April Reading Wrap-Up

Four books in April. Aiming for five in May. 🙂

25062038Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
1. Diversity. As far as representation goes, I hope Little & Lion becomes the rule. Its characters are authentic and intersectional and exceptional, written with nuance and sensitivity. This book is a must-read for contemporary YA fans.
2. Suzette! She has moments of relatable doubt about who she is and who she wants to be, but mostly she’s strong and steadfast and awesome.
3. Focus on family. Suzette and Lionel have the best parents. They’re supportive and loving and appreciative of their kids’ unique qualities, but somehow, they never feel too perfect to be believable. Also, I adored Suzette and Lionel’s relationship. They’re not biologically related (they’re not even legally step-siblings) but there’s so much love and loyalty between them. I was constantly moved by the scenes they shared.

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Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
1. A+ protagonist. Janna, at fifteen, is a little younger than most of the YA protagonists I read, but she’s complex: smart and considerate and philanthropic. It was delightful to watch her grow and change over the course of her story.
2. Everyday portrayal. I read a few reviews of this debut that used the term “slice of life” and that’s exactly what I think it is — a first person glimpse into the joys and challenges and frustrations of being a teenage Muslim American photographer. The stakes aren’t sky-high, but the story is super engaging.
3. Friendships. Janna has unique and interesting relationships with all the various people in her life, but my favorite was her friendship with kind Mr. Ram.

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Meant To Be Broken by Brandy Woods Snow (July, 2018 – Cover to come!)
1. Sloooooow burn. There’s a love triangle in this romantic debut, and it’s really well done. Rayne’s dating golden boy Preston, who’s a genuinely good guy, but there’s so much heat between her and Preston’s brother, Gage. You’ll have to read to see how it all plays out, but I will say: #TeamGage.
2. Mystery. There’s a small town scandal brewing beneath all the romance, and I love the way characters who feel initially peripheral later come into play in major ways. I was totally surprised by this story’s twists and revelations.
3. Unputdownable. I stayed up way too late flipping pages, and was completely invested in Rayne, Gage, and Preston. Meant To Be Broken is full of authentic southern voice and tells a complete story in an intensely emotional way. Definitely a Katy Book!

23197837The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
1. Prose as beautiful as its cover. Dhonielle Clayton knows how to spin a lovely sentence, and she writes descriptions so sharp and rich and colorful, you can’t help but plant yourself in the fantastical world of Orléans.
2. Holy world building! It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel with such a thoughtfully and intentionally created universe — one that doesn’t just complement the story’s plot, but is instrumental to it. (Teacup animals?!)
3. Complex themes. I went into The Belles expecting beauty and pageantry and intrigue, and I got all of that, but beneath the splendor, Dhonielle Clayton works to unpack the dangerousness of a society’s fixation on beauty, as well as the hazards toxic femininity. This one’s a frothy page-turner, but it’ll also make you think.

What’s the best book you read in April?

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How the Light Gets In: A Not So Brief History

The sale of a book is a weird phenomenon — an often exciting but sometimes frustrating process involving a magical combination of skill, timing, and — mostly — luck. 

If you’re a writer who’s feeling defeated, or if you’re curious about the behind-the-scenes of the submission process, or if you’re just nosey and want to know how my latest sale went down, I invite you to read on. I hope this saga (spanning seven years) reads like commiseration or inspiration or maybe a little bit of both. I hope it encourages you to continue trudging down the path to publication because — cliche as this may sound — it really does take only one yes.

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September 9, 2010 – On this, my daughter’s first day of preschool, I write the opening scene of Where Poppies Bloom, the manuscript that will one day end up almost entirely rewrittenIf you’ve followed this blog or any of my social media platforms for a while, you might recall hearing about Poppies, also known as my Ghost Book.

November 30, 2010 – After three months of writing like the wind, I finish the first (of MANY) drafts of Ghost Book. It is my third complete manuscript.

January 3, 2011 – I begin querying. I feel hopeful, like Ghost Book might be The Book.

March 6, 2011 – I complete an agent-requested revise & resubmit. I’ve trimmed 11K words (about 50 pages) from the story, and learned a lot about pacing and killing darlings.

April 29, 2011 – I receive the first of two agent offers of representation. I’m certain this is it — my big break.

May 9, 2011 – I accept an agent’s offer of representation. Celebration ensues.

Early June, 2011 – I begin to revise Ghost Book according to my recently acquired agent’s feedback. I work hard, all summer and into the fall.

November 4, 2011 – Ghost Book goes out on submission, a process that will prove to be long, and rife with close calls.

