Category Archives: Fantasy

17 Unputdownable Reads

I borrowed this topic from Modern Mrs. Darcy, who recently blogged about 17 books she read in less that 24 hours, because they were so riveting. Her post got me thinking about the books I’ve flown through in the last several years, books that might not be perfect, but are so compelling, so compulsively readable, they were impossible to put down.

Here they are, in no particular order…
(Summaries from Goodreads.)

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Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager – Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a college girl gang are going to get even. The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls. The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess. A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable? It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Typical love story. A searingly honest and achingly funny story about love and sex amid the hotbed of university.

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Emmy & Oliver
by Robin Benway – Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared. Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling. Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

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The Last Thing You Said
by Sara Biren – Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.

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The Pact
by Jodi Picoult – For eighteen years the Harte’s and the Gold’s have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox – they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. After all, they’ve been soul mates since they were born. So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is prepared: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head, inflicted by Chris as part of an apparent suicide pact. He tells police the next bullet was meant for himself. A local detective has her doubts. And the Harte’s and Gold’s must face every parent’s worst nightmare and question: do we ever really know our children at all?

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman – Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters. If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

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The Good Girl
by Mary Kubica – One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. At first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life. When Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota instead of delivering her to his employers, Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them. But no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter. An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.

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How to Love
by Katie Cotugno – Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind. Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again? In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude. Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

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Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta – Finnikin and his guardian Sir Topher have not been home to Lumatere since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive. Evanjalin is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance, and her hope. He begins to believe he will see Prince Balthazar, again, and that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.

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An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents. An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce.

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Surf & Surrender by Riley Edgewood – Quinn Westwood is over Sawyer Carson. He broke her heart years ago and disappeared from her. So yeah. She’s over him. Never even thinks of him. In fact, she’s spending her college summer break surfing and lifeguarding in the Outer Banks, while nursing a bruised heart from a different relationship gone wrong. She doesn’t have room for Sawyer—until she runs into him at a beach bonfire and the sparks that fly between them are way hotter than the flames heating the sand. Sawyer never got over Quinn. The only thing stronger than what he feels for her is the secret keeping them apart, but sharing it would destroy more than just his life—it’d ruin hers, as well. Still, he can’t seem to keep his hands off of her tempting skin. Especially since she has even less self-control when it comes to reigniting the physical side of what made them perfect. But secrets have a way of slipping out, and when Sawyer’s is revealed it threatens to shatter everyone involved. Quinn will have to decide if fighting for him is worth it when the fallout could affect more than just her heart, but also those of the people she loves most.

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The Winner’s Kiss (book 3 of the trilogy) by Marie Rutkoski – War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her. But no one gets what they want just by wishing. As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

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The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay. Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

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Ashes to Ashes
 (book 3 of the trilogy) by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian – New Year’s Eve ended with a bang and Mary, Kat and Lillia may not be prepared for what is to come. After Rennie’s death, Kat and Lillia try to put the pieces together of what happened to her. They both blame themselves. If Lillia hadn’t left with Reeve… If Kat had only stayed with Rennie… Things could have been different. Now they will never be the same. Only Mary knows the truth about that night. About what she is. She also knows the truth about Lillia and Reeve falling in love, about Reeve being happy when all he deserves is misery, just like the misery he caused her. Now their childish attempts at revenge are a thing of the past and Mary is out for blood. Will she leave anything in her wake or will all that remain be ashes?

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The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry – Natalie’s last summer in her Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right. That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau. Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

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Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher – When reclusive novelist Senna Richards wakes up on her thirty-third birthday, everything has changed. Caged behind an electrical fence, locked in a house in the middle of the snow, Senna is left to decode the clues to find out why she was taken. If she wants her freedom, she has to take a close look at her past. But, her past has a heartbeat… and her kidnapper is nowhere to be found. With her survival hanging by a thread, Senna soon realizes this is a game. A dangerous one. Only the truth can set her free.

 

Tell me! 
What’s the last unputdownable book you read?

December Reading Wrap-Up

Five books in December!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah –  This is the first Kristin Hannah novel I’ve read; it was selected by the book club I recently joined. I like historical fiction, and I’m a huge fan of books about strong women, so it’s no surprise I loved this one. It follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who are struggling to survive in WWII occupied France. Their challenges constantly test their strength, their morals, and the bond they share. This is a well-researched, hard-hitting story that is at times difficult to stomach, but I loved that about it — its unflinching portrayal of the toll war takes on unassuming towns and their citizens, particularly women. While reading, I frequently identified with different aspects of the sisters’ struggles, while at the same time feeling both awed and envious of their resilience. Pick this one up if you love accessible historical fiction, particularly stories about World War II.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven – So. I’ve read many reviews of this contemporary YA romance since finishing the book myself, and several of those reviews call this story troublesome for various reasons, but mostly because of its representation as far as the two main characters: Libby, a girl who is overweight, and Jack, a boy who has a cognitive disorder. And, yes, I get it — I do. But, but, but this book is worth reading as a study in voice alone. Libby’s is excellent. Truly, truly excellent. In fact, I adored her all-around. Her spirit and her strength of character, her positivity, her humor, her bad-ass-ness (she legit socks Jack in the mouth at one point, which he totally deserves). Libby. Is. Awesome. If you’re considering picking up Holding Up the Universe, I’d encourage you to do so solely because its female protagonist is an utter delight, though please go in aware of potential representation issues.

Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor (April 4, 2017) – I loved everything about this forthcoming contemporary YA debut, but particularly main character Reggie. She’s so dry and funny and sharp (a defense mechanism, but still) and I couldn’t help but be absorbed into her weird and wonderful world. See, Reggie falls for a boy named Snake (yes), but Snake’s fathered the town princess’s soon-to-arrive baby, so complications quickly arise. Whitney Taylor does a fantastic job of portraying Reggie’s strengths and soft spots, as well as her ongoing battle with mental illness. She also pens believably complex parental relationships. If you like slightly offbeat contemps with delightfully flawed MCs, Definitions of Indefinable Things is one