Category Archives: Dystopian

September Reading Wrap-Up

September’s been the pits, my friends. Thanks to a lot of life stuff, I slacked on reading. But! The books I managed were pretty great…

28187230The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
1. Page turner. While, for me, this one had some believability issues, I still couldn’t put it down, mostly because I was desperate to find out what the heck was going on.
2. Emotive setting. Just like main character Lo, I felt disturbingly claustrophobic while “aboard” the luxurious but eerie Aurora Borealis.
3. Wholly unreliable cast. This was perhaps my favorite part of The Woman in Cabin Ten; I love when a book makes me doubt which of its characters can be trusted, and that was the case with this one up until its final chapters.

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Be True To Me by Adele Griffin
1. Dreamiest setting. Be True To Me is set in 1976, on Fire Island. It was a simpler time in many ways, though author Adele Griffin describes the scenery and spirit in such a lush, evocative way, I found myself longing to be there with Fritz and Jean.
2. Deeply flawed cast. Give me a book full of characters who make bad decisions over a group of perfect princes and princesses any day. I love that these teenagers were sometimes selfish and inconsiderate and single-minded. They weren’t always likable, but they felt so, so relatable.
3. Lovely prose. Like this: Summer romances were made out of ice cream and cotton candy, intensely sweet before they melted into nothing. Fact — Be True To Me is my first Adele Griffin novel, but I’ve become a fast fan. Can’t wait to read more of her work!

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Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
1. Suuuuuper character driven. This story focuses on a small, multi-generational family and you will get to know its members well. The good, the bad, the ugly.
2. Issues galore. Animal rights, gun control, marital strain, underage drug and alcohol use, self-harm. This is a long, slow story, allowing the author ample time to explore the many themes he presents. Nothing’s black and white, and I appreciated the opportunity to draw my own conclusions.
3. Young adult-ish. Before You Know Kindness is literary fiction written for an adult audience, though the sections that center around the Seton family’s youngest generation feel markedly YA. They were my favorite sections, obvs.

a562e848e72902082dd52bfa7249c203Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi (June 19, 2018)
1. aMaZiNg characterizations. I’ve been searching for one perfect adjective to describe Lulu and her girl friends and… I don’t think there is one? They’re fierce yet vulnerable, confident yet afraid, always exuberant, and so very real. There are some A+ parents plus a pretty great boy, too. ❤
2. Enviable prose. This is one of those novels chock full of passages you’ll want to read over and over again, because they are either lovely, or sharply insightful, or darkly funny.
3. Feminism for the win. I can’t wait to hand this book to my daughter in a few years. Its girls are complicated, and they make mistakes, and they do risky things. But they champion each other in ways that consistently warmed my heart. Pick up a copy of Not the Girls You’re Looking For next summer!

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Finding You by Lydia Albano
1. Incredible character arcs. Protagonist Isla begins the book a naive and admittedly weak girl. By the story’s end, she’s retained her compassion and her huge heart, but she’s otherwise unrecognizable — in the most impressive way.
2. Relevant subject matter. Finding You is an intense (possibly triggering) read about human trafficking. Though it’s set in a vaguely dystopian world void of most modern technology, its issues and themes are timely and very important.
3. Girl friendships. There’s a sweet romance in this book and while I loved Isla and Tam, I found myself even more invested in the relationships she formed with her fellow captives. I’m so impressed by how these girls came to lean on and support one another.

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

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What I Read in 2016 + All My Faves

This is a long post, friends! It’s been fun to look back on my 2016 reads, and I hope you’ll find a new favorite book while perusing. 

First up, I’ve listed all the books I read in the last year, organized by age category: adult, new adult, middle grade, and young adult. Young adult books are broken down more specifically by genre, since there are so many.

