Category Archives: 2017 Debuts

September Reading Wrap-Up

September’s been the pits, my friends. Thanks to a lot of life stuff, I slacked on reading. But! The books I managed were pretty great…

28187230The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
1. Page turner. While, for me, this one had some believability issues, I still couldn’t put it down, mostly because I was desperate to find out what the heck was going on.
2. Emotive setting. Just like main character Lo, I felt disturbingly claustrophobic while “aboard” the luxurious but eerie Aurora Borealis.
3. Wholly unreliable cast. This was perhaps my favorite part of The Woman in Cabin Ten; I love when a book makes me doubt which of its characters can be trusted, and that was the case with this one up until its final chapters.

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Be True To Me by Adele Griffin
1. Dreamiest setting. Be True To Me is set in 1976, on Fire Island. It was a simpler time in many ways, though author Adele Griffin describes the scenery and spirit in such a lush, evocative way, I found myself longing to be there with Fritz and Jean.
2. Deeply flawed cast. Give me a book full of characters who make bad decisions over a group of perfect princes and princesses any day. I love that these teenagers were sometimes selfish and inconsiderate and single-minded. They weren’t always likable, but they felt so, so relatable.
3. Lovely prose. Like this: Summer romances were made out of ice cream and cotton candy, intensely sweet before they melted into nothing. Fact — Be True To Me is my first Adele Griffin novel, but I’ve become a fast fan. Can’t wait to read more of her work!

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Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
1. Suuuuuper character driven. This story focuses on a small, multi-generational family and you will get to know its members well. The good, the bad, the ugly.
2. Issues galore. Animal rights, gun control, marital strain, underage drug and alcohol use, self-harm. This is a long, slow story, allowing the author ample time to explore the many themes he presents. Nothing’s black and white, and I appreciated the opportunity to draw my own conclusions.
3. Young adult-ish. Before You Know Kindness is literary fiction written for an adult audience, though the sections that center around the Seton family’s youngest generation feel markedly YA. They were my favorite sections, obvs.

a562e848e72902082dd52bfa7249c203Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi (June 19, 2018)
1. aMaZiNg characterizations. I’ve been searching for one perfect adjective to describe Lulu and her girl friends and… I don’t think there is one? They’re fierce yet vulnerable, confident yet afraid, always exuberant, and so very real. There are some A+ parents plus a pretty great boy, too. ❤
2. Enviable prose. This is one of those novels chock full of passages you’ll want to read over and over again, because they are either lovely, or sharply insightful, or darkly funny.
3. Feminism for the win. I can’t wait to hand this book to my daughter in a few years. Its girls are complicated, and they make mistakes, and they do risky things. But they champion each other in ways that consistently warmed my heart. Pick up a copy of Not the Girls You’re Looking For next summer!

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Finding You by Lydia Albano
1. Incredible character arcs. Protagonist Isla begins the book a naive and admittedly weak girl. By the story’s end, she’s retained her compassion and her huge heart, but she’s otherwise unrecognizable — in the most impressive way.
2. Relevant subject matter. Finding You is an intense (possibly triggering) read about human trafficking. Though it’s set in a vaguely dystopian world void of most modern technology, its issues and themes are timely and very important.
3. Girl friendships. There’s a sweet romance in this book and while I loved Isla and Tam, I found myself even more invested in the relationships she formed with her fellow captives. I’m so impressed by how these girls came to lean on and support one another.

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

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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. 💕

One…

May Reading Wrap-Up

May has been a super varied month of reading,
and I’ve got lots of good stuff to recommend…

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – This one is the June pick for my book club (I’m actually ahead for once!) and it really impressed me. It’s based on the life of historical figures Sarah and Angelina Grimke, early abolitionists and feminists, but also tells the (almost entirely fictionalized) story Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave who comes of age in the Grimke household. I was worried that this tale would center on Sarah helping Handful to freedom, but it doesn’t. Both Sarah and Handful are strong women with agency, and their evolving relationship is fascinating. The Invention of Wings is a difficult read, as it holds little back in the way of depicting the severe realities of slavery, but it is also a beautiful story about love and sacrifice and standing up for what’s right. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American history, and fans of sweeping historical fiction.