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August, 2012 – After a miserable “we love this, but the market is currently saturated” walk down submission lane, Ghost Book is, to my dejection, placed in a metaphorical drawer.

November, 2012 – With much anxiety, I decide to part ways with my agent. The decision to seek new representation turns out to be a positive career move.

December 3, 2012 – After a whirlwind and surprisingly positive querying experience with a fresh manuscript, I accept an offer of representation from Victoria Marini.

January 21, 2013 – Just as Victoria and I are getting ready to send the manuscript for which she signed me out on submission, we hit a snag. Through the publishing grapevine, I discover that my first agent received an offer on Ghost Book. In secret, she declined that offer on my behalf. This is a long, convoluted story, but suffice to say, I am very upset.

Late January, 2013 – Super agent Victoria manages to gracefully straighten out the mess caused by my first agent. I decide to let the previous offer for Ghost Book go in favor of focusing on the submission of my new manuscript. I won’t lie — this is a hard decision. For years, I will wondered if it is the right decision.

February, 2013 – April, 2014 – I work on new things: different manuscripts, strengthening my craft, and supporting others in the writing community. This time brings highs and plenty of lows. The path to publication is a rocky one.

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May, 2014 – Because I love it — have always loved it — I dig Ghost Book out of hibernation, and brainstorm how to revitalize it. Victoria and I agree on the incorporation of a new element, and I begin a significant rewrite.

July 14, 2014 – I finish rewriting Ghost Book. I am so proud. I send it off to my critique partners, and await feedback.

November, 2014 – After another round of revisions, the story is ready. Victoria sends it to a limited list of editors. Remember, an earlier version of this book was submitted back in 2011-2012, so the pool is shallow. I write new stories while the months pass. Again, ALL the close calls. If I hear maybe when the market shifts one. More. Time.

July, 2015 – Eventually, Ghost Book finds its way back into the drawer, but not indefinitely. I believe that one day, luck will be on its side. I’m not so sad this time, either, because I’ve recently discovered Swoon Reads, and I’m preparing to upload a different manuscript, Kissing Max Holden, to the site. I’m excited to see where this crowd-sourced Macmillan imprint might get me.

November 16, 2015 – Holy shit — Swoon Reads wants to publish Kissing Max Holden! Finally, I’ve gotten my foot in the door, and with an imprint I find truly inspiring.

December, 2015 – August 1, 2017 – I spend the next 18 months focused on Jilly and Max. I revise, and edit, and promote. Spring, 2016, Victoria and I sell a second manuscript, The Impossibility of Us, to Swoon Reads. I am thrilled to be working with an imprint that supports and celebrates its authors. I can’t wait to write more!

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Early August, 2017 – Victoria and I submit a third manuscript to Swoon Reads. Full disclosure: I’m feeling pretty confident.

September 13, 2017 – I get word that my editor isn’t into this latest manuscript. I’m so bummed, and yet… I get her reasoning. Also — surprise! — published authors don’t go on to sell everything they submit. I knew this, but now I know this.

 October 11, 2017 – I write detailed synopses of two new story ideas, and submit them to my editor. I am vaguely excited about both ideas, but also terrified that I won’t be able to pull them off should either be picked up based on proposal alone.

November 6, 2017 – Turns out, my concern was for nothing. My editor isn’t 100% onboard with either idea. *womp womp* But… she suggests I consider writing a story like [popular YA novel] meets [popular YA novel]. To which I respond… I’ve actually already written something kind of like that — my Ghost Book.

November 15, 2017 – My editor reads Ghost Book. And… she wants to take it to acquisitions. I am DYING. It’s been years, and this story means SO MUCH to me. How will I get through the next few weeks of waiting?

November 29, 2017 – Victoria has good news: Swoon Reads wants to buy Ghost Book! I’m beside myself! Not only do I get to work with my fantastic editor on another book, but this story that I love with all my heart has finally, finally, finally found a home.

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And now I get to share my news with you! The story to which I have for years lovingly referred to as Where Poppies Bloom has a beautiful new title, How the Light Gets In, which speaks so perfectly to its themes and mix of darkness and light.

I’ve been hard at work on revisions, taking inspiration from my editors savvy notes, as well as some of the images I’ve included here, and those I’ve pinned on my How the Light Gets In Pinterest Board. This book (what will be my third published novel — what is this life?!) is due in stores and libraries Spring/Summer, 2019.

I can’t wait for you to read it!

