Cover Voting for THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US!

I’ve been anticipating this for a long while… It’s time to vote on the cover of my July, 2018 book, The Impossibility of Us! Here’s a summary from my publisher, in case you’d like to get to know the story better before seeing the cover directions:

The last thing Elise wants is to start her senior year in a new town. But after her brother’s death in Afghanistan, she and her mother move from San Francisco to a sleepy coastal village to be closer to Elise’s sister-in-law and niece.

When Elise meets Mati during a beachside walk, they quickly discover how much they have in common. Mati is new to town, too, visiting the U.S. with his family. Over the course of the summer, their relationship begins to blossom, and what starts out as a friendship becomes so much more.

But as Elise and Mati grow closer, her family becomes more and more uncomfortable with their relationship, and their concerns all center on one fact – Mati is Afghan.

Beautifully written, utterly compelling, and ultimately hopeful, The Impossibility of Us asks: How brave can you be when your relationship is questioned by everyone you love?

Here are the 3 options the cover designers at Swoon Reads came up with:

  

Guys, I love them all so much! These models so perfectly capture Mati and Elise’s spirits, and I adore the attention to detail paid by the cover designer: Mati’s hands in his pockets, Elise’s long, caramel colored hair, the beachy setting, the beautiful dandelions, and the romantic yet slightly hesitant postures. I also adore the color scheme of each cover — so dreamy. I’m truly smitten with each! 

Visit the Swoon Reads blog to vote for your favorite cover direction, now through September 15th. And if you’d like to learn more about The Impossibility of Us, check out this post, and its Goodreads page, where you can also mark it To-Read.

Which cover direction is your favorite?!

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August Reading Wrap-Up

I’ve been sharing monthly reading wrap-up posts almost as long as I’ve been blogging — like, seven years. And I love doing them; recommending fantastic books is one of my favorite things about being a member of the writing/reading community. But, man, these posts take a long time to compile.

Bad news… With a busy tween, a mischief-making foster toddler, and a fledgling publishing career, plus my husband and friends and house and various other commitments, I need to scale back on my monthly wrap-ups.

Good news… I’m not giving them up! I’m just going to streamline them into a more manageable “Three Things” structure. So, I’ll share three things I loved about each of the books I read during a given month, and hopefully that will help you decide whether the stories I feature might be ones you’d enjoy.

This month is all about testing the new format, and I’d love your feedback. Let me know in the comments what you think of the “Three Things” wrap-up!

30971685The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
1. Incredibly unique world building. You’ve never read a story quite like this. Full of rich detail, The Disappearances is historical fiction, but with a magical twist, and a puzzle that’ll keep you guessing through its final pages.
2. Gorgeous prose. Emily’s writing is lyrical and lovely. I found myself rereading sentences just for the pleasure of savoring her word choice, imagery, and rhythm.
3. A relatable main character. Aila is strong, determined, and smart, but she can also be self-conscious and uncertain. She loves hard, though, and she’s unfailingly loyal, which makes her so easy to root for.

29437949Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
1. Swiftly paced. While this adult psychological thriller is told in a past/present format, it never drags. In fact, I had a hard time putting it down!
2. Chilling, but not graphic or gratuitous. MC Grace is stuck in an abusive relationship (she’s her husband’s prisoner, basically), and while Jack is terrifying and manipulative and sadistic, no part of this book made me feel like I was going to have nightmares, or created images I couldn’t sweep away soon after.
3. Super satisfying conclusion. I kept wondering, How is Grace ever going to escape this? Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I was pretty pleased with how things turned out.

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Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
1. Slow-burn mystery. This is a tightly plotted book, full of red-herrings, twists, and turns. I wouldn’t call it fast-paced, though, as it focuses heavily on character development, which only serves the story. And the ending’s a shocker.
2. A host of unreliable perspectives. Main character, Kacey, feels at times untrustworthy and at times completely sincere. In fact, at one point or another, all of Little Monster‘s characters seem to be hiding something, upping the intrigue tenfold.
3. Incredibly atmospheric. This book made me cold. It made me hyperaware when walking into dark spaces. And it made me want to stay far, far away from haunted barns. It really is the YA version of a Gillian Flynn novel!

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By Your Side by Kasie West
1. Excellent setting. During the first half of By Your Side, Autumn and mysterious loner, Dax, are trapped in a library. There are a lot of challenges for them to overcome (what to eat, for example) but mostly their situation struck me as pretty darn dreamy.
2. Anxiety Disorder representation. I appreciated reading about a protagonist who is living (flourishing, really) with anxiety. Though Autumn’s disorder presents unique struggles, it does not define her, or drive the plot.  
3. Sweet romance. Kasie West has become a go-to author when I’m looking to read a light book with a gratifying romance. While Autumn and Dax definitely face challenges, their relationship is free of contrived drama, and they’ve got great chemistry.