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The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles – This is a cool book — it calls back to those 2007-2009 paranormal romances we all loved so much, but it definitely has its own unique spin. I bought The Edge of Everything because of its fabulous cover, but didn’t know much about what I was getting into until I started reading. The gist: Montana girl meets underworldly (yes)  boy; mayhem, mystery, and romance ensue. I love Zoe for her stubbornness and sass, and I love X for his vulnerability and sense of chivalry, and I love the two of them together because, despite the completely bonkers situation they find themselves in, they just… make sense. The voice of this debut impressed me, too. While the story is action-packed, author Jeff Giles has infused some smart humor into, too, which made it a super entertaining read. Pick this one up if you’re nostalgic for paranormal romance, or if you like captivating characters and evocative prose.

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The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo – I’ve loved all of my Swoon Sister Karole’s books, but this one is definitely my new favorite. The Truth About Happily Ever After is everything I wanted it to be — fantastic writing, layered characters who are so easy to root for, and super swoony romance. Protagonist Alyssa is relatably flawed and instantly likable, and I’ve got a new favorite Book Boy in Miller. This NA novel takes place at Enchanted Dominion, a stand-in for Disney World (my favorite!). Alyssa and her friends are character actors — Alyssa plays Cinderella with passion and perfection, and expects life and love to be the fairytale she presents at work. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, and Alyssa is forced to come to terms with some pretty unexpected challenges. Her character arch is steep and satisfying, while still feeling magical and fun. Perfect for those wanting an authentic-feeling romance between college-aged characters, with a delightfully enchanting setting.

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The Hot Shot by Kristen Callihan – I’m not even gonna lie — this book is full of smutty goodness, so if that’s not your thing, probably steer clear. But if you’re looking for a guilty pleasure read about an NFL quarterback and the utterly endearing photographer he falls for, this is the book for you. I recommend reading the first three books in this series first; I found them all unputdownable!

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han – It’s hard for me to chat about this third and final book about Jenny Han’s adorable Lara Jean and her winsome boyfriend Peter K because to admit that I loved this story probably gives a lot away. But yeah. I LOVED IT. Always and Forever, Lara Jean tackles the very real challenges of a high school senior: college applications and acceptances, stretching friendships, shifting family dynamics, and tested romances. It’s all very authentic, but still very charmed, as Lara Jean’s stories tend to feel. She’s matured in this book, which I appreciated seeing. She’s a better communicator, she’s less naive, and she’s even more thoughtful when it comes to the people she loves. And Peter’s grown too — he’s basically the world’s best boyfriend. ❤️ I could rave about this one all day. Read it if you haven’t yet, and if you’re waiting around to start this series, now’s the perfect time!

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The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – May’s book club selection, and I was captivated. This one’s about a couple who leaves their 6 month old baby, Cora, asleep in her crib while they have dinner/drinks with (you guessed it) the couple next door. They’ve got a baby monitor and they’re checking on her every half hour, but of course something horrible happens: Cora is kidnapped. This novel is fast-paced and full of twists and turns; it kept me guessing through its final pages. My only two qualms are the writing style — for me, it felt flat and at times tell-y — and the conclusion which, as far as baby Cora is concerned, I thought to be incredibly implausible. Still, this is a great summer read, sensational as it is. Recommended for those who like mystery and psychological thrillers.

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Fireworks by Katie Cotugno – Oh my goodness — this book exactly what I needed in nineties-set novel about a fledgling pop girl group and the dreamy boy band they come to know. Y’all, if you’re not reading Katie Cotugno’s books, please start now. She’s so good. I adored my time with this third novel of hers very much. Main character Dana is cool and layered and easy to relate to, and her love interest, Alex, is fantastic. I loved the way their relationship unfurled — it’s equally romantic and realistic. I also enjoyed how the demise of Dana’s best friendship was portrayed; her “break-up” with Olivia rang very true, and is an issue I don’t see addressed often enough in young adult literature. Fireworks is another excellent summer story, perfect for the beach or pool, and a must-read for contemporary lovers, particularly those who were teens in the nineties. 😘

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

April Reading Wrap-Up

Two selections from my book club, and four remarkable YA novels.
Your TBR list is about to grow!

