Category Archives: Authors I Love

July Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Authors-I-Already-Love-Must-Preorder-Can’t-Wait-For 2017 Contemporary Young Adult Novels

Laziness alert!

This morning I tweeted about some of my most-anticipated 2017 contemporary YA releases written by already-established authors. I wanted to share here, but I didn’t so much feel like drafting a whole post and searching for links and, you know, doing any additional work. Which is why embedded tweets are my friend.

Hopefully you’ll find some recommendations to anticipate right along with me!

Tell me!
What books are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

Two skin care discoveries… My complexion has been not so great lately, and I’m always on the hunt for products that make my face feel healthy and look luminous. First, Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream, which I’ve been using as an eye cream and, oh my gosh, I love it. It’s super hydrating and really gentle, and it makes the skin beneath my eyes look smoother and more supple. Also, it’s something like $7 — total steal. Second, Tony Moly Sheet Masks. You can order eleven different masks via Amazon for less than $11, and after wearing one for a half-hour, my skin feels smooth and full of moisture and like I’ve enjoyed a trip to the spa (I wish!).

Reading

First & Then by Emma Mills, which was everything I wanted it to be. Devon is a most excellent narrator (she’s got voice for days!) and the complications of friendship and first love play out so deliciously. I also read Jessica Love‘s second novel, In Real Life, and even though I beta-ed an early version of this story a few years ago, the finished copy still gave me all the feels. Hannah and Nick are just too cute, and so easy to root for. Adored both of these contemps!

Watching

 The Fosters, a show about a foster family whose last name is — wait for it — Foster. Oddly enough, in the novel First & Then [above] the boy who is essentially Devon’s foster brother is also named Foster. Clever. 😉 Anyway, for an ABC Family (apparently now “Freeform”) show, The Fosters is quite good. I love Maia Mitchelle (she’s how I picture Kissing Max Holden‘s Jillian), and so far I’m impressed with the diversity of the cast and the quality of the writing.

Listening To

Last week I listened to James Alexander Thom’s Follow the River, which is based on true events and is apparently something of an American classic, though I hadn’t heard of it until my mom started reading it. If you like history and/or survival stories, this is the book for you. I enjoyed it very much, though the audiobook is narrated by a man — an odd choice, as this is a woman’s story. He used weird (distracting) falsettos every time Mary, her sister-in-law, and her female companion spoke. Still, the story and author’s note are fascinating.

Thinking About

The NoVaTEEN Book Festival, which was packed with talented authors including Jennifer Donnelly, Kelly Fiore, and Julie Murphey, as well as Natalie C. Parker, Lisa Maxwell, and Holly Black, who are pictured below. As an added  bonus, I got to meet two Swoon Reads authors, Sandy Hall and Kelly Zekas, who are predictably delightful, and I got to hang with some cool volunteers, including fellow Swanky 17 authors Christina June and Sarah Nicole Lemon.

17fc5-12826198_868513766591232_1691782327_nAnticipating

Drafting. Guys, I haven’t drafted anything new since before I submitted Kissing Max Holden to Swoon Reads back in October. I’ve got two messy partial manuscripts sitting at about 30K words each, and I started reading one over the weekend. It’s actually… better than I recall. (Isn’t it awesome when that happens?) As soon as I finish my refresher read-thru, I’m going to get serious about plotting and drafting its second half. It’s fun to feel inspired!

Wishing

You’ll check out the debut group I belong to, The Swanky Seventeens. We’re growing every day, our members’ books sound fantastic. We’re currently featuring interviews with 2016 debut authors on our blog. You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Making Me Happy

Yesterday, in honor of Pi Day, I baked a blueberry pie. It turned out so pretty and it tasted delicious. I love making homemade pie crust — you can find my favorite, no-fail recipe is HERE. Also! My friend Elodie Nowodazkij’s NA romance, Love in B Minor is out today. Friends, you will LOVE its twisty plot, its sexy characters, and its beautiful Parisian setting!

