October Reading Wrap-Up

Five books in October (one a reread)…
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

Wait For Me by Caroline Leech (January 31, 2017) – I loved this historical debut so much. Main character Lorna is living on her father’s Scotland farm in 1945, as WWII is winding down. When a German POW arrives to lend a hand with farm duties, Lorna is at once put-off. Her brothers are fighting for the Allies, and Lorna wants nothing to do with the perceived enemy. But as she gets to know Paul, she discovers he’s not the evil Nazi she initially took him for; he’s kind and smart and sensitive, and she begins to fall for him — a very understandable reaction because *swoon*. But being with a German soldier means that Lorna must choose between love and allegiance, Paul and her family. Author Caroline Leech does an amazing job of capturing the essence of her setting and the spirit of her protagonist — it’s obvious she’s got a deep well of knowledge when it comes to Scotland and its history — and she writes a very convincing romance, full of sweetness and steam. Mark this one To-Read now, and look for it in stores at the end of January.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – One of my very favorites. My third read of this novel (this time I listened to the audiobook) and it was every bit as captivating and haunting as it’s been previously. If you haven’t read this Kabul-set story of friendship and love, I highly recommend picking it up.

After the Woods by Kim Savage – This psychological thriller reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. The plots aren’t similar, but they share an unsettling sort of tension, and a cast of characters who are very hard to trust. MC Julia survived an abduction — one she became involved with because she sacrificed herself to save her best friend, Liv. Now, the anniversary of the abduction is approaching, and Julia’s grappling with resurfacing memories of her time in the woods with her sociopath kidnapper, as well as Liv’s increasingly destructive behavior. It’s obvious that something’s not right with these girls and their families and the case and the reporter who’s sniffing around, but it’s hard to pin down what, exactly, which kept me frantically turning pages. I’m a big fan Kim Savage’s writing style; Julia has issues, but she’s also got a super dry sense of humor, and I loved being in her head. I also really enjoyed Kellan — in fact, the only thing I might’ve liked to see more of is him. Check out After the Woods if you like tightly plotted, expertly written mystery/thrillers.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Everything that’s amazing about YA, basically: unique plot, gorgeous prose, unforgettable characters, plus threads of magic so strange and surreally beautiful, I couldn’t help but be absorbed into this extraordinary world. I absolutely adored The Weight of Feathers, Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut, so her sophomore novel was an auto-buy and, whoa, did it ever live up to my high expectations. It’s the story of enigmatic Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and who deeply loves Sam, a boy who has a penchant for hanging moons about town, and who is keeping a potentially devastating secret. There’s a quartet of sisters, too, arresting mean girls with rumored preternatural powers, and they’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Miel’s roses. When the Moon Was Ours blew me away with its twists, its reverential portrayal of LGBTQIA themes, and the lovely, tangible bond between its lead characters. All the stars (or moons) for this enchanting novel.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Did I tell you guys I joined a book club? Before the Fall was our first read, a selection that had me rolling my eyes because, if I can be frank, on the long list of characters I find compelling, rich, white men are very near the bottom. I’m just rarely drawn to their narratives, and that was the case here, too. Luckily, this story of an unexplained plane crash with only two survivors has a large cast. While I mostly skimmed the sections about Bill, David, and Ben, I was completely drawn into the chapters told from the perspectives of characters like Sarah, Eleanor, and Rachel. I enjoyed, too, the complex backstories and the unique bond painter Scott shared with the only other crash survivor, little JJ. Before the Fall is wonderfully written, full of well-drawn (though at times off-putting) characters, and the way the mystery comes together at the end is satisfying. I’m glad I gave this one a read, even though it’s not a novel that fits comfortably into my wheelhouse.

What’s the best book you read in October?