March Reading Wrap-Up

I only read four books in March because Life, but they were fantastic.
Highly recommend adding each of these to your To-Read list…

33830437Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
1. Super emotional. I never cry while reading, but this National Book Award winner nearly got me. It gave me so many feelings — highs and lows and everything in between — but it never felt overwrought. Robin Benway is a genius when it comes to poignancy.
2. Sibling relationships. Far From the Tree explores adoption and foster care, giving readers a peek at several sibling dynamics (adopted, foster, biological), which are written so beautifully and with such authenticity. I’m very critical when it comes to books that depict foster care, but I thought this one’s portrayal read as incredibly realistic.
3. Gorgeous writing. We get three 3rd-person points of view in Far From the Tree and while they’re distinct, they’re equally funny and affecting and evocative.

31706530Grit by Gillian French
1. Unique. I feel like Grit might be a divisive novel among YA readers; it’s quite different from most of the books available in the category. That said, I loved it. It’s a slow burn mystery set alongside a raw (and really sad) coming of age story, and just as its title conveys, it is gritty.
2. All the atmosphere. Gillian French has a gift for setting scenes with very specific, vivid details. The summery rural Maine existence MC Darcy experiences is almost palpable.
3. Girl bonds. Darcy’s closest friends are her older sister, Mags, and her beautiful cousin, Nell, and I thought the depiction of the girls’ complex trio was very well done. They bicker, but they’re also fiercely loyal to one another. Darcy’s relationship with her mom is also notable; it was interesting to see how they related to one another in light of their similar personalities and flaws.

27833670Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
1. Thought provoking. Honestly, Dark Matter made my brain hurt. It asks a lot of deep philosophical questions that I still don’t have firm answers for. It made me think in circles, which was fitting, considering MC Jason’s character arch.
2. Twists and turns. I listened to the audio version of this book club selection, and I was grumpy every time I had to turn it off — the plot is gripping, and full of surprises. I don’t want to say too much because I think this one’s more enjoyable when experienced without background knowledge or expectations.
3. Mash-up. To me, Dark Matter read as a little bit contemporary, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit dystopian, and a lot thriller. I think that’s what made it so compelling; a lot of the time, I wasn’t even sure what was going on, but I was definitely committed to finding out.

29736467The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
1. Total Katy Book! My favorite sort of fiction is melancholy, and intense, and romantic, and The Beauty That Remains is all of those things. It’s a book about grief, but more than that, it’s a book about love in its many forms.
2. Lovely prose. Ashley Woodfolk has a way of writing about sadness that’s visceral without feeling melodramatic. I felt Logan, Shay, and Autumn’s sorrow deeply, and I never stopped rooting for them to come out on the other side.
3. Amazing supporting characters. Not one of the characters in this debut falls flat. Even the most peripheral personalities jump off the page, making The Beauty That Remains feel like a complete, expertly drawn world.

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

February Reading Wrap-Up

Four excellent romance-y novels in February…

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Roomies by Christina Lauren
1. Manhattan. I love to read books set in NYC, and Roomies paints such a vivid picture of what it’s like to live and love in the city. Additionally, there’s special attention paid to working in arts and entertainment; protagonist Holland and her uncle are in the theater industry, and Calvin’s a struggling classically trained guitarist, all of which influence the plot, and bring the story to life.
2. The Fake Relationship. I’m such a sucker for this trope! Due to a series of unfortunate (or fortunate?) events, Holland finds herself married to Calvin, the Irish musician she’s been lusting after from afar. Of course, it’s not long before real sparks begin to fly, but the stakes are high, and complications are aplenty.
3. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Holland and Calvin are both just so likable — it’s easy to understand why they fall hard and fast. But their romance has depth, too, which had me rooting for them even from the story’s earliest pages.

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The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (May, 2018)
1. The Unlikeable Female Protagonist. Or, my favorite sort of protagonist. The thing with MC Clara, though, is that while she’s brash and self-centered, she’s also funny and extremely vulnerable. I love her! (And look at her on that gorgeous cover — so perfect.)
2. A+ friendships. Clara and Rose are opposites and, thanks to preconceived notions, begin the story hating each other. Their flaws and their character arcs make the friendship that slowly develops between them feel so authentic. And Hamlet, Clara’s sign flipping love interest, is pretty great, too.
3. A summer story. This one’s set in Los Angeles and is full of sunshine, Southern California references, and delectable descriptions of the Korean/Brazilian cuisine Clara and Rose serve at Clara’s dad’s food truck, the KoBra. I look forward to rereading this adorable contemp poolside in a few months!