FYI: Titles link to Goodreads pages. Young adult titles with * were published in 2016. Titles with ** are debuts that will be published in 2017. Books are categorized as I saw most appropriate; some might fit into more than one age category or YA genre, but I did the best I could. 🙂

Adult

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue, Follow the River by James Alexander Thom, In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, Before the Fall* by Noah Hawley, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

New Adult

November 9 by Colleen Hoover, Love in B Minor* by Elodie Nowodazkij, Summer Skin* by Kirsty Eager

Middle Grade

Wonder by RJ Palacio, Rules For Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

NonFiction

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt, Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

Young Adult

YA Historical – Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Salt to the Sea* by Ruta Sepetys, Wait For Me** by Caroline Leech

YA Magical Realism – The Weight of Feathers & When the Moon Was Ours* by Anna-Marie McLemore, Devil and the Bluebird* by Jennifer Mason-Black

YA Contemporary – The Distance Between Us & On the Fence by Kasie West, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Thicker Than Water* by Kelly Fiore, Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, How To Keep Rolling After a Fall* & How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo, First & Then by Emma Mills, In Real Life* by Jessica Love, The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark, The Girl Who Fell* by Shannon Parker, Dreamology* by Lucy Keating, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, When We Collided* by Emery Lord, The Year We Fell Apart* by Emily Martin, You Don’t Know My Name** by Kristen Orlando, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett** by Chelsea Sedoti, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, It Started With Goodbye** by Christina June, Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca, The Last Boy and Girl in the World* by Siobhan Vivian, Exit, Pursued by a Bear* by E.K. Johnston, South of Sunshine* by Dana Elmendorf, Escaping Perfect* by Emma Harrison, No Love Allowed* by Kate Evangelista, What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass, The Heartbeats of Wing Jones** by Katherine Webber, Wild Swans* by Jessica Spotswood, Fear Me, Fear Me Not* by Elodie Nowodazkij, Under Rose-Tainted Skies** by Louise Gornoll, Wanderlost* by Jen Malone, Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson, After the Woods* by Kim Savage, Sad Perfect** by Stephanie Elliot, Other Broken Things* by C. Desir, Definitions of Indefinable Things** by Whitney Taylor**, Holding Up the Universe* by Jennifer Niven

YA Fantasy – These Vicious Masks* by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, The Winner’s Kiss* by Marie Rutkowski, The Rose & the Dagger* by Renee Ahdieh, The Raven King* by Maggie Stiefvater, Gilded Cage** by Vic James, The Star Touched Queenby Roshani  Chokshi

YA Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi, Paranormal, etc.) – Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Noggin by John Corey Whaley, A World Without You* by Beth Revis

Of the YA novels I read that were published this year,
some standouts…

Favorite 2016 YA Historical Fiction

Salt to the Sea blew me away. It’s set during World War II, and focuses on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the deadliest maritime disaster in history. Ruta Sepetys tells her story through the perspectives of four different but equally compelling characters. Her prose is spare but visceral, her cast unforgettable, and the way she threads symbolism throughout this novel is masterful. It’s been ages since I read a book so beautiful and haunting. 

Favorite 2016 YA Speculative Fiction


I’m cheating a little here, because A World Without You is actually straight-up contemporary, but a lot of it reads as spec-fic because Bo, our protagonist, is suffering from severe delusions. He believes he is a time-traveler, and he’s desperate to save his girlfriend from 1600s Salem, where he believes he accidentally left her. Because the story is told mostly from Bo’s 1st person POV, it seems as if we really are manipulating time along with him. A harrowing novel that addresses mental illness in a manner unlike any I’ve read before. 

Favorite 2016 YA Fantasy Novel


I loved everything about The Winner’s Kiss, the final book in one of my very favorite trilogies. It’s a beautifully written story about love and war, full of emotion and fraught with tension, and its protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, will stay with me forever. I would honestly live in this world, if I could — it’s so rich in detail, populated by characters I wish I could know. I hesitate to say too much about the last installment’s plot for fear of spoiling its gloriousness, but if you’ve yet to read the Winner‘s novels, I highly recommend them.

Favorite 2016 YA Contemporary Novels

  
Wild Swans is so lovely. It’s a quiet story about a girl named Ivy who, thanks to her talented (and troubled) lineage, is striving to meet her granddad’s sky-high expectations. Give it a read the next time you’re in the mood for a heartfelt contemporary with gorgeous writing and a wonderfully relatable protagonist. The Last Boy and Girl in the World‘s main character Keeley’s lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she’s absolutely charming and lovable, and its setting, a town that’s about to be sunk by a damned river, is super unique. Both of these stories surprised me in a lot of really great ways, and both Jessica Spotswood and Siobhan Vivivan are now among my favorite contemporary YA writers.

