January Reading Wrap-Up

So many amazing reads in January…

40599855Stealing Home by Becky Wallace (July, 2019)
This YA romance encompasses everything I love about the genre — savvy heroine, dreamy love interest, snappy dialogue, butterfly-inducing chemistry — while feeling unexpected and fresh. I was rooting for Ryan and Sawyer (and the Buckley Beavers!) from the first pitch. If you’re into contemporary YA, or baseball, or characters you’ll wish you could befriend, check this delightful story out when it releases this summer. It’ll make a fantastic beach/pool/park read. ☀️

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
I’ve read a lot of true crime, and this is one of the best. It’s an armchair detective’s chronicle of her hunt for one of California’s most notorious serial rapists/murderers, and it is riveting. This book’s strongest attribute is that it never feels as though it’s taking advantage of the Golden State Killer’s victims, even while it reads like page-turning fiction. Its pace is quick, its “characters” are gripping, and it’s so full of atmosphere and tension, I had a hard time stepping away. I recommend it if you’re a true crime fan.

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Somehow I never read a Tahereh Mafi novel before this one? But now I’m all about burning through her catalogue, because A Very Large Expanse of Sea is beautiful. It’s about Shirin, a Muslim girl living in the US after 9/11. She faces horrifying micro-aggressions, as well as a lot of overt racism. In the midst of all this, though, she learns to breakdance, and she falls in love with the sweetest boy, Ocean. This book is important and topical and gorgeously written, but its romance was (of course) my favorite part. Shirin and Ocean are perfection. 💗

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The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh
Guys, this is the sex-positive, music-infused, friendship-focused, gloriously feminist debut you’ve been waiting for. It’s so wonderfully frank in its discussion of sexual health and consent, yet it never feels heavy handed. Main character Lacey and her group of friends (and her mom!) are all layered, supportive, engaging, and awesome. Another bonus — the central romance in this book surprised me in the best way. It’s clandestine and swoony, full of chemistry and sweetness. Big, big recommend!

15781725The House Girl by Tara Conklin
The House Girl did not disappoint. I found Lina (present day lawyer) and Josephine (1800s slave) fascinating in their own right, though had this book been written exclusively from Josephine’s POV, I think I would have liked it even more. Her plight as a “house girl”, runaway, and artist was so compelling. There are some subplots in this one that aren’t as interesting as Josephine’s story, but in the end, everything came together in a satisfying way. Additionally, the prose was descriptive and lovely. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you’ll likely enjoy The House Girl.

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

April Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read in April?

March Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

February Reading Wrap-Up

Four excellent romance-y novels in February…

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read in February?

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?

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?

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?