Category Archives: Adult Fiction

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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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?

June Reading Wrap-Up

Kind of an eccentric mish-mash of books this month… 
A little something for everyone? 😉

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Dare Me by Megan Abbott – I picked this one up after it was discussed on Christa Desir & Carrie Mesrobian’s most excellent The Oral History Podcast. While this story’s about a group of high school cheerleaders, it’s definitely an adult novel, and it’s fantastic — a twisty, disturbing spin on competition and how far girls will go to get to the top (of the pyramid, literally), as well as a mystery and a study in decomposing friendships. Megan Abbott’s writing is seriously beautiful, but also like a sharp kick to the gut: Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise. Touching every tender place. Watching the swirl at your feet, the glitter spinning. Like a mermaid shedding her scales. You’re really just trying to get your heart to slow down. You think, this is my body, and I can make it do things. I can make it spin, flip, fly. Big recommend if you’re looking for a book that will have you compulsively turning pages, and questioning everything you think you know about cheerleaders.

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Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 18, 2017) – This forthcoming debut was everything I was hoping for in a summer read: voice-y, witty, and swoony, but with depth I always appreciate. Quinn’s summer is becoming quite a mess: her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, her father has gambling addiction that’s costing him a lot more than money, she’s lost her shot at a band trip to England, and her friend-turned-nemisis, Wesley James, is back in Seattle after years spent in Portland. Quinn makes it her mission to punish Wesley for a mistake he made years before, but along the way, she starts to realize that maybe she doesn’t hate him quite as much as she’d like. Quinn and Welsey have fantastic banter and flirty chemistry, but their relationship is deeper than that, too, and I loved watching it rekindle, and then develop into more. I also loved this story’s setting: Seattle and, more specifically, Quinn and Wesley’s workplace, Tudor Tymes, which is full of charm and ridiculousness. Pick this one up in a few weeks if you’re looking for a fun, smart, romantic poolside read.

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Hold Still by Nina LaCour – I’m a Nina LaCour super fan, but somehow I’d neglected to read her debut before now, despite the fact that it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years (I bought it at Borders!). Hold Still is a beautiful book about loss and revival; if you read and enjoyed Nina LaCour’s latest, We Are Okay, I suspect you’ll adore this one as well. Caitlin’s struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her best friend, Ingrid, by attempting to reclaim their joint hobby of photography, gradually letting in a few new friends, and building a treehouse. Caitlin’s recovery is slow, particularly as she learns more about the depth of Ingrid’s depression through her journal entries, making for a largely sorrowful story. And yet, it’s a hopeful story, as well — one that shows the importance of family, and friendship, and the acceptance of our personal limitations when it comes to the mental health of those we love. Nina LaCour’s prose is just lovely — spare yet lyrical, and at all times affecting. Read Hold Still if you gravitate toward novels that are literary and moving, with a focus on friendship, and a hint of romance.

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Speak of Me as I Am by Sonia Belasco – One of my favorite debuts of the year, and another novel that deals with suicide and grief and recovery. Speak of Me as I Am is told from the points of view of Damon, whose best friend, Carlos, recently took his life, and Melanie, whose mother recently died of cancer. Both protagonists are wading through unimaginable sadness when they meet, and while they don’t miraculously fix each other, they do begin to heal through conversation about shared emotions and experiences. It’s really beautiful to witness, and set against a school production of Othello (Damon is the lead, and Melanie works on set design) the characters’ arcs feel particularly profound. Two other things I loved about Speak of Me as I Am: It’s set in D.C., a city I’m really growing to enjoy, and its secondary characters are as well developed and complex as its protagonists. Tristan and Carlos, especially, leap of the page. Speak of Me as I Am is gorgeously written and poignant, and I highly recommend it to all readers.

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – Not my usual fare, but this one’s a book club pick, and I’m glad I gave it a read. Hillbilly Elegy is a sociological study, definitely, but more often than not, it reads like a memoir. J.D. Vance’s family is historically white, working class (on the low end of working class, really), and descended from the Appalachian region. While detailing his family’s origins and his own upbringing in the Rust Belt, he muses on how and why “hillbillies lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.” An affecting and insightful read, especially considering the current social and political landscapes.


Amid Stars and Darkness by Chani Lynn Feener (July 18, 2017) – I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but I was immediately drawn to this novel’s beautiful cover, as well as its summary: Earth girl Delaney is mistaken for alien princess Olena, then dragged to a faraway planet, where she’s imprisoned in a castle and forced to impersonate Olena in order to maintain galactic peace. Amid Stars and Darkness is a fast-paced space opera with cool world-building and a swoony romance (I adored Ruckus!), plus some well executed humor, thanks to Delaney’s spectacular voice. If you’re not sure whether you’re into sci-fi/space fiction, this book is a great way to dip your toe in the water. It reads as vast and futuristic, while still feeling accessible. While Amid Stars and Darkness wraps up neatly, it leaves off with a big hook for the second book in this planned trilogy — a book I’m already itching to get my hands on! Check this one out when it releases in a few weeks.