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July Reading Wrap-Up

July reviews are short and sweet, friends. In case you missed it, I’ve got an adorable foster kiddo in my care, plus I’m drafting a new novel and working on edits for two others. Frankly, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do any reading at all, but I did, and I’m eager to chat about these fantastic books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston – This novel about a girl who is raped at cheer camp is smart and nuanced and, in a way, refreshing. While E.K. Johnston realistically portrays the trauma of sexual assault and the viciousness of teenagers in the wake of a “scandal” like the one featured in this book, main character Hermione never reads as weak. She’s sad and confused and angry and afraid, but she’s so resilient, too, and that comes in large part from her caring parents and supportive friends. Of course Hermione struggles through the aftermath of her attack, but she never lets what happened at camp bury her, and I love that. I also love how cheerleading is depicted — as a legitimate, kick-ass sport. Hermione and her friends aren’t vapid pom-pom shakers; they’re loyal athletes who rally around their own. Big, big recommend.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Long story short: Cancer was killing teen Travis’s body, so he had his head removed and frozen until doctors could attach it to a healthy donor body, allowing Travis to live on, only five years in the future. Of course everything’s changed and Travis is having a hard time letting go of the life he knew, particularly his then-girlfriend Cate, who’s now an engaged adult. While the premise of this novel is bizarre, it allows for some interesting dialogue regarding who we are and who we can choose to be, as well as the ethical and moral quandaries that might stem from a procedure like the one Travis receives. More than that, though, this novel is deeply entertaining and a lot of fun. Travis’s voice rocks, and his friendships are awesome. Loved it!

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf – The setting of South of Sunshine made it for me. Main character Kaycee and her friends live in Sunshine, TN, and Dana Elmendorf does an amazing job portraying not only the rich landscape and small-town energy, but the mostly close-minded population, too. I enjoyed Kaycee and love interest Bren, but it’s Van who I adored most. He supports Kaycee, while at the same time challenging her and giving her room to grow. I also love how Dana Elmendorf conveys emotion. Kaycee’s kind of all over the place — grappling with her conservative upbringing and oft judgmental classmates while learning to accept her sexuality and herself, as well as navigate her new relationship with Bren. Pick this one up if you’re into contemporary YA romance, particularly LGBT romance.

Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison – While I liked this contemporary YA’s setting and supporting characters, I had a hard time relating to MC Cecelia/Lia. The situation she finds herself in is serious (she’s run away from her high-profile family to hide out in a small Tennessee town), and while she does find a job and try to make a life for herself, she’s mostly just focused on wooing a guy who I didn’t find charming. Like, at all. I didn’t love this book’s ending, either. It’s going to have a sequel so I suspect we’ll get some closure eventually, but the major cliffhanger didn’t feel like enough of a payoff for me. Still, check it out if you like small town dynamics and contemps with a heavy focus on romance.

No Love Allowed by Kate Evangelista – The perfect poolside read! This YA romance’s plot and mood reminded me of Gossip Girl which, hello — yes please! Despite their dramatic circumstances, Caleb, a rich boy who needs a fake girlfriend, and Didi, a girl with mental health challenges who needs cash, feel very real. So does their chemistry; Kate Evangelista writes some steamy kisses, and some fantastic banter, too. She handles Didi’s health issues in a way that reads as authentic, giving her traits and interests that go beyond the “girl with mental illness” we sometimes see in fiction. And Caleb, who could’ve very easily come off as a privileged and entitled jerk, was really quite adorable. So looking forward to seeing what Kate Evangelista writes next!

What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass – I loved this story so much. Author Alexis Bass writes some of the most realistic high school experiences in YA, and I think her books deserve far more hype than they appear to get — they’re so good. MC Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother, Jonathan, has just finished a year-long prison sentence after killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Jonathan is very complex, as is his relationship with Amanda. Every time they shared the page, I could feel myself literally tensing up. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. This whole book, guys… The character arcs are so steep and the writing is so affecting. My heart hurt through the better part of it, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Definitely give What’s Broken Between Us a read, and check out Alexis Bass’s debut, Love and Other Theories, too!