19161864Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer – This is a hard book to review. Had my local book club not selected it for March, I never would have picked it up. That said, I did enjoy it, though it was hardly the “global thriller” its synopsis promised. Yes, there’s some spying, some advanced technology, some wild political occurrences, and a mysterious uprising, but that all comes second to what is essentially a character study. Leo, Mark, and Leila are all fascinating leads, charming and flawed in their own distinct ways, but — whoa — this is a long book with a lot of backstory, a lot of character development, a lot secret plotting, and… not much else. Plus, that ending. 🤔 Have you read WTF? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments — I’m curious!

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We Are Okay by Nina Lacour – The Disenchantments is one of my favorite YAs (a road trip story about a girl band — yes, please!) so I had high expectations for this college-set story. The two books are quite different, though they’re similar in their subtleness and their sensitivity. We Are Okay takes place over a few days, on an isolated and snowy New York campus, though it flashes back to the previous year in California often enough, chronicling the friendship-romance-demise of Marin and Mabel, two girls who share a tangible bond. I loved every moment I spent with these characters, though my very favorite thing about this story is the way it reflects life’s bittersweetness — how happiness can follow even the most tragic moments. Pick up We Are Okay if you enjoy enchanting prose and quiet but emotional books.

290083791You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow (August 29, 2017) – I’m not even a little bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this contemporary YA; its author is lovely and wonderfully sharp, much like her debut. I really can’t pinpoint why, but it reminded me of my all-time favorite Judy Blume book, Just As Long As We’re Together (though You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is firmly YA). It’s the story of Audrey, a girl who finds herself accidentally pregnant — even though she and her boyfriend, Julian, have been careful — and is forced to make some seemingly impossible choices. It’s also about stretching friendships, unique families, and love of all sorts. Audrey’s voice is stellar — totally authentic, at times funny, and always forthright. I appreciated this novel’s exploration of circumstance versus choice, and I think its message is both courageous and important. Watch for it this August!

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Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – Well, this was adorable. If I can be frank for a moment, though — at first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this contemporary YA. Its beginning is full of California stereotypes, and main character Jessie is pretty resentful about her circumstances. Her widower father’s just remarried, forcing a move from Chicago to L.A., completely uprooting his daughter. Luckily, Jessie grew on me super quick (come to find out, her personality is really similar to Teen Katy’s) and those stereotypes? Thoughtfully dismantled. Tell Me Three Things boasts a delightful secret romance, which definitely kept me engaged, and Jessie’s sense of humor is spot-on. I LOLed more than once. Give this one a read if you like your contemps fresh, fun, sex-positive, and full of voice.

32713479Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson (May 16, 2017) – This YA debut is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and it’s wonderful. I’m a big fan of the “best friends turned sweethearts” trope, and author Kate Watson pulls it off fantastically. Finley and Oliver so obviously belong together (their chemistry is equal parts sweet and swoony), yet the obstacles keeping them apart are real and compelling. Seeking Mansfield isn’t all romance; there are some really interesting family dynamics at play, and when movie stars Emma and Harlan roll into town, there’s plenty of friendship angst, too. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this novel is the affinity that develops between Finley and Emma. If you’re an Austen enthusiast, a theater lover, or a contemporary YA fan, grab a copy of Seeking Mansfield in just a few weeks!

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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – Another book club pick, and oh-my-gosh, I adored this novel. It was a difficult read, as it’s about foster care and motherhood and loss and chosen family; perhaps that’s why it made me feel ALL the things. The Language of Flowers follows two significant times in main character Victoria’s life: her tenth year, the one she spends with Elizabeth, the foster mother teaches her how to communicate with flowers, and her time as a young adult, emancipated, homeless, and alone. While all of this story’s characters are layered and complex, Victoria is deeply flawed, unable to bond, to love, to tolerate being touched, and yet… I never stopped rooting for her. Her story gave me literal chills more than once and, upon finishing, I immediately wanted to begin again at page one. Big recommend if you like literary novels that’ll make your heart hurt, but will also make you better for the experience.