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

November Reading Wrap-Up

I wish I’d been able to do more reading in November. Luckily, the books I managed to sneak in were quite good…
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – I went into Grave Mercy expecting a light, fantastical read, but what I got was a rich, well-researched historical fiction with an ass-kicking heroine and a to-die-for slow-burn romance. Though many of my trusted book-ish friends have read and recommended this one, I put it off for a long time. The back cover summary mentions “assassin nuns” and that didn’t do much to snare my attention. I’m glad I gave Grave Mercy a chance, though, because it’s so good. There’s mystery, court intrigue, betrayal, and legit history presented in really interesting ways. Ismae, the novel’s protagonist, has a fascinating backstory and a wicked sense of humor. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, most memorably at this line: “I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” Duval, of course, is Grave Mercy‘s romantic interest, and he’s equal parts brutish and charming. There’s a scene near the story’s climax where his survival is uncertain, and I experienced that unpleasant I’ll-throw-this-book-at-the-wall-if-he-dies feeling — so, basically I fell for Duval just as hard Ismae did. While historical fiction isn’t my first choice in genres, I found Grave Mercy enchanting. It’s got two follow-up novels (Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart), and I’m very much looking forward to picking them up.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan – Guys, there’s something about these Game On books that totally sucks me in. Rationally, I know they’re a tad melodramatic, but they’re also impassioned and entertaining and totally addictive — especially if you’re a football fan. While Anna and Drew from The Hook-Up will probably always be my favorite Kristen Callihan couple, The Game Plan‘s Dex and Fiona are close contenders. They’re freaking cute together, and their chemistry is super steamy. And, like all of the Game On couples, they’re kind and respectful and loving to one another, even during stressful (often terrible) circumstances. So, while the plots are splashy and the drama is sensational (in the case of The Game Plan, lifted from recent news headlines), these books never feel manufactured or insincere because the couples read as totally genuine. Specific to this third installment, I love Fiona’s spunkiness, Dex’s quiet strength, and the various settings — New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. I love, too, the appearances of Gray and Ivy, and Anna and Drew, and the kindred bond of the group. The Game Plan is a big recommend if you’re looking for a sexy, escapist book to read over the holidays.

Shattered Blue by Lauren Bird Horowitz – I hadn’t heard of this one before I saw in mentioned in a Twitter recommendation. It’s not the sort of book I normally pick up (Fae — not really my thing), but the cover intrigued me and the story’s set in one of my very favorite cities (Monterey) and I’m weirdly drawn to “dead sister” books. Also, the prose I read in the sample pages was lyrical and evocative. Oddly enough, the Fae aspect didn’t end up bothering me — in fact, I thought Shattered Blue‘s world-building was very well done. Noa is a compelling character; I particularly enjoyed her interactions with her little sister Sasha. And Lauren Bird Horowitz’s writing really is gorgeous. The imagery and bits of verse sprinkled throughout the story… wow. The one thing I didn’t love about Shattered Blue was Noa’s intense and quickly developing feelings for the mysterious Callum and, later, an additional character. Young adult books (specifically paranormal, I think) catch a lot of flak for “insta-love” and love triangles; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that those devices kept me from enjoying this particular story, but I do prefer a slowly building romance and this… was not that. Still, I’m interested to see how these characters and unresolved plot lines develop over the course of the series, and I can’t wait to lose myself in Lauren Bird Horowitz’s beautiful prose once again.

Sloth by Ella James – I debated about whether to discuss this book on my blog. It’s really smutty and really graphic, and it explores marijuana dealing, as well as marijuana as a treatment for cancer-related side effects, among other adult themes. Even though Sloth is a story for a mature audiences and my blog generally focuses on sharing YA love, I want to mention it because it’s very good. Like, I-read-late-into-the-night-because-I-couldn’t-put-it-down good. Its mystery snagged my attention from its earliest pages, and the chemistry between its main characters, Cleo and Kellan, is intense. Despite this book’s serious subject matter, it’s tons of fun to be in Cleo’s head. She’s awkward and funny and transparent in the best way; she takes zero shit. And Kellan, for all his apparent flaws, is utterly captivating. It’s easy to see why Cleo falls for him, and why she’s willing to make big sacrifices to keep him. Ella James’s writing is lovely (even when what she’s describing is totally indecent), and she’s crafted characters who feel both relatable and extraordinary. Another recommend, and big thanks to Riley Edgewood for insisting I read Sloth immediately. 😉 Also, after reading Ella James’s Author’s Note, I feel compelled to share this important link, but maybe wait to click until you’ve read the story to avoid spoilers.