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
1. All the humor. Guys, Misa Sugiura does comedy right. Her protagonist, Sana, is full of wit, and she makes these observations about her family and friends and the world at large that are infinitely amusing, yet contemplative and never mean-spirited. This story made me LOL more than once.
2. Japanese culture. I haven’t read many books with characters who have (or whose parents have) roots in Japan; it was so interesting to see the differences in family, expectations, and perspectives. It was fascinating, too, to watch Sana struggle with, but eventually come to embrace, her place in the world.
3. Diversity. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is a new favorite as far as its portrayal of the the complexities of friendship in high school. After moving to California, Sana finds herself the new kid, and she’s slotted into several different groups (the “Asian kids”, the cross-country runners, her crush, Jamie’s, Latinx friends, Caleb’s emo friends) and must navigate discrimination and stereotypes within those groups, as well as when the groups intersect. I think Misa Sugiura handles the topics of prejudice and racism with thoughtfulness and grace.

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
1. Italian setting — need I say more? I loved this book’s atmosphere; the descriptions of architecture, food, and art made me want to hop a plane to Florence for a big scoop of gelato.
2. Feel-good. I usually like my contemps with a little more edge, but Love & Gelato was the perfect mix of sweet and substance, with a bygone mystery that was a delight to unravel. This book left me just… happy.
3. A protagonist to root for. Lina’s experienced a recent tragedy in the loss of her mother, but she doesn’t spend the story drowning in grief. She’s a courageous go-getter with a sense of adventure, and I loved watching her make new friends, forge a relationship with Howard (who’s awesome in his own right), and explore Tuscany.

What’s the best book you read in February?

Upcoming Events

michal-grosicki-366027(Image by: Michał Grosicki)

Hi, friends! Below, find a couple of upcoming events I’ll be participating in. If you’re in the Philadelphia or D.C./Northern Virginia areas, you should check them out! 

Swoon Reads Author Showcase & Signing
w/ Karole CozzoSandy HallL.E. Delano, & Devon Taylor
Main Point Books
Wayne, PA
February 18, 2018 4 PM
(books will be available for purchase from Main Point Books)

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NoVa TEEN Book Festival
Washington Lee High School
Arlington, VA
March 10, 2018
(Schedule / Register (free!) / Preorder Books)

Hope to see you!

December/January Reading Wrap-Up

I only managed to read two books in December (chaotic month, I tell ya), so I decided to combine my December and January wrap-ups.
Can’t wait to share these excellent books with you!

32172614How to Breathe Underwater by Vicky Skinner (August 14, 2018)
1. Fully developed cast. While Kate is the protagonist of this debut, she’s not the only character with layers and flaws and problems. Her parents, sister, love interest, and friends all have challenges that play out alongside Kate’s. I appreciate when a story feels as complicated as real life, and How to Breathe Underwater definitely does.
2. Sweet, slow-burn romance. Love doesn’t come easy for Kate and her v. cute salsa dancing neighbor, Michael, which means that when they finally work things out, the payoff is so worth it.
3. Skillful prose. For a book with a lot of heavy themes, How to Breathe Underwater remains a smooth and endearing read. Vicky infuses the novel with thoughtful commentary and just the right amount of humor, making it read like a wonderful escape.

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The Game Can’t Love You Back by Karole Cozzo (May 15, 2018)
1. Badass female lead. Just wait until you meet Eve — she’s strong, smart, loyal, determined, and super athletic. She stares down sexism and attempted intimidation without flinching, and I kind of want to be her.
2. Dreamiest male lead. Jamie is a new favorite book boy; he has a reputation for being a player, but he’s actually got a heart of gold. He’s so sweet with Eve (eventually), and endlessly devoted to his family and his teammates. *swoon*
3. Enemies to lovers. One of my favorite tropes, and Karole pulls it off beautifully. Eve and Jamie begin the story as competing pitchers on the same baseball team and hate each other intensely. It’s not long, though, before they start to see the good in each other and, as their relationship develops, the chemistry between them skyrockets.

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Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
1. Voice, voice, voice. Bad Romance is a study in it. Protagonist Grace leaps of the page, and has this very unsettling way of making you feel exactly the way she’s feeling. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so utterly invested in her narrative.
2. Atmosphere. A strange thing to notice about about a contemporary novel, perhaps, but man did this story make me feel tied down — to Grace’s small town, to her dysfunctional family and, mostly, to Gavin, her manipulative and controlling boyfriend.
3. Complex characters. Bad Romance is one of those books populated by characters so layered and flawed, they feel absolutely real. Grace is easy to relate to, particularly when it comes to her intense feelings for Gavin. Her stepfather, who is almost entirely terrible, manages to show tiny glimpses of humanity. And Gavin isn’t just an Abusive Boyfriend; there are moments when he is so vulnerable and charming, it’s easy to see why Grace falls passionately in love with him. Bad Romance is not a feel-good novel, but it’s also one of the most powerful books I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