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Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
1. Truly helpful structural tips. Both for romance writers, and those hoping to thread romance into stories of other genres.
2. Quick, easy read. Also, encouraging! Romancing the Beat left me eager to dive back in to my troublesome WiP.
3. Humorously and irreverently written. Bonus — eighties song references!

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The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin –
1. Bridges the YA/NA gap. The Big F has the same light, hopeful feel of a lot of my favorite YAs (see my mention of Kasie West above), but its MC, Danielle, is trudging through her first year of community college. It’s nice to see this stage featured in a book.
2. Dynamic characterizations. From Danielle, to her younger brother, to her best friend, to potential love interests Luke and Porter, Maggie Ann Martin’s characters leap off the page.
3. Excellent voice. I can totally see myself hanging out with Danielle and her bestie, Zoe. They read as so authentic, and that’s thanks to this debut’s stellar voice.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in August?
And, what do you think of the “Three Things” structure of this post?

Why I recommend rather than review…

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t write negative book reviews. It’s certainly true that I don’t love everything I read; I don’t even like everything I read. And yet, I almost always* choose to highlight the positive.

Here’s why…

1. I’m a writer — part of the writing community — and I don’t feel comfortable offering unsolicited public critique of my peers’ work.

2. I believe every book has its readers. Even if I don’t connect with a story, I can almost always point to its positive attributes, and hope the right reader picks it up.

3. There’s plenty of unpleasantness in the world as is, especially these days. I don’t have time or energy to waste on negativity. I prefer to celebrate books I love, rather than bash books I don’t enjoy.

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This isn’t to say that negative reviews are bad. While I appreciate enthusiastic praising when it comes to stories, I also see great value in thoughtful criticisms. That’s just not what I do here.

It’s simple, really. I boost books — particularly the books I love.
And you know what? It feels really good. 💙

*If I notice problematic (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc) content, I’ll say so.

Welcome to the world, Jilly and Max!

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here!

Kissing Max Holden has finally (FINALLY!) made its way into the world — I can hardly believe it! 

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In case you’re new around here, a brief summary of the story: 

After his father has a life-altering stroke, Max Holden isn’t himself. As his long-time friend, Jillian Eldridge only wants to help him, but she doesn’t know how. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows that she shouldn’t let him kiss her. But she can’t resist, and when they’re caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it’ll never happen again. Because kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.

With a new baby sister on the way, her parents fighting all the time, and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending more and more time with Max. And even though her father disapproves and Max still has a girlfriend, not kissing him is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and allow their friendship to blossom into more, or will she listen to her head and stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

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I wrote about the beginnings of Kissing Max Holden‘s path to publication in On Patience, Perseverance, and the Elusive Book Deal, back in December, 2015 so I’ll spare you a rehashing of how selling this book was a long, bumpy road, but please do check out that post if you’re into book-ish origin stories, or if you’re working on getting your own manuscript sold and need a little inspiration in the way of sticking it out.

Today, I’d like to say thank you…

Thank you to Holly West and Lauren Scobell, who selected Kissing Max Holden from a wealth of truly excellent Swoon Reads submissions, and helped me shape it into the story it is today. And thank you to Kat Brzozowski, who’s offered such kindness and guidance and patience over the last year.

Thank you to Jean Feiwel, who took the genius idea of a crowd-sourced YA imprint and turned it into a reality, simultaneously making my dream of publication a reality.

Thank you to my ever diligent publicist, Kelsey Marrujo. Thank you to marketing superstar and early Kissing Max Holden champion Ashley Woodfolk. Thank you to Valerie Shea and Starr Baer for their copyediting prowess. Thank you to Emily Settle for all the things. Thank you to Rebecca Syracuse for the gorgeous, gorgeous cover. Thank you to everyone else at Swoon Reads, Fierce Reads, and Macmillan who had a hand in making my debut (and my debut experience!) so amazing.

Thank you to my agent, Victoria Marini, who is smart and honest and funny and real, and who’s stuck with me through it all.

Thank you to my little group of critiquers — Alison Miller, Temre Beltz, Riley Edgewood, and Elodie Nowodazkij — for their brilliant feedback, endless inspiration, and boundless enthusiasm. All writers should be so lucky to have friends like you.

Thank you to Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, Jaime Morrow, Christa Desir, and Erin Bowman for sharing their wisdom, humor, and priceless critiques on Kissing Max Holden at its various stages of storydom. This book is so much better because of you!

