white/straight norm. Simon is immediately likable, and so is his cast of supporting characters. I particularly love enigmatic Blue, as well as Simon’s buddies Nick, Leah, and Abby who, while relatively minor, feel like fully realized people. I love, too, the element of mystery — trying to guess Blue’s identity right along with Simon. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an important book and a profound story, but it never feels bogged down with agenda (see what I did there?). Instead, it’s a thoughtful, nuanced read that prompts contemplation while at the same time being delightfully entertaining.

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June (May, 2017) – Another Swanky book! I had so much fun reading It Started with Goodbye. It’s a modern spin on Cinderella, a story with weighty themes that’s told in this spirited, heartfelt way that made diving into its world an absolute joy. Main character Tatum is awesome; she’s constantly railing against her too-strict stepmother, but she never reads as bratty. Her voice is spot-on, full of humor and insight, and I’m pretty sure Teen Katy would’ve wanted her as a BFF. It Started With Goodbye has some steep arcs, but author Christina June handles them with finesse, letting her characters grow in meaningful ways while preserving the heart of their well-developed personalities. And, as a romance lover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “SK”, the mysterious and witty boy Tatum trades emails with after he contacts her regarding her graphic design work. So cute and so sweet, and the payoff is perfection. It Started with Goodbye debuts May, 2017, but mark it To-Read now, because you’ll want to snatch it up as soon as it hits shelves.

Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca – This soap-y 2015 debut was exactly what I was looking for in a poolside novel — in fact, I read it in its entirety during one sunny afternoon. Last Year’s Mistake is told in alternating before-and-after chapters, chronicling the rise, fall, and rekindling of protagonist Kelsey’s relationship with baseball stud David. I was impressed with the complexity author Gina Ciocca gave Kelsey and David’s relationship — it starts out as a platonic friendship, morphs into an unrealized then unspoken crush, and turns into an angsty will-they-won’t-they love affair. Alongside Kelsey and David’s relationship, there’s a lot going on: a health scare, a cancer diagnosis, moves, new romances, faltering friendships, school dances, and I found myself caught up in all of it. These characters live full lives and are far from perfect (love how authentic Kelsey and her supporting cast feel!), yet they’re easy to root for. Recommended for fans of Simone Elkeles and Katie McGarry.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian – When I’m really into a story, I do one of two things: race to the finish to see how it concludes, or drag my feet so as to prolong the reading experience. In the case of The Last Boy and Girl in the World, I did some major feet dragging. Main character Keeley’s lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she’s absolutely charming and lovable, even while she’s misreading situations and acting foolish to get a laugh. She’s so silly and real and flawed, I found myself cheering for her from the story’s earliest pages. The Last Boy and Girl in the World is set in Aberdeen, a town that will soon be sunk by a dammed river. There’s all sorts of scandal surrounding the dam and the pending demise of Aberdeen, but more than that, there are a lot of conflicted feelings swirling around Keeley, her friends, and her family as they  prepare for the drowning of their town. Keeley defaults to making the best of the situation, even when that means alienating those who’re suffering, and she’s got a partner in merrymaking in swoony soccer boy Jesse. So as not to spoil the story’s ending, I’ll just say that The Last Boy and Girl in the World surprised me in a lot of really great ways, and Siobhan Vivivan is now among my favorite contemporary YA writers.

What’s the best book you read in June?