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

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

This vanilla scone recipe. The town where I grew up has an awesome fair every fall, and they sell the yummiest scones. I miss them! I’ve tried to reproduce them before, raspberry jam and all, with little success. The scones I made Sunday morning, however, were incredible! So flaky and buttery and delicious. Big thanks to Jessica Erin of Stuck on SweetIMG_3912Reading

I recently finished Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston, which I loved. It’ll definitely have a place among my 2016 favorites — big recommend! Now, I’m reading Dana Elmendorf’s debut South of Sunshine, a f/f contemporary YA, and so far I’m enjoying it very much.

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Catch up on all of my June book recommendations HERE.

Watching

Parenthood. It’s so good! I just started season 3 and man, if I didn’t have a family to feed and a house to maintain and a manuscript to write, I’d sit on the couch and watch episode after episode after episode.

Listening To

John Corey Whaley’s Noggin, the story of Travis Coates, head transplant survivor. Cool concept, right? I’m loving Travis’s voice, which is insightful and really funny, and I can’t wait to see how the novel pans out.

Thinking About

Camp NaNoWri Mo. I’m participating, and I’ve set a 15K word goal. If I meet it, I’ll be very, very close to finishing the manuscript I’m fondly referring to as Camp WiP (because it takes place at a camp — duh). Also, I’ve got the ~best~ cabin, and I’m having all sorts of fun cheering my cabin mates on.

Anticipating

This is going to be annoyingly vague, but the things I’m anticipating are currently top-secret (but exciting!). The good news? I’m very much looking forward to sharing in the near future. 😘

Wishing

You’ll check out the recently revealed Swanky 17 covers! They’re all so gorgeous — my fellow Swanks are winning the cover lottery all over the place! Find the YA covers HERE and the MG covers HERE.

Making Me Happy

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It’s officially summer! The longest school year in history has finally come to a close (I have a 4th grader!) and now we’re spending our days (and a lot of our nights) at the neighborhood pool. Also, look who got a haircut…

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Also making me happy? Watching yesterday’s Independence Day in D.C. with my family. We had a fantastic time and walked a lot of miles.

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

Apparently in June I only read books with primary-colored covers…
{As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.}

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – I really enjoyed this story of Louisa, a cheerful caregiver, and Will, a man who has recently become quadriplegic and is (understandably?) bitter as a result. Me Before You is heartbreaking and intense, but it’s full of humor, too, and I found its message is inspiring. I’ve seen a lot of backlash about the #LiveBoldly tagline; it seems some people assume it means that those with physical challenges can’t live boldly, but as far as I can tell, Me Before You is Lou’s story, and she learns to live boldly through Will, even while he’s made the polarizing decision to end his life six months after the book’s opening (a decision he’s entitled to because he’s an adult with autonomy; I’m pro Death with Dignity, for what it’s worth). If you’re curious about this novel and have yet to give it a read, know that its portrayal of disability isn’t without flaws, but the overall story is an engaging and affecting read.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – This is a tricky book to talk about, seeing as how pretty much anything I say will spoil the earlier three books in the series. So, here are my super vague thoughts… Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is, as always, beautiful and enchanting. Her world building is exceptional. I’m a fan of how Blue’s and the Raven Boys’ arcs panned out, particularly Ronan’s and Adam’s, but I’m slightly underwhelmed by the conclusions given to to some of the lesser characters. Also, I wish the whole Glendower thing had played out differently. To me, it felt rather anticlimactic. Despite my minor gripes with this final installment, I love The Raven Cycle as a whole. It’s one of the most unique series I’ve read, YA or otherwise.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti (January, 2017) – This forthcoming debut is wonderfully fresh and achingly bittersweet. Main character Hawthorn’s voice is so great. She’s a lonely teenager with a quirky sense of humor and an enormous imagination. When Lizzie Lovett — a girl who graduated from Hawthorn’s high school a few years prior — vanishes, Hawthorn becomes fixated on discovering what might’ve happened to her, mostly because the assumed tragedy is more interesting (and more manageable) than her actual life. Hawthorn’s a girl with a devil-may-care attitude; she’s got wild theories about what happened to Lizzie, and she does things that many might momentarily consider, then brush off as far too reckless. The most fascinating aspect of this novel, for me, is Hawthorn’s relationship with Lizzie Lovett’s boyfriend, Enzo. It’s complicated and ill-advised (he’s significantly older, plus he’s grieving), and man did it make my heart hurt. I love, too, Hawthorn’s interactions with the hippie caravan that’s moved into her family’s backyard, and her brother’s best friend, Connor. I’m endlessly impressed with this Swanky book — definitely check it out when it debuts in January!