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

Four young adults, an adult, and a classic. A varied month. 🙂

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – What to say about this novel…? First, I loved it. Second, it surprised me. Third, it’s gritty, and intense, and its cast is super diverse, and it boasts one of the biggest holy hell?!?! moments I’ve experienced in a long time. Like, really, I didn’t see… it… coming. But wow. (Ha! This is pretty much the vaguest review ever, right?) Anyway, MC Aaron’s had a really rough go of it. His father recently committed suicide and, shortly after, Aaron attempted to follow in his footsteps. He’s doing better now. He’s got a scar like a smile on his wrist, but he’s also got a great girlfriend, a supportive mom, and a fun(-ish) gang of friends. But then Aaron makes a new friend, Thomas, and sort-of-maybe-probably develops feelings for him. But Aaron likes his life the way it is, and considers the (fictional) Leteo Institute’s memory-alteration procedure to help him forget about his new and confusing feelings for Thomas, even if forgetting means letting go of who he truly is. More Happy Than Not asks  some really compelling questions about who we are and who we might choose to be — whether it’s even possible to choose. It’s a story about identity, family and friendship, love and loyalty, and it is smart. I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a truly unique YA.

All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder – Reading this book was just… wonderful. It follows Emerson and Vince, two homeless Portland teens (absolutely believable BFFS), as they live out their final hours awaiting the arrival of a catastrophic asteroid. Inspired by a man who selflessly aided them, they spend their time helping others make their wildest dreams come true. And it’s lovely. I almost forgot, at times, that the end of the world was dawning, but then Em or Vince or one of this book’s many vibrant supporting characters would mention making the most of their time — the most of their lives — and the utter grimness of the situation would come rushing back. My favorite part of this story (surprise, surprise) is Emerson and Vince’s emerging romance which, considering the awful timing, feels dreadfully unfair. Still, watching Em come to terms with her feelings for kind and generous Vince gave me all the butterflies. They’re so supportive of each other, and so freaking cute, but they call each other on bullshit, which I love. I also love how this story concluded in a fresh and real and, for me, totally unexpected way. Big recommend.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica – This book made me sad, sad, sad. I found myself thinking, a lot, about what I’d do in the multitude of messy situations presented in this beautifully written sophomore novel (I adored Mary Kubica’s debut, The Good Girl). Told from the point of view of three vastly different narrators (Heidi, an altruistic wife and mother; Chris, her driven but meandering husband; and Willow, a skittish runaway with an infant), Pretty Baby is character-driven, yet fast-paced and twisty. Early on, I knew I was dealing with at least one unreliable narrator, which made my reading experience feel like the unraveling of a tightly woven mystery. This is a dark book, and it made me tense. It made me worry about all of its characters, but particularly Ruby, the baby, and Zoe, Heidi and Chris’s preteen daughter (if there’s one thing I wanted more of in the pages of this story, it’s Zoe — I found her fascinating). Pretty Baby scared me, to be perfectly honest, because really… How well do we know the people we love? More than anything, though, this novel made me reflect on motherhood, family, sacrifice, and commitment. I’m so looking forward to seeing what Mary Kubica comes up with next.

Play On by Michelle Smith – What a fantastic debut! Michelle Smith writes an awesome male narrator. Baseball loving Austin’s got voice for days, and I really enjoyed being in his head. He’s all about baseball, and his knowledge of the sport and passion for the game feel genuine. He’s struggling with the loss of his father, but he’s super sweet to his mom, and he’s loyal to a great group of buddies, who charmed me almost as much as Austin himself. And, he’s falling head-over-heels for Marisa, a fellow baseball fanatic who’s struggling with depression. Austin is exactly the sort of YA boyfriend I love to read about — he’s kind and considerate and devoted, but he keeps his head about Marisa and their intensifying relationship. I love how thoughtfully and sensitively Michelle Smith portrays Marisa. She’s much more layered than The Girl With Mental Health Issues who I’ve seen in depicted in fiction before. I love, too, that while Play On‘s conclusion is satisfying, things don’t wrap up too tidily for Austin and Marisa, especially when it comes to her depression; their relationship feels as real as they do. Definitely give this one a read if you’re into contemporary YA, particularly if you like a well-drawn male narrator.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – This book was not the summery poolside read I was hoping for. It was heavy, y’all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hold it in high regard. Sometimes I have a tough time with “classics” because I prefer contemporary language and descriptions that don’t span twenty-eight pages, but the prose in Lord of the Flies didn’t bother me. In fact, I quite liked William Golding’s writing style, and I found myself taking mental notes on his vivid descriptions of the story’s setting and characters. It probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that a novel about a gang of boys trying to survive a deserted island isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but Lord of the Flies was riveting. Fun fact: My husband totally lied to me when he saw me pick this book up. I mentioned seeing something about how savage these marooned boys became, and how I’d heard that they basically took pleasure in killing each other off. He looked at me all wide-eyed and earnest and said, “Nobody dies on that island.” (Uh, yeah they do.) Lord of the Flies is many things: “an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse” (thanks, Goodreads), but more than anything, I found it to be an examination of how brutally kids can treat one another when left to their own devices. That is a very scary thing, which makes this a very important novel.

Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally – Aside from the first thirty or so pages, I read this novel in a day, and then I wanted to flip back to the beginning and start all over again. It’s a perfect music-infused, tons-of-banter, charged-with-swoon, end-of-summer read. Jesse’s Girl is mostly set in Nashville, which is one of my very favorite cities, it’s full of song references (country ❤ and otherwise), it’s got a narrator, Maya, who’s about as likable as they come (she’s confident and autonomous and forthright, plus she’s got a killer sense of style), and a love interest, Jesse, who’s sort of mysterious and really guarded and, oh-by-the-way, a world famous country music star. Jesse’s Girl bonuses: silly shenanigans, a The-Voice-like singing competition, and Sam and Jordan (!). Miranda Keneally writes fantastic romances. Her characters approach their relationships with candidness that’s refreshing and admirable. She lets her female characters act on their attractions in the same open and free way male characters have been doing for ages, and she shines a positive light on the choices that come with the physical aspects of teenage romance. And, she does this without coming across as awkward or preachy. All this to say that Jesse’s Girl is freaking fantastic and, quite possibly, my new favorite Miranda Kenneally novel.

What’s the best book you read in August?  

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently” post every other Tuesday, and I think y’all should join me… Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

Author Natalie’s Whipple’s (wonderfully transparent) When It Feels Like Everyone Is Getting What You Want blog post. Free (quick and intense) workouts on Cassey Ho’s Blogilates YouTube channel (thanks for recommending them, Jennifer!). Writerly/YA-ish podcasts: This Creative Life, First Draft, and The Oral History. This adorable dandelion travel mug (thanks for pointing it out, Jaime!). And old-school notecard plotting:

Reading

Last week I read Erin Bowman’s Forged, which was a fantastic conclusion to her Taken trilogy. I love when a series wraps up in a gloriously satisfying way. You can read my thoughts on Forged and all of my April reads HERE. Now, I’m finishing up Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, which I’m loving, possibly even more than her debut, Open Road Summer.

  

Watching

I’m nearly done watching the first season of Gilmore Girls, which I adore. Lorelai and Rory have such an interesting relationship, and I’m totally crushing on Luke. I’m still now sure how I didn’t catch this series in the early nineties, but I’m so glad to have found it now.

Listening To

Hozier… Take Me To Church is grossly overplayed on the radio, but I’m loving Like Real People Do and Someone New. Good writing music.

Thinking About

My WiP. I still haven’t started to draft, partly because I’m scared, and partly because I’m not entirely sure if I want one narrator or two, or if I want to use first-person or third-person. I know what my instincts are telling me and I know what is traditionally an easier sell. Unfortunately, this time instincts and marketability aren’t meshing, and I’m so torn! What would you do?

Anticipating

Home! My husband and I have been house-hunting for the last four days and I miss my girlie. Can’t wait to see her! ❤


Us, on one of our many trips to the hotel’s bar. Because finding a nice rental in Virginia is really freaking hard!

Wishing

That you’ll all be able to read my friend Elodie‘s latest manuscript soon. I’m beta reading it now and oh, my gosh… It’s uber creepy, in the best sort of way. She knows how to write a thriller, that’s for sure!

Making Me Happy

The beach. I’m going to miss living on the Gulf Coast — it’s truly beautiful.

What’s currently making YOU happy?