Favorite 2016 “Issue” Book

  
Other Broken Things is an unflinching exploration of alcoholism and recovery, narrated by Natalie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s fresh out of rehab after a DUI. This story is so complex; I found myself desperate to shake some sense into Natalie while simultaneously wanting to give her the world’s biggest hug. Check this one out if you like stories about ballsy girls facing enormous challenges. When We Collided is an incredibly affecting story. It’s told from two points of view: Vivi, a girl with bipolar disorder who blows into idealistic Verona Beach like a tornado, and Jonah, a sad boy who gets swept up in her tumultuous wind. I never cry when it comes to books, but the conclusion of When We Collided ~almost~ got me. It’s so realistic, so perfectly bittersweet… I loved it.

Favorite 2016 YA Mystery


Fear Me, Fear Me Not is chilling in the best way! It’s part romance, part murder mystery, and it’s bursting with suspense. If you’re ready for a book that’ll have you searching for clues while giving you a few good scares, featuring characters who are easy to root for, plus some very well written swoon, check out Fear Me, Fear Me Not.

Favorite 2016 Family-Focused YA Novel 


Thicker Than Water was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story about addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. Author Kelly Fiore’s depictions are devastating in their accuracy and, thanks to the novel’s before/after format, there’s a sense of inevitability that makes it hard to put down. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Favorite 2016 YA Novel About Friendship


Exit, Pursued by a Bear, about a girl who is raped at cheer camp, is smart and nuanced. 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, and she never lets what happened at camp bury her. I 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 recommend.

Favorite 2016 YA Thriller


After the Woods reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. 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 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. Read this one if you like tightly plotted, expertly written  psychological thrillers.

Favorite 2016 YA Retelling


Not sure if Devil and the Bluebird is technically a retelling, but it’s inspired by a folktale so I’m rolling with it. Gorgeous cover, evocative prose, atmospheric and unique. Protagonist Blue has made a deal with the devil; she’s traded her voice for help in finding her missing sister. Blue begins her journey with a pair of magic boots, her dead mother’s guitar, and heart full of grief. This is a unique, moody story that had me entirely enchanted.

Favorite 2016 YA Romances

    
The Year We Fell Apart does an interesting thing, 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, is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. My favorite part of this novel was its climactic scene; my heart was literally pounding. Read The Year We Fell Apart if you’re into romances full of conflict and will-they-won’t-they moments. In Real Life is Catfish set in Vegas, and it so good. Hannah and Nick have been online besties for years and (they think) they know everything about each other. When Hannah surprises Nick with a visit in Sin City, she learns the startling truth: He hasn’t been completely forthcoming. This story is full of delicious angst, its pacing is fantastic, and its characters, despite their dishonesty with each other and, often, themselves, are utterly endearing. Hannah and Nick’s online and in real life (!) relationship gave me all the feels.

Favorite 2016 YA Magical Realism


Everything that’s amazing about YA: 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. When the Moon Was Ours is the story of enigmatic Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and who loves Sam, a boy who has a penchant for hanging moons about town, and who is keeping a potentially devastating secret. I loved this story’s twists, its reverential portrayal of LGBTQIA themes, and the tangible bond between its lead characters. All the stars (or moons) for this enchanting novel.

Favorite 2016 Genre Bender


These Vicious Masks is Austen-esque, but with characters who have special abilities, sort of like X-Men, an element that gives the novel an extra layer of awesome. Protagonist Evelyn is dry and witty, especially regarding the societal norms of her Victorian world. She’s not interested in balls or fancy dresses or marriage, and she balks with the best sort of snark. Plus, she’s super loyal and always courageous. If you’re looking for a lighthearted read with a heroine you’ll root for immediately, be sure to check out These Vicious Masks.