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West With the Night by Beryl Markham
1. For realz. This one was my book club’s January pick, and it’s not my usual fare. Still, I enjoyed it very much, especially the fact that it’s a memoir written by a strong, courageous woman who I previously knew nothing about.
2. Lovely prose. This one was originally published in 1942, so the language is slightly dated, but it reads as elegant and evocative. I found myself completely caught up in Beryl Markham’s fascinating memories.
3. Unique setting. A great deal of this story takes place in agricultural Kenya, a place I’ve read very little about. I loved learning about the terrain, the people, and the wildlife through Beryl’s engaging chronicle.

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Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
1. Enviable voice. I’ve read all three of Julie Murphy’s books, and she always awes me with how perfectly she nails her protagonists’ voices. They’ve all been distinct and wonderful, but I’ve got to name Ramona as my favorite; she’s funny and spirited and plucky — an unforgettable force.
2. A sister story. Ramona Blue boasts a large and lively cast and features a lovely romance (Freddie 💙), but at its core, it’s a book about two sisters — Ramona and Hattie — and how fiercely they love one another.
3. Diverse representation. It’s been a long time since I read a book that depicts such a varied, authentic cross-section of our population: different races, different sexualities, different socioeconomic situations, and so on. Incredibly refreshing.

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When Life Gives You Demons by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 17, 2018)
1. Fun, fun, fun. This book’s cover perfectly represents the story beneath it. Even though When Life Gives You Demons tackles some serious themes (good vs. evil, finding one’s place within family/community), it never takes itself too seriously. Protagonist Shelby is a Catholic school girl/exorcist in training, after all. 🙂
2. Mystery. Aside from Shelby’s various exorcisms and butterfly-inducing study dates with Spencer, she’s also trying to get to the bottom of her mother’s recent disappearance. Suffice to say, I was very surprised by Shelby’s eventual discovery!
3. All the Buffy vibes. If you’re a fan of show, I think you’ll love this novel. It’s the perfect blend of paranormal and humor, with a kickass heroine you’ll wish you could befriend.

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Surviving Adam Meade by Shannon Klare (August 14, 2018)
1. FNL feels. Are you obsessed with Friday Night Lights like I am? Then this is the book for you. It brought me right back to the weeks I spent binge watching that show a few years back, and gave me all of the same swoony feels. Friendship! Football! Kissing!
2. Claire + Adam = Sparks. I mean really — is there anything better than two characters yelling at each other because they *actually* want to kiss each other? Claire and Adam are evenly matched in the snark department, making their banter a thing of beauty, and when they finally make it to romance, it’s fantastic.
3. Senior year challenges. I’m a fan of how author Shannon Klare incorporated the challenges that come along with senior year into her debut. College visits, applications, deciding whether to attempt long distance relationships. It all feels very real and relevant set against the small town football backdrop. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters come August!

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Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
1. California. ☀️ I’m obsessed with coastal California towns, which is perfect because Alex, Approximately is set in (what I assume is) a fictionalized version of Santa Cruz. Better yet, it makes mention of some of my favorite real-life places, like Pacific Grove and Monterey. It’s all beachy and dreamy and inspired.
2. Flawless romance. The relationship main character Bailey builds with surfer boy Porter spoke to the heart-eyed idealist inside me. They’re so adorable together; they support each other, have a very interesting history, tons of chemistry, and they challenge one another in all the right ways. I’m smitten!
3. Delightful supporting characters. While Bailey + Porter have become a new favorite fictional couple, they don’t overshadow the awesomeness of the rest of the cast. I adore Bailey’s father, her new friend Grace, and the whole of Porter’s family. Honestly, for me, this book is perfect, perfect, perfect — everything I’d hoped it’d be. Can’t wait to get my hands on another Jenn Bennett novel!

What’s the best book you read recently?

2017 Standouts

I read some amazing books this year — including tons of debuts. 

I’d love to highlight the standouts here, with the hope that you’ll pick up a few recommendations for the New Year. The books I’m including weren’t necessarily published this year, but I discovered and devoured and loved each one during 2017. The novels below are ones that made me feel — made me laugh, made me long, made me wonder, or made me hurt. They’re the books I’m still thinking about, the books I want you to read, too, so we can chat about them later.

(Book titles link to my Goodreads comments.)

Let me know what your 2017 standouts are in the comments! 😘

Adult

Young Adult

Middle Grade

Coming in 2018

Tell me! 
What were your standout 2017 reads?