Thank you to the #SwoonSquad for being so welcoming and warm. Thank you to my fellow 2017 middle grade and young adult authors. Your support, pep talks, and commiseration have been invaluable. Thank you to the YA community for making me feel like one of you, even in the beginning. And thank you to Jessi Kirby, Miranda Kenneally, Jessica Love, Lisa Schroeder, and Erin Bowman for the beautiful blurbs.

Thank you to my parents, for indulging my lifelong love of reading, and for stressing the importance of education, and for making me feel loved at all times. Thank you to my brothers for providing plenty of fodder for my fictional familial relationships, and for accompanying me on the wild ride that was growing up. Thank you to my mother-in-law and father-in-law for their unwavering support, and thanks to the rest of my family for their constant excitement regarding my writing. You guys are the best!

An enormous, heart-shaped thank you to my husband, who shares Max’s best traits, who always knows how to cheer me up, and who happily orders pizza when I’m in the weeds. Thank you to my daughter, who has never stopped believing this would happen, and thank you to my littlest munchkin because even now, your love of books (and me!) shines bright.

And thank you — yes, you!

Thank you for asking about my writing, for sharing my shamelessly promotional tweets/posts/images, for asking me to come to your town for a signing, for passing out my bookmarks, for preordering Kissing Max Holden, for requesting it at your library, for talking about it with the readers in your life, for complimenting its cover, its summary, and its blurbs. Thank you, so much, for your tireless support.

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Because it’s release day, I’m going to drop a few links below — you know, should you want to order Kissing Max Holden for yourself or your favorite book lover. You should also be able to find it at most major brick-and-mortar book retailers, as well as many independent bookstores. If you can’t find it, just ask! Most stores are more than willing to order requested books. 🤗

  Order Kissing Max Holden from Amazon
Order Kissing Max Holden from Indie Bound
Order Kissing Max Holden from Barnes and Noble
Order Kissing Max Holden from BAM!
Order Kissing Max Holden from Target
Order Kissing Max Holden from Powell’s
Order a signed copy of Kissing Max Holden from One More Page Books

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Kissing Max Holden‘s launch party is this Saturday, August 5th, 7PM – 8PM at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. All are welcome, and I hope to see you there!

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And I’ll be on tour next week, so if you’re in Richmond VA, Charlotte NC, Asheville NC, Atlanta GA, or Greenville SC, please do come see me, my tour buddy, Christina June, and our lovely special guests!

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For information on other future appearances, visit my Out and About page.

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And… I think that’s it.

I’m officially an author now.

Dreams do come true. 💕

July Reading Wrap-Up

I read some amazing YA books in July!
Don’t forget to share your recent favorites in the comments. 😘

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Alterations by Stephanie Scott – My official remarks: “Stephanie Scott’s Alterations is an unputdownable blend of fashion, friendship, and fun, with a romance like the perfect accessory —unexpected and sparkling!” My unofficial comments: This Sabrina-inspired novel is all sorts of cute, but there’s a weightiness to it, too, one I really appreciate. The first half takes place in NYC, while protagonist Amelia takes part in a fashion internship, learning tons about the industry and making new friends. Over the course of the internship, she tells a whopper of a lie (about her upbringing and Ethan, her longtime crush) that snowballs, forcing Amelia to come to terms with her flaws and her reality, and setting up the second part of the story, which was my favorite. It’s during this time that Amelia really comes into her own as far as her talent for fashion and style, and starts to realize that maybe Ethan’s not the right boy for her after all. Alterations is a perfect summer read for fans of contemporary YA.

30763950A Million Junes by Emily Henry – Emily Henry’s debut, The Love That Split the World, blew me away, so I went into her sophomore effort, A Million Junes, with high expectations. This beautiful, beautiful book is the first in a very long time to keep me reading well beyond my bedtime. It’s a Romeo and Juliet sort of story about June and Saul and the the dark, curiously linked histories of their families. Emily Henry writes a love story like nobody’s business; even though June and Saul’s romance was a bit instantaneous, it makes sense because they’ve got mad chemistry and witty banter and an inexplicable bond you can just feel. Look how lovely: “When the stars burn out and the oceans freeze over and the whole world is ash and dust and ice, our names will still be carved into this tree of life, side by side, and I’ll still be loving you.” A Million Junes is about more than romance; it’s a story chronicling all sorts of love, as well as grief and survival and curses and mistakes and the way we put our own unique stamp on our world and the people who occupy it. Big recommend for fans of gorgeous prose, heartfelt romance, long buried family strife, and magical realism.