Favorite 2016 YA Series Wrap-Up


The Rose and the Dagger is a very satisfying end to an incredible duology. 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 so powerful. This story is fantastical (flying carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, serpents) and has 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.

Favorite 2016 Debut


The Love That Split the World is beautiful, emotional, and despite its… um… more extraordinary elements, it feels incredibly real. Protagonist Natalie Cleary is  dealing with a lot: a complicated break-up, a best friend who’s moving away, nerves regarding her acceptance to Brown, and the conflicted feelings that’ve come with being an American Indian adopted into a white family. On top of all that, she’s had a lifetime of nightmares and visions and strange lapses in time. Then she meets Beau. I suspect that your enjoyment of this novel will hinge on whether you buy into Natalie and Beau’s intense relationship — I absolutely do. From its first chapter, I could not put this book down. Big recommend!

Favorite Reads Published Before 2016

  
  
What’s Broken Between Us‘s MC, Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother Jonathan, with whom she has a painfully complex relationship, has just finished a year-long prison sentence for killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. My heart hurt through the better part of this novel, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda won the William C. Morris Award last year — it’s smart and funny and 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. This is a thoughtful read that prompts contemplation while at the same time being delightfully entertaining. First & Then made me happy, happy, happy. I loved protagonist Devon and her stellar voice, the small town setting, the football backdrop, Foster (oh, Foster — so sweet), the incredibly likable cast of supporting characters, and the hints of romance. I can’t wait to read more from Emma Mills! Althea & Oliver is gritty and poignant. It’s set in the late nineties, and author Cristina Moracho does an amazing job of nailing down the simpler, grungier feel of the decade. Althea and Oliver have been best friends forever, which works, until Althea develops feelings for Oliver, and he begins to suffer from a debilitating sleep disorder. These two have the most riveting character arcs, and even in their ugliest moments, I found myself hoping they’d triumph. 

Non-YA Favorites Read in 2016

 
 
I want to live in the beautiful, beautiful world that is The Night Circus. The spun-sugar prose, the lovingly crafted characters, the wonderfully vivid settings, the way multiple layers of story tie together in the end… I found it all to be perfection. 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. It’s a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between MC Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Rules For Stealing Stars tackles weighty issues (a mother’s alcoholism, most notably), but it’s a fairy tale as well, a book about sisters and magic and imagination and secrets and unbreakable bonds. Author Corey Ann Haydu combines protagonist Silly’s authentic, youthful voice with charming insight and lovely descriptions, while creating a world that is both vastly sad and infinitely hopeful. In the Unlikely Event is 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. 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.

So, that’s it — my 2016 reading wrap-up.
Tell me! What’d you read and love in 2016? 

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

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

Reading

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

  

Watching

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

Listening To

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

Thinking About

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

Anticipating

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


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

Wishing

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

Making Me Happy

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

What’s currently making YOU happy?

April Reading Wrap-Up

April: Month of the Fascinating Fictional Female
I read some seriously good books this month!
(As always, covers images link to Goodreads pages.)


Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens – While I enjoyed this book from its earliest pages, it didn’t become truly impressive until its conclusion — I loved the way author Courtney Stevens wrapped this debut up. MC Alexi is a compelling narrator who’s struggling with a dark secret. While her behavior makes sense, there were moments when I wanted to give her a little shake — I so wanted her to see that what happened to her was not her fault. Luckily, she reconnects with sweet loner Bodee, who is one of the most endearing YA boys I’ve read. He’s battling his own demons, but he’s unwaveringly there for Alexi, and in a refreshingly nonjudgemental way. Bodee helps Lex regain her autonomy and become a girl who is strong and determined and far healthier than she is at the novel’s opening. While there were a few moments in this story that (for me) bordered on preachy, I think it’s an incredibly strong debut.

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver – I’ve read two books in the last couple of years that have a premise similar to that of Vanishing Girls, so I figured out this story’s mystery fairly quickly. That said, knowing what was coming did not ruin my reading experience; rather, I used this novel as an opportunity to study how a talented author pulls off this sort of meandering, enigmatic plot. Lauren Oliver’s prose is predictably gorgeous and, once again, she has crafted complex, unpredictable characters who I cared about genuinely. I recommend Vanishing Girls if you’re a fan of dark, twisty YA.

