Category Archives: Contemporaries

March Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February Reading Wrap-Up

Four excellent romance-y novels in February…

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read in February?

December/January Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read recently?

November Reading Wrap-Up

I read some of my favorite books of the year this month!
My “Three Things” thoughts coming right up…

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Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
1. Unique storylines. I have never read a YA novel with subject matter quite like this. I bet you haven’t either!
2. Unorthodox format. Five genres, and five different plots, all happening simultaneously. To say more would be a spoiler, but again: very unusual. 💁🏻
3. Incredible setting and interesting cast. The elaborate and mysterious island mansion Tu Reviens and the group of diverse and compelling supporting characters provide an ideal backdrop for this mystifying story.

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Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon (May 8, 2018)
1. Incredibly relatable MC. It’s been a long time since I’ve identified so completely with a protagonist. Rilla’s self-doubt and longing to be liked feel so raw and genuine; she made me remember, uncomfortably, what it was like to be a teenager. Also, her arc is A+.
2. All the wanderlust. I can’t recall the last book I read that had me so desperately wanting to travel. Lemon paints Yosemite in the most breathtaking light, and she made me — a person who’s terrified of heights — want to climb.
3. Fully formed supporting characters. Rilla’s sister, Thea, as well as love interest, Walker, and the gang she meets on Yosemite’s cliffs feel so real. They’re climbing superstars, but they’ve got riveting backstories and flaws, too.

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One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
1. Realistic portrayal of a foster family. As a foster mama, I can tell you that this book isn’t sugar-coated, but it’s full of hope, and I love that about it.
2. Layered and complex protagonist. I’m so glad that Carley, a middle schooler who has recently entered the foster care system, is a deftly drawn, multi-faceted girl. She’s not portrayed as a damaged youth, or as singularly bitter or violent. She’s sweet but sad, strong but needy, loving but cautious. My ten-year-old daughter and I adored her.
3. Bittersweet ending. I don’t want to give away too much, but I appreciated this novel’s conclusion. Seriously — there’s nothing easy about foster care, and I think it would have been disingenuous to wrap Carley’s story with a tidy bow.

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Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington (April 24, 2018)
1. Characters to cheer for. I’m a fan Vee and Cam — how passionate they are, how vulnerable they are, how screwed up they are, and how much they care for each other. From the beginning, all’s I wanted for them was a happily ever after.
2. CHEMISTRY. I could feel it from the first moment Vee and Cam interacted. I’m a sucker for a second chance romance; this debut pulls it off beautifully.
3. Before and after. The perfect format for this angsty romance. I loved seeing how Vee and Cam came to fall for each other, how they fell apart, and how they slowly worked their way back to a place of understanding. All the swoons for this upcoming debut!

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Top Ten by Katie Cotugno
1. Voice, voice, voice. Katie Cotugno always nails her characters’ voices in this enviably effortless way that makes me want study her books after my initial read.
2. Unidealized portrayal of friendship. Main characters Ryan and Gabby’s friendship is solid, but it’s far from perfect. I loved seeing the highs and lows, and how both characters grew and stretched with their relationship. (Their off-and-on romantic feelings for each other, too, are so well written.)
3. Positive representation. Gabby battles social anxiety, and she’s bisexual; I appreciate how rather than using these attributes to define her, Katie Cotugno weaves them into the fabric of Gabby’s character, allowing her to be a fully fleshed out person instead of a cardboard cut-out.

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
1. Poignant and romantic and beautifully written. <– My YA perfect storm.
2. Mysterious Loner Dude (phrase credit: Forever Young Adult). At first glance, delinquent Declan Murphy appears dangerous and broken and bitter. But there’s so much more to him.
3. You’ve Got Mail vibes. Declan and Juliet communicate through deep, soul-bearing, anonymous letters. At school, they love to hate each other. I couldn’t put this book down, I was so desperate for them to put two-and-two together!

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

October Reading Wrap-Up

Happy Halloween! 🎃
I read an odd assortment of books this month, and found some gems.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these! 

30199656What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
1. David Drucker. Best book boy I’ve read in a looooong time. Unique and brilliant and complicated and sweet and just so, so wonderful. I absolutely adored everything about his perspective. (Kit’s pretty great, too!)
2. Complex narrative. This isn’t a fun, sweet romance — though there are fun, sweet, romantic moments in the story. What to Say Next deals with heavy themes, and they’re handled with sensitivity and nuance.
3. Twisty-turns. This contemporary YA surprised me repeatedly, and I loved that about it. Never once does the story fall flat or feel predictable. And I thought its ending was perfect.

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Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren
1. LOL. Guys, books rarely make me crack a smile, but this one had me giggling more than once. Both MCs are funny, but Evie is particularly hilarious.
2. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Even when Carter and Evie are actively hating each other, it’s so obvious they’re in l.o.v.e. And those moments when they’re — ahem — not hating each other? Whoa.
3. Hollywood. I found the talent agent aspect of this novel surprisingly interesting. Carter and Evie aren’t just hot for each other; they’re passionate about their careers, too, and it shows in various ways throughout the story.

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The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young (Fall, 2018)
1. Full of hope. It’s no secret that I like my YAs sad and Sasha Cade is a tearjerker, but ultimately it’s a hopeful story that made my heart so full.
2. A+ protagonist. Raquel Clearwater is freaking fantastic. I love a protagonist who’s loyal and strong and determined, and Raquel is all those things, and more.
3. Elijah. All my ideal book boy traits, rolled into one: mysterious, flawed, selfless, sweet, driven, and dreamy. You will love him.

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The Long Walk by Stephen King
1. Super character driven. Unlike many of King’s other stories, this one feels fairly restrained. There are no monsters, and there’s not much in the way of atmosphere. It’s all about the internal and external struggles of the boys.
2. Fascinating commentary on competition and military enlistment. Like, is the glory ever worth the pain/solitude/sacrifice?
3. Visceral writing. There were so many moments in this story that made me hurt, made me queasy, made me sad, made me furious. It’s an important, thought-provoking read.

25613996At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer
1. Teen YouTube beauty guru! I’m a junkie when it comes to watching makeup reviews and tutorials on YouTube, so I fell easily and happily into Lacey’s world.
2. Relatable self discovery. I love that Lacey has an abundance of challenges to deal with, and that they all help her learn and grow in different ways. Even though I’ve (sadly) never interned at a magazine, I still connected with Lacey on various levels, and I wish we could be real life besties.
3. Cutest romance. ❤ Guys, Lacey and Tyler are freaking adorable, and they’re relationship plays out so satisfyingly. All the swoons!

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My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
1. Quality middle grade audiobook. We listened to this one during a road trip; the whole family was entertained, and we all learned something.
2. Weighty themes. This middle grade novel is about the Revolutionary War, and it asks important questions about the potential futility of war, while reminding readers that there are two sides to every conflict.
3. Steep character arc. Protagonist Tim begins the story as a naive, whiny boy, and ends it as a mature young adult who’s endured too much loss. While this novel is historical fiction and moves rather slowly, it feels very relevant.

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The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Change
1. Road trip! I’m a sucker for books that revolve around a journey, and the cross-country trip the Wangs embark on definitely delivers.
2. Dry humor. Some of the comedy in this book (like Andrew’s stand-up routines) fell flat, but there were several scenes that had me snickering. A fun shift from the books I typically read (especially for book club).
3. Familial relationships. The Wangs are all flawed, but I found the ways they leaned on each other and loved each other heartwarming. Their relationships felt authentic and dynamic and so, even though each of the family members exhibited moments of selfishness and insensitivity, it was easy to root for them.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in October?

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?

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?