20443235The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – (This was an audio reread, and I’ve copied and pasted most the review I shared last year. It’s full of spoilers, but seeing as how this series concluded more than a year ago, I’m going to let you proceed at your own risk…) My thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss are a rambling mess — I loved everything about this book! I’d change literally nothing. It’s a beautifully written story full of emotion and fraught with tension. I’m so pleased that Arin and Kestrel spend most of Kiss together, learning to cooperate, trust, and love each other in new and deep and meaningful ways. I’m a big fan of how the prison rescue plays out and after, when Arin reminds Kestrel that she bought him and she asks if she still owns him and he says, “Yes.” Guys, my heart. I had legitimate physical reactions to this story — all of it, but particularly that scene on the tundra. Also, the scene where they finally seal the deal. ❤ I love the resolute strength we’ve continued to see in our two protagonists, but more than that, I love how their weaknesses are presented in this final book, and how they come to terms with those weaknesses and learn to lean on each other, to fill the voids in each other’s hearts. I love Kestrel’s complicated relationship with her father, and Arin’s dealings with the General in the final battle scene. Incidentally, I enjoyed all of the battles scenes (I often find myself skimming anything that has to do with actual combat), for they’re fast-paced and intense, full of the scheming and out-maneuvering I’ve come to expect from Kestrel and Arin. More than that, the war plays such an important role in this book’s plot, and Marie Rutkoski gives it the weight it deserves. Additionally, I love how elements from the first and second books come into play in this final novel — Bite and Sting in particular. I love Roshar for his spirit and his comic relief, and I love Sarsine for her kindness and quiet wisdom. And I love how this story concludes a series I’ve been invested in for the last two years — so elegantly, and so satisfyingly: Arin and Kestrel, an equal, loving pair with a true future ahead of them. Even if you’re a reluctant fantasy reader (like me!), I suggest you give the Winner’s books a shot. They’re breathtaking and affecting and intensely entertaining, and I think you’ll be won over.

32048554Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith – This book reminded me of that old Nicholas Cage movie, It Could Happen to You, only it’s way better. Windfall is the story of Alice, a girl who buys her best friend (and secret love), Teddy, a lottery ticket for his eighteenth birthday. He wins bazillions of dollars, which is excellent because Teddy is charming, and he and his mom can definitely use the money. Except, the winnings bring many complications, most notably uncertainty regarding Alice’s future, ghosts from Teddy’s past, and tension in the story’s various relationships. While the book revolves around a high concept, I found it to be a quieter, more character-driven story, which is almost always my preference. I loved watching Alice come into her own, and it was super fulfilling to see Teddy mature over the course of the book. Alice’s cousin, Leo, is a wonderful supporting character who offers a lot of wisdom and support. Thematically, Windfall focuses on luck and misfortune and whether any one person deserves either, as well as the assumed responsibility of a person suddenly gifted with an unfathomable amount of money. Read it if you’re a fan of skillfully written contemporary YA.

25543153Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer (November 14, 2017) – Oh my gosh, this is such an affecting novel; I can’t imagine myself ever forgetting its remarkable characters. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I began reading, but as I became immersed in the story of Fishkill, a twelve-year-old girl from a tragically abusive and neglectful family, her friend, Duck-Duck, and Duck-Duck’s mother, Molly, I felt simultaneously heartbroken and hopeful. Being Fishkill is about chosen family and resilience — of children in particular. It will devastate you with its honesty and stun you with its gorgeous prose, and just when you think Fishkill can’t possibly endure another setback (because she endures many, many setbacks), she will reaffirm your faith in humanity with her strength of character, her humor, and her enormous heart. I want to mention, too, that as someone who’s been through foster care training and is currently caring for a child who is not biologically mine, this book reads as incredibly accurate, both in its depiction of the child welfare system, and its portrayal of the emotions that stem from foster parenting. Please do check Being Fishkill out when it releases this fall.

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Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon – This was such a cool book. Done Dirt Cheap is like nothing else I’ve read in YA; it’s an incredibly strong and searing debut. It’s the story of eighteen-year-olds Tourmaline and Virginia and their unlikely, complicated friendship, as well as the secrets they’re hiding and the enemies they’re trying to keep at bay. It’s a twisty tale featuring two girls who are down on their luck in some pretty extraordinary ways, but who refuse to buckle under adversity. I adored Tourmaline and Virginia, and I was captivated by their impossible choices and fierce loyalties and utter badassedness. Read: “We’re friends because when girls – women – are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off.” Done Dirt Cheap also features bikes and winding rides, boys and sultry kisses, and a setting so atmospheric, I could smell the tarry asphalt and taste Cash’s delectably described cooking. If you like books about girls who make bad decisions for good reasons, girls with lives messy and dangerous, girls who go after what they want, be it a man or revenge or a degree, you’ll love Done Dirt Cheap.

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

KISSING MAX HOLDEN’s Launch Party!

Come celebrate the release of Kissing Max Holden
with me and a whole bunch of cookies!

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Hope to see you there! 😘

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