Wonder by RJ Palacio – I feel like this novel should be required reading in all elementary/middle schools. It was recommended to me by my daughter (how fun that we can now share books!) and I adored it as much as she did. Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a fifth grade boy with severe facial disfigurement who’s making the jump from homeschool to public school. He’s worried because he hasn’t had an easy go of it as far as friendships and fitting in, and despite his unique situation, he’s easy to empathize with. Auggie is such an honest, earnest protagonist. While Wonder is told mostly through his his first-person lens, there are plenty of chapters told by his family and friends, too, which were fascinating perspectives through which to view his situation, as well as an important reminder that we all face challenges and make mistakes and are capable of becoming heroes. It’s common knowledge that I’m not a book crier, but this one definitely made me tear up — it’s just so heartfelt and, well, wonderful. Read it, then pass it on to the kiddos in your life.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – It’s easy to see why this debut won the William C. Morris Award last year — it’s smart and funny and awesomely voice-y. Protagonist Simon is a drama kid who’s being blackmailed because of his sexuality, and he’s also dealing with changing friendships, his slightly offbeat (but cool) family, and his own identity as it contrasts with the assumed white/straight norm. Simon is immediately likable, and so is his cast of supporting characters. I particularly love enigmatic Blue, as well as Simon’s buddies Nick, Leah, and Abby who, while relatively minor, feel like fully realized people. I love, too, the element of mystery — trying to guess Blue’s identity right along with Simon. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an important book and a profound story, but it never feels bogged down with agenda (see what I did there?). Instead, it’s a thoughtful, nuanced read that prompts contemplation while at the same time being delightfully entertaining.

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June (May, 2017) – Another Swanky book! I had so much fun reading It Started with Goodbye. It’s a modern spin on Cinderella, a story with weighty themes that’s told in this spirited, heartfelt way that made diving into its world an absolute joy. Main character Tatum is awesome; she’s constantly railing against her too-strict stepmother, but she never reads as bratty. Her voice is spot-on, full of humor and insight, and I’m pretty sure Teen Katy would’ve wanted her as a BFF. It Started With Goodbye has some steep arcs, but author Christina June handles them with finesse, letting her characters grow in meaningful ways while preserving the heart of their well-developed personalities. And, as a romance lover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “SK”, the mysterious and witty boy Tatum trades emails with after he contacts her regarding her graphic design work. So cute and so sweet, and the payoff is perfection. It Started with Goodbye debuts May, 2017, but mark it To-Read now, because you’ll want to snatch it up as soon as it hits shelves.

Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca – This soap-y 2015 debut was exactly what I was looking for in a poolside novel — in fact, I read it in its entirety during one sunny afternoon. Last Year’s Mistake is told in alternating before-and-after chapters, chronicling the rise, fall, and rekindling of protagonist Kelsey’s relationship with baseball stud David. I was impressed with the complexity author Gina Ciocca gave Kelsey and David’s relationship — it starts out as a platonic friendship, morphs into an unrealized then unspoken crush, and turns into an angsty will-they-won’t-they love affair. Alongside Kelsey and David’s relationship, there’s a lot going on: a health scare, a cancer diagnosis, moves, new romances, faltering friendships, school dances, and I found myself caught up in all of it. These characters live full lives and are far from perfect (love how authentic Kelsey and her supporting cast feel!), yet they’re easy to root for. Recommended for fans of Simone Elkeles and Katie McGarry.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian – When I’m really into a story, I do one of two things: race to the finish to see how it concludes, or drag my feet so as to prolong the reading experience. In the case of The Last Boy and Girl in the World, I did some major feet dragging. Main character Keeley’s lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she’s absolutely charming and lovable, even while she’s misreading situations and acting foolish to get a laugh. She’s so silly and real and flawed, I found myself cheering for her from the story’s earliest pages. The Last Boy and Girl in the World is set in Aberdeen, a town that will soon be sunk by a dammed river. There’s all sorts of scandal surrounding the dam and the pending demise of Aberdeen, but more than that, there are a lot of conflicted feelings swirling around Keeley, her friends, and her family as they  prepare for the drowning of their town. Keeley defaults to making the best of the situation, even when that means alienating those who’re suffering, and she’s got a partner in merrymaking in swoony soccer boy Jesse. So as not to spoil the story’s ending, I’ll just say that The Last Boy and Girl in the World surprised me in a lot of really great ways, and Siobhan Vivivan is now among my favorite contemporary YA writers.