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

March Reading Wrap-Up

I read so many great books this month, including a few extraordinary 2017 debuts. You can pick up Allegedly and The Hate U Give at your local bookseller now; make sure to add Gray Wolf Island and Kat Greene Comes Clean to your To-Read list!

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This story tackles weighty issues like immigration, racism, familial expectations, and fate vs. free will, but it’s also a romance between two meant-to-be teens. Main characters Natasha and Daniel leap off the page, their spark burning bright and hot. I love stories with unusual timelines and this one takes place in a day, but never fear — Natasha and Daniel aren’t in instalove. What they experience is an intense connection that builds minute by minute. Also! This novel features a scene that takes place at noraebang, which is the BEST. I love, too, the way The Sun Is Also a Star shows how the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential interactions can have lasting impact on the lives we touch. Recommend!

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One Summer With Autumn by Julie Reece – Sometimes I just really enjoy reading angsty, impassioned romances full of flawed but lovable characters who do dumb things in the name of love — or, dumb things in the name of avoiding love. (I enjoy writing these sorts of romances, too. 🙃) One Summer With Autumn gave me exactly what I’d hoped for, including steamy chemistry between plucky Autumn and complicated Caden, its romantic leads, plus compelling family and friendship dynamics. Check it out if you’re into more mature YA, especially stories set in that strange in-between time that is the summer after high school and before college.

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Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott (October 10, 2017) – This book is so mind-blowingly good it gave me chills, even on my second read. Author Tracey Neithercott’s prose is gorgeously lyrical, her plot (a treasure hunt involving an atmospheric island and a host of tragic secrets) is full of surprises, and her cast will burrow into your heart — particularly sad-but-strong Ruby, and enigmatic, sensitive Elliot. Gray Wolf Island is like a darker, swoonier version of The Goonies, and is absolutely one of my newest favorites. You’ll love it, too, if you enjoy books with unique settings, evocative writing, and authentic friendships, as seen in books by Maggie Stiefvater and Nova Ren Sum and Laura Ruby.

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Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske (August 22, 2017) – This middle grade novel is so cute. Kat’s grappling with her mom’s mental illness, changing friendships, and her rather underwhelming role in her school’s production of Harriet the Spy, yet she’s still utterly delightful. This debut’s got the same timeless feel as Judy Blume’s middle grade books, and it relays its themes in a similarly clever and entertaining way. Along with its winsome voice, I most loved the way author Melissa Roske empowers Kat and, as a result, her tween readers. Can’t wait to pick up a copy of this book for my daughter (and me!).

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I enjoyed everything about this #BlackLivesMatter-inspired novel, but especially main character Starr. She makes such thoughtful, poignant observations over the course of the story, while her occasional naivety makes her easy to relate to. Her family, too, is layered — equal parts charming and flawed, making them feel real and vibrant. They lend Starr much needed support as she struggles to come to terms with being the only witness present the night her longtime friend, Khalid, is murdered by a police officer. While fictional, The Hate U Give offers an important perspective on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I found it a timely, must-read novel that has earned the accolades it’s received.

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Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – Allegedly is the story of Mary, a pregnant teen who’s living in a group home after years spent in “baby jail” thanks to a murder conviction at age nine. This book is gritty and unflinching, and I loved it. I had the pleasure of hearing author Tiffany Jackson talk about researching and writing Allegedly at recent book festival, and knowing now that much of this debut is based on the accounts of real-life girls caught up in a system that’s constantly failing them made this read all the more riveting. Big recommend, especially if you favor books that’ll leave you feeling shredded, and changed.

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Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage – This novel is as strange and beautiful as its cover. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s perhaps not for everyone, but whoa. I found it fascinating. It’s the story of Ben, a sixteen year old boy who’s tracking down notes left for him by his now-dead ex-girlfriend, Mira, who fell (jumped?) into the local quarry with her sister. Beautiful Broken Girls has strong religious themes, and it’s set in a small, close-knit community where most people are not who they seem on the surface; I loved the mysterious, almost creepy vibe, as well as the novel’s creative format. Plus, Kim Savage’s prose is stunningly emotive. Read this one if you like your YA dark and literary.