 
Flat-Out Love and Flat-Out Matt by Jessica Park – These books were recommended to me by a friend who I now think of as my book soulmate. She was so right — I loved these stories! When I bought Flat-Out Love, I didn’t know it was a trailblazer in NA self-publishing (the paperback is now pubbed by Skyscape), nor did I know that there was a companion, Flat-Out Matt, or a follow-up, Flat-Out Celeste (which I can’t wait to read!). Flat-Out Love’s romantic tone reminded me of Anna and the French Kiss — the slow-burn romance is delicious torture. It’s so obvious who MC Julie is meant to be with, but thanks to a series of misunderstandings and missteps and messy family dynamics, her journey to coupledom is all sorts of complicated, and totally worth the ride. Flat-Out Matt is the perfection companion; several chapters from Flat-Out Love told from Matt’s POV, plus a very — ahem — special night told from Julie’s. Guys, these books are full of eccentric characters, outstanding nerd references, and writing that reads as effortless. I wish there were more NA stories like these on the market!


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – The best book I’ve read so far this year. I’d heard that this novel is fantastical and sort of bizarre, but that’s all I knew going in, and I’m so glad I started reading blindly. Because how do you describe a book like this…? It’s about two sad brothers, a ballsy beekeeper, and a lovely, missing girl. There are summer jobs and whispering cornfields and first kisses; there is a fascinating small-town dynamic, a twisted fairy tale, and a magical horse. Bone Gap is so beautifully written, so evocative and powerful, it’s the sort of book that makes me want to work harder on my own writing. It’s a haunting, lyrical story about love and perception and feminism, and reading it is an enchanting experience — one I didn’t want to end. Highly recommend.


All the Rage by Courtney Summers – I’ve made no secret of my love of Courtney Summers’ writing. She is fearless, and her latest release is bold and gritty and so, so good. Romy is a protagonist unlike any I’ve read before. She’s rightfully lost and pissed and afraid, emotions that stem from a past sexual assault that went unpunished, as well as subsequent bullying from her classmates. Romy isn’t a likable girl in the traditional sense (she lies, she gets into fights, and she thinks cruel thoughts) but I happen to love her. She’s so honest — an uncomfortable, exhilarating sort of honest. Her supporting cast is also riveting. I particularly enjoyed Romy’s mother, who’s doing the best she can, as well as Todd and Leon, who become positive male figures in Romy’s life. All the Rage is a gut-wrenching story that illustrates how complicated it is to trudge through life as a female, and how scary it can be to raise a girl in this world. Read it.


Forged by Erin Bowman – I’ve been bad about keeping up with trilogies and series lately. I’ve started so many over the last few years, but most have fallen off my radar — even those whose first books I truly enjoyed. The Taken trilogy is one that’s held my interest since its first book released in 2013, though, and that’s because of its characters. Don’t get me wrong — the world-building is fantastic, the plot is unique, and the pacing is swift, but it’s Gray, Bree, Clipper, Emma, Sammy, and Blaine who’ve kept me committed. Bree, especially, continues to blow me away with her awesomeness. Though she’s not the lead character, she’s a standout thanks to her independence and toughness and vigor, and she lends a sense of humanity (and humility) to protagonist Gray. Author Erin Bowman concludes her debut series in a way that feels real and true and courageous and, though there were some genuinely heartbreaking moments, I closed this novel feeling hopeful and content. Recommend!

What’s the best book you read in April? 

YA Book Club :: RED QUEEN


{YA Book Club is headed up by writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

This month’s YA Book Club selection is
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

From Goodreads ~ The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change. Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

This was a tough one for me, friends. Red Queen is a good book. It’s skillfully-written, well-paced, and full of interesting characters. It’s set in a world that felt fresh (though, after finishing, I saw it compared to The Selection and Red Rising, neither of which I’ve read), and there were plenty of twists I didn’t see coming.

Like I said, Red Queen is a good book.

I suspect I might be in the minority here, but… It’s not a Katy Book.