What’s the best book you read in June? 

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

Everything about the photo below: dark chocolate espresso beans and iced chai lattes and pink roses and blush peonies, all of which I splurged on after my very first school visit. My daughter’s teacher invited me to speak with the 3rd graders about writing and publishing and while I totally wanted to do it, I was SO nervous. I mean, I know a lot of the kids and I’ve learned a thing or two about writing over the years, but an actual school visit? Luckily, it went really well. The kids were great listeners and participators, and they asked some really thoughtful questions. I’m super thankful, and already eager to do it again! 13413424_1578444175781472_822276646_nReading

I’ve been doing lots of reading lately. I recently finished Wonder by R.J Palacio (holy crap — amazing) and The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (predictably mesmerizing). Also, how fun is the #FlipThatBook tag on Instagram?!

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I’m currently reading The Last Boy & Girl in the World by one of my favorite authors, Siobhan Vivian, and it’s fantastic. It’s a romance with a compelling hook (its setting is a town that’s about to be sunk by a dammed river), and it’s full of interesting girl friendships and swoon and surprises. I’m loving it!13398444_503108083216522_1676210314_n Watching

Parenthood. I’m only, like, nine episodes in, but yeah. It’s fantastic. I love Peter Krause (Six Feet Under — best show ever) and of course I adore Lauren Graham. The writing is perfection and dialogue is amazingly authentic and the relationships all feel so genuine and complicated and lovely. Thanks, Riley Edgewood, for insisting I watch this one; you were right — I love it!

Listening To

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. It’s very clear why this debut won the William C. Morris Award last year — it’s smart and funny and awesomely voice-y. Protagonist Simon is immediately likable, and the audiobook narrator is extraordinary. Recommend!

Thinking About

Our recent vacation to Smith Mountain Lake, which is gorgeous. We shared a condo with friends (our next door neighbors from our time in Monterey) and had so much fun swimming, kayaking, inner tubing, sunning, and eating. I’m already ready to go back!

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Anticipating

Copyedits! Kissing Max Holden has finally reached this important step (YAY!), and I’m weirdly excited to see all the ways I’ve misused commas and semicolons and em dashes. 🙂

Wishing

You’ll check out the recently revealed Swanky 17 covers! They’re all so gorgeous — my fellow Swanks are winning the cover lottery all over the place! Find the YA covers HERE and the MG covers HERE.

Making Me Happy

My girlie played Somewhere Over the Rainbow on her guitar during her school’s Talent Showcase and it was pretty much the most adorable thing ever. I’m so proud of her courage and her dedication. She did so well!

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

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

Last weekend we went kayaking at the coolest place — Mallows Bay on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, where tons of “ghost ships” have been sunk, creating a mini ecosystem for plants and birds and fish. Those trees in the photo below? They’re growing out of a war ship that’s just barely hidden under river water.

The photo below is not mine (I found it HERE), but it shows the outlines of many of the ships. Our kayaks floated right over them, and a lot of the time we were navigating huge, rusty nails that stuck up out of the water. The ship at the top of the photo sits mostly above water, and there are enormous hawks’ nests on its deck. Big recommend if you’re a DC local looking for an off-the-beaten-path outdoor activity.