Tell me!
What’s the best book you read in March?

February Reading Wrap-Up

Six fantastic novels for your To-Be-Read list…

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – What a relevant, necessary, wonderful book. If I Was Your Girl is thought-provoking, and helps to give a candid and relatable face to the trans community. Its prose is spare but emotive, and it’s #OwnVoices — it reads as such. More than anything, though, this nuanced story of Amanda, who’s trying to make a place for herself at a new school, as well as navigate the relatively unfamiliar experience of living life fully as the female she’s always known she is, is absorbing and entertaining. I was rooting for Amanda from page one, and cheering on the friends she made and the new romance she pursued. And when things got tough, well, my heart broke right along with hers. An important and engaging novel.

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Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (May 2, 2017) – This book is delightful — a charming and romantic beach read, but with depth. California girl Anise’s summer plans are turned upside down when she’s forced to make an extended trip to Nebraska to help care for her young cousins. There, she meets dreamy skateboarder, Lincoln, who challenges her in both silly and significant ways. She also begins to confront the baggage that’s come along with her mother’s abandonment. There’s even a mini road trip in this story, cementing its status as a Katy Book. Laura Silverman’s prose is an unusual but appealing blend of lyrical and gritty, dropping me right into Anise’s world. If you’re a fan of Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord, definitely pick up Girl Out of Water in May.

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Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock (August 1, 2017) – Tiffany and I share a publisher and a release date, which made me all the more excited to get my hands on an ARC of her forthcoming debut. Just Friends is everything I wanted it to be: cute, angsty, and fun. Main characters Chance and Jenny become friends thanks to the ultimate meet-cute, and they share adorable chemistry. This one’s a romance so the conclusion is expected, but the path we get to travel toward Chance and Jenny’s happily ever after has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and it’s populated by an excellent supporting cast. I love how Chance and Jenny grow and change over the course of this story, all the while supporting and caring for each other. Snag Just Friends this August if you love to read contemporary YA romance à la Kasie West.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If I can get behind a couple’s chemistry, I become blind to any and all flaws a book might otherwise have. Such is the case with The Hating Game. Is it a technically perfect novel? Who knows! I was so completely mesmerized by the legitimately hilarious writing, the I-hate-you-wait-actually-I-might-love-you nature of the plot, and the heat between main characters Josh and Lucy. Their back-and-forth is utterly flawless, their characterizations are deep, and Lucy’s narration is so bright and sparkly and fun and funny, I literally could not put this book down. I know there’s all sorts of hype surrounding The Hating Game which, for me, can be a turn off. But in this case? YES. BUY THE BOOK. #NewFavorite

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Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard – This book is so lovely and melancholy. It’s a middle grade novel about Jory, a boy who lives a mostly secluded life with his stepfather, mother, sister (who has a fascinating backstory all her own), and baby brother. After a meteor shower, Jory’s stepfather, a war vet who’s always talking about “signs,” insists the family descend into the nearby canyon every night to dig a hole in the dirt. As Jory begins to make new friends at school, he starts to question his stepfather’s edicts, and his family’s way of life. Watch the Sky‘s themes–family and loyalty and secrets and fear–are profound, but the story is narrated in a way that feels both accessible and safe. My nine-year-old read this novel a month ago, then immediately put it into my hands. So, it’s earned both of our stamps of approval. Big recommend for middle grade fans.

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – A few things you should know about this debut novel… First, despite what I’d pegged as a fantastical cover, this is a Tennessee-set contemporary about three very different teenagers with a host of diverse struggles. Second, it’s a tale of friendship, and how friendship (and first love) can help a person overcome what might otherwise be a tragic fate. Third, Jeff Zentner’s writing is extraordinary; I listened via audiobook, and the voices of Dill, Lydia, and Travis were so authentic and distinct and vivid, I was blown away. Fourth, I think Jeff Zentner must take a tiny bit of pleasure in shredding hearts, because by the end of this story, mine was in tatters. I see now, why The Serpent King won the Morris Award this year. It is an exemplary novel.

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