BONUS…
I haven’t read either of these myself, but my daughter has, and she adored them both. In fact, she hasn’t stopped talking about them, and she’s given them both the coveted 5-star rating. So, if you’ve got a middle grade reader, hand them copies of Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure and The Infinity Year of Avalon James!

Tell me…
What’s the best book you read in June?

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?

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?

17 Unputdownable Reads

I borrowed this topic from Modern Mrs. Darcy, who recently blogged about 17 books she read in less that 24 hours, because they were so riveting. Her post got me thinking about the books I’ve flown through in the last several years, books that might not be perfect, but are so compelling, so compulsively readable, they were impossible to put down.

Here they are, in no particular order…
(Summaries from Goodreads.)

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Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager – Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a college girl gang are going to get even. The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls. The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess. A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable? It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Typical love story. A searingly honest and achingly funny story about love and sex amid the hotbed of university.

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Emmy & Oliver
by Robin Benway – Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared. Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling. Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

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The Last Thing You Said
by Sara Biren – Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.

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The Pact
by Jodi Picoult – For eighteen years the Harte’s and the Gold’s have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox – they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. After all, they’ve been soul mates since they were born. So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is prepared: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head, inflicted by Chris as part of an apparent suicide pact. He tells police the next bullet was meant for himself. A local detective has her doubts. And the Harte’s and Gold’s must face every parent’s worst nightmare and question: do we ever really know our children at all?

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman – Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters. If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

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The Good Girl
by Mary Kubica – One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. At first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life. When Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota instead of delivering her to his employers, Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them. But no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter. An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.

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How to Love
by Katie Cotugno – Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind. Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again? In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude. Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

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Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta – Finnikin and his guardian Sir Topher have not been home to Lumatere since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive. Evanjalin is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance, and her hope. He begins to believe he will see Prince Balthazar, again, and that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.

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An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents. An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce.

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Surf & Surrender by Riley Edgewood – Quinn Westwood is over Sawyer Carson. He broke her heart years ago and disappeared from her. So yeah. She’s over him. Never even thinks of him. In fact, she’s spending her college summer break surfing and lifeguarding in the Outer Banks, while nursing a bruised heart from a different relationship gone wrong. She doesn’t have room for Sawyer—until she runs into him at a beach bonfire and the sparks that fly between them are way hotter than the flames heating the sand. Sawyer never got over Quinn. The only thing stronger than what he feels for her is the secret keeping them apart, but sharing it would destroy more than just his life—it’d ruin hers, as well. Still, he can’t seem to keep his hands off of her tempting skin. Especially since she has even less self-control when it comes to reigniting the physical side of what made them perfect. But secrets have a way of slipping out, and when Sawyer’s is revealed it threatens to shatter everyone involved. Quinn will have to decide if fighting for him is worth it when the fallout could affect more than just her heart, but also those of the people she loves most.

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The Winner’s Kiss (book 3 of the trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski – War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her. But no one gets what they want just by wishing. As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

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The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay. Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

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Ashes to Ashes
 (book 3 of the trilogy) by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian – New Year’s Eve ended with a bang and Mary, Kat and Lillia may not be prepared for what is to come. After Rennie’s death, Kat and Lillia try to put the pieces together of what happened to her. They both blame themselves. If Lillia hadn’t left with Reeve… If Kat had only stayed with Rennie… Things could have been different. Now they will never be the same. Only Mary knows the truth about that night. About what she is. She also knows the truth about Lillia and Reeve falling in love, about Reeve being happy when all he deserves is misery, just like the misery he caused her. Now their childish attempts at revenge are a thing of the past and Mary is out for blood. Will she leave anything in her wake or will all that remain be ashes?

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The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry – Natalie’s last summer in her Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right. That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau. Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

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Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher – When reclusive novelist Senna Richards wakes up on her thirty-third birthday, everything has changed. Caged behind an electrical fence, locked in a house in the middle of the snow, Senna is left to decode the clues to find out why she was taken. If she wants her freedom, she has to take a close look at her past. But, her past has a heartbeat… and her kidnapper is nowhere to be found. With her survival hanging by a thread, Senna soon realizes this is a game. A dangerous one. Only the truth can set her free.

 

Tell me! 
What’s the last unputdownable book you read?