Reading

I recently finished Chelsea Sedoti’s The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett (great title, great cover!) and and I thought it was fantastic. A perfect example of awesome YA voice, and it’s full of heart. It’s out January, 2017 and you should most definitely put it on your TBR list. Now I’m reading and loving Christina June’s It Started With Goodbye, out May, 2017. Pretty sure her MC, Tatum, could be BFFs with Kissing Max Holden‘s Jilly. So far, June’s all about Swanky books!

Watching

Roots, and whoa. I never read the book or saw the original series, so the story’s all new to me and it is so visceral and so sad and so powerful. Must watch.

Listening To

 Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. I own a hard copy of this book but when I saw that it was available on audio from my library, I knew I wanted to listen rather than read. Guys, I really enjoyed this story. It’s heartbreaking and intense, but there’s humor, too, and I happen to think its message is inspiring. I’ve seen a lot of backlash about the #LiveBoldly tagline; it seems some people assume it means that those with physical challenges can’t live boldly, but Me Before You is Lou’s story, and she learns to live boldly through Will, even while he’s made an incredibly polarizing decision (one he’s entitled to because he’s an adult with autonomy; I’m pro Death with Dignity, for what it’s worth). Anyway, if you’re curious about this one and have yet to give it a read, know that its portrayal of disability isn’t faultless, but the overall story’s got my stamp of approval.

Thinking About

What I’m going to work on next because… round two of Kissing Max Holden edits have been turned in! YAY! What a relief, and the best part is that I’m SO PROUD of how the story’s coming along.

Anticipating

The vacation we’re taking this weekend… We’re meeting friends at a beautiful Virginia lake, where we’ll spend four days swimming and sunning and catching up, and maybe having a cold beer or two.  🍻

Wishing

You’ll check out the recently revealed Swanky 17 covers! They’re all so gorgeous — my fellow Swanks are winning the cover lottery all over the place! Find the YA covers HERE and the MG covers HERE.

Making Me Happy

I created an original brownie recipe, which makes me all sorts of excited. They’re rich and decadent and dark-chocolate-y, and they’re inspired by this scene in Kissing Max Holden during which Max eats (and raves about) Jill’s homemade brownies. In fact, they’re called Max’s Favorite Dark Chocolate Chunk Brownies. 🙂  Good news — eventually I’m going to share the recipe with you, then we can all bake them and have a virtual brownie party!

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

May Reading Wrap-Up

Seven books read in May. Thirty-two books read in 2016.
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

How to Say I love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo – I was charmed by this story of family and first love and fitting in. Main character Jordyn is so complex. Her home life is tricky because her younger brother, Phillip, falls at the severe end of the Autism spectrum, and her parents spend most of their time and energy accommodating him. Jordyn often feels left out and overlooked, and as a result, she’s not Phillip’s biggest fan. At times, Jordyn’s hard to like, but that’s because she’s real. She’s not always kind to her brother, and she experiences moments of selfishness and resentment, but don’t worry — her arc is steep. I love that Jordyn has to learn how to say eff it, and I love that she discovers ways to appreciate her brother for who he is, and I especially love the way her romance with adorable and altruistic Alex pans out. Karole Cozzo’s prose is simultaneously concise and emotive, and she writes amazing kissing scenes. I recommend How to Say I Love You Out Loud for fans of family-focused and romantic contemporary YA.

The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin – Another contemporary YA with a main character who’s so authentic and so flawed, she often comes across as prickly. Throughout the course of this story, Harper makes some big mistakes, and I found myself cringing more than once. Author Emily Martin’s done an interesting thing here, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan (who I’m smitten with), is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. I think this is a unique take on contemporary YA romance, and the flip definitely kept me engaged. My favorite thing about The Year We Fell Apart (aside from its incredible romantic tension) is Harper and Declan’s friend group, Cory in particular. He’s so constant and loyal — exactly the sort of buddy Harper needs to temper the upheaval in her life. I love, too, that climactic scene in the parking lot. My heart was literally pounding. Read this one if you’re into romances full of conflict and angst.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdeih – A reread, this time I listened to the (outstanding) audiobook. The glowing review I wrote last summer is HERE.