I can’t even pinpoint what my issue with it is, other than the fact that it simply did not make me feel anything. The characters are engaging enough, but I didn’t empathize with them and (forgive me) I didn’t care much about what happened to them. For me, there’s too much going on in Red Queen. The social tiers, the Silvers (with literal silver blood) and Reds (who’ve got red blood, obvs), the X-Men-like magical powers, the war-torn dystopian setting, the oddly set-up romantic entanglements, the family strife, the resistance… It was a lot for me to take in, and a lot to attempt to latch onto.

When I bought this book, I took my cue from its cover and its title. I was expecting fantasy, but what I got was rather jumbled dystopian/fantasy fusion. Admittedly, I’m sort of over dystopian, and when it comes to fantasy, I like my stories dark and gritty and super intense. Think The Winner’s Curse and Graceling and Finnikin of the Rock. I like touches of magic, and I like an organic, slow-burn romance. I prefer MCs who are not Chosen Ones. Red Queen’s MC, Mare, is definitely a Chosen One (though, I’ve gotta say, she handled the crazy turn of events with grace). Additionally, her story (particularly the romantic aspects) was just too light for me. Mare’s voice can be humorous, sarcastic at times, which is probably a good thing for other readers — she truly is amusing in certain scenes — but the overall tone of the story was not my taste.

I can certainly see Red Queen‘s merits, and I understand why it’s garnered the buzz it has. I’ve decided to drop my gently-read copy during next month’s Rock the Drop because I’d love to see it find its way into the hands of a teen reader who might fall in love with its positive qualities.

What did you think of this month’s YA Book Club selection?

(Book Clubbers: Don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog to add your link!)

February Reading Wrap-Up

Four books in February…
(As always, covers link to Goodreads.)

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – I finished this novel a month ago, and my feelings regarding it are still sort of muddled. There was so much I enjoyed: Cody’s strength and courage, the road trip element, the portrayal of familial relationships (Cody and her mom, Cody and Meg’s family), the eccentricities of Meg’s housemates, and the romance. But then, the romance threw me a little, too. Cody and Ben have awesome chemistry (of course — this is a Gayle Forman novel), but I found myself wanting a little more from the “good girl makes bad boy see the error of his ways” trope. That said, I loved the final pages, so maybe the trope eventually worked for me after all? Another I Was Here component worth mentioning: the suicide support chat rooms. *shudder* I had no idea such places existed online, and as Cody dove deeper into their seediness, I was left feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I suspect that was the point, and it was well executed. Overall, I Was Here is a strong, moving novel and Gayle Forman’s characters and prose are as affecting as ever.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This is so not a Katy Book. While I can see its literary merit, I am not a fan of this dystopian-set social-commentary/bizzaro novel. I know that’s an unpopular opinion (it is a classic, after all), but I found Brave New World‘s writing dull and its plot whacky (and kind of gross, actually). My husband read it just before I did and he liked it. He’s been trying to convince me of all the reasons I should be applauding it, but… nope.

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson – This one came highly recommended via the Class of 2014: YA Superlatives Blogfest, and I’m so glad I decided to buy it. It’s a very cool fantasy (by the author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox), one that’s rich and unique. There’s a love triangle — often a turn-off for me — but this one is fresh because there’s a mystery element to it: one boy is a prince and one boy is an assassin sent to kill the royal MC, Lia. The magic comes from the fact that as a reader, you’re not sure which boy is which. (For the record, I guessed correctly, and I was very happy with the outcome.) The Kiss of Deception‘s world-building is thorough and luxurious, and its characters are layered and absorbing. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios – Full disclosure: Had this novel not come highly recommended, I would not have read it. One of its main characters is a Marine who’s just returned from Afghanistan minus a leg, plus a whole lot of post-war issues. I haven’t enjoyed most of the military-esque YA I’ve read (with the exception of Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal, which is incredible) because it’s hard for me to turn off the critical part of my brain that constantly wants to catalogue the ways authors get military life wrong. I went into I’ll Meet You There ready to roll my eyes, but… I ended up loving it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I love it. This novel is real and raw and unflinching, and its voice… extraordinary. Highlights: Skylar (my favorite MC of late), Josh (his chapters literally made my heart hurt, plus he’s hot), the portrayals of poverty and Marine loyalty, the romance (oh my, the romance), and most of all ~ slight spoiler ~ the seriousness with which Skylar and Josh come to take their relationship. Their absolute commitment to one another — baggage and all — is refreshing and beautiful and (for me) very relatable. I’ve a feeling this novel will  be one of my 2015 stand-outs. Recommend!

What’s the best book you read in February?  

Class of 2014: YA Superlatives Blogfest HEAD OF THE CLASS

The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 15th through Thursday, December 18th and will highlight favorite books published in 2014 using a variety of fun superlative categories. The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year, so if you haven’t already, draft a post and sign up to participate at the end of this post. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2014!

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2014 Reading List (starred = debut): The Winner’s Curse, *Let’s Get Lost, *Loop, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, *17 First Kisses, Ashes to Ashes, *The Secret Sky, *Behind the Scenes, Isla and the Happily Ever After, *The Only Thing To Fear, Bleed Like Me, The Bridge From Me to You, *Creed, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I’ll Give You the Sun, *One Two Three, *Of Scars and Stardust, We Were Liars, *Wish You Were Italian, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Frozen, What I Thought Was True, *The Eighth Guardian, *Pointe, *Push Girl, *Open Road Summer, *Far From You, *The Symptoms of My Insanity, Panic, *The Truth About Alice, *NIL, Complicit, The Summer I Found You, The Evolution of Emily, Into the Still Blue, Heartbeat, The Killing Woods, Brown Girl Dreaming

Head of the Class

Favorite Dystopian


Frozen by Erin Bowman – Loved it even more than its predecessor, Taken! Gray is such a compelling protagonist, and I can’t wait to see how this trilogy wraps up with Forged come spring.

Favorite Science Fiction


Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi – Is this a stretch for the sci-fi category? It’s the only sci-fi-esque 2014 book I read, and it was a fantastic conclusion to a trilogy I’ve followed since its first book. Bravo! (Honorable Mention to These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, which came out late in 2013 and therefore missed a spot on my Class of 2013 list. It’s so excellent!)

Favorite Fantasy


The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Not only my favorite fantasy of 2014, but one of my favorite reads of the year, period. Oh, the glorious world-building and the slow-burn, deliciously forbidden romance…

Favorite Contemporary

   
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid – I could not choose between these two! They’re both incredibly moving and gorgeously written, and they both left me feeling just… joyful. New favorites!

Favorite Action/Adventure


Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – Another trilogy concluded. I love Laini Taylor’s prose, and this book was a true page-turner. Unputdownable!

Favorite Historical


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Oh my gosh… So gorgeous. I’m such a sucker for verse stories and this one, a chronicle of the author’s childhood in the 1960s and 1970s (so, it’s a little bit middle grade if you want to get technical), is mesmerizing. Plus, that cover… Love.

Favorite Comedy


The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf – I’m not big on comedies and this book certainly has plenty of profound moments, but it was also full of genuine, perfectly penned humor. I legit LOLed more than once!

Favorite Mystery

  
Far From You by Tess Sharpe and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Again — I could NOT choose! Both of these are gripping, full of beautiful writing, diverse characters, and gut-wrenching twists. So, so good.

Favorite Romance

   
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord – Both of these are lovely romances, but they’re so much more, too — friendship and travel and authentic voice. Love them both! (Honorable mention to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, which I couldn’t select this year because I *must* read the sequel before deciding if Lara Jean and Peter’s romance is a favorite.)

Favorite Paranormal


Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – Obviously, right? I am such a fan of this series, and I am already so anxious to see how it concludes next fall. Can I please be Maggie Stiefvater when I grow up?

Favorite Genre Bender


Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian – While I did not love how this trilogy concluded (I want to tear the epilogue out of my copy, quite honestly) there’s no denying that the series, as a whole, is crazy-good. Oh, Reeve. ❤

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Click the graphic below to add your name and your Head of the Class post link to our sign up so we can hop around and check out your selections. Don’t forget — there will be a new link sign-up each day!