The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh – A satisfying end to an incredible duology. As much as I wanted to rush through this book so I could learn the fates of Shazi and Khalid and Tariq and Despina and all of the other characters I’ve come to love, I made myself savor each page because Renee Ahdieh pens some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Her descriptions are lush, and she has this way of relating her characters’ emotions that’s just so powerful. I’m a fan of this concluding book for a lot of reasons, most of which have to do with Shahrzad and how utterly badass she is. She never falters in her convictions, though she’s not opposed to experimenting with new tactics and accepting help from an eccentric bunch of secondary characters. While I loved every moment she spent with Khalid (that first scene they shared… <3), I was particularly fascinated by her evolving relationships with Tariq and her younger sister, Irsa (who’s a badass in her own quiet way). The Rose & the Dagger is full of fantasy (magic carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, flying serpents) and some stunning twists, but it never gets lost in sensationalism. Its characters are layered and authentic, its relationships are real and often imperfect, and it’s grounded in feminism — a most excellent spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – Honest moment: If this book hadn’t been written by Judy Blume, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s historical fiction set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town where three planes crashed in the space of 58 days in late 1951 and early 1952 (that actually happened). Not subject matter that would normally pique my interest, but I’m so glad I gave this book a read — I thought it was wonderful. Its cast is huge, but a great deal of the story is told through fifteen-year-old Miri’s eyes, and she’s awesome — a lot like the winsome girls of Judy Blume’s earlier MG and YA novels. Miri comes of age during the winter of the plane crashes, partly because of the crashes, and partly because she’s dealing with all sorts of normal teenage issues: family strife, first love, and failing friendship. She responds to it all with such genuine sentiment; she feels absolutely real. I love how the fates of the fictional citizens of Elizabeth are woven together, and how each of their paths alters in the wake of the plane crashes. I also love how the early 1950s come to life within the pages of this novel. It’s all about the human experience, and it’s full of heart. I loved it.

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (January, 2017) – I went into this book expecting a fun spy story, but by the novel’s end I was tense and torn and totally heartbroken. Seventeen-year-old MC Reagan’s parents are Black Angels — super secret spies who go out on dangerous missions and change their identities at a moment’s notice. That means Reagan, too, has to pick up and move, often in the middle of the night, leaving her fledging friendships — not to mention a piece of herself– behind. Thanks to a childhood spent training in martial arts and weaponry and foreign languages, Reagan’s expected to become a Black Angel herself, but she’s questioning her presumed future thanks to her most recent group of friends — cute JROTC cadet Luke, in particular. But when Reagan gets tangled up in one of her parents’ missions and is forced to put her training to use, her life changes irrevocably. Author Kristen Orlando does such an amazing job capturing the many facets of Reagan’s life, including the sweet romance she and Luke are developing, the anxiety she experiences thanks to her intense lifestyle, her complicated relationship with her parents, and the tragic rescue-mission-gone-wrong in Columbia. Definitely pick You Don’t Know My Name up of you’re into unflinching novels that’ll set your heart racing.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar – THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! I mean, it’s written by an Aussie author so its quality comes as no surprise, but even so, Summer Skin far exceeded my sky-high expectations. It’s a college-set story about friendship and love, about learning and growing and changing for the better — even when that’s really, really hard. Jess is such an extraordinary MC. She’s driven and super smart, she’s all sorts of fun, and she takes zero shit. She’s comfortable in her skin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not sometimes awkward and uncertain, She makes mistakes just like the rest of us did in college, which is a big part of why she’s so relatable and endearing. Summer Skin is a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Between the angst and the humor and the swoon, I found Summer Skin to be unputdownable. Just a note, it’s not available in the US, so if you’re interested in reading (and you should totally be interested in reading) find it at The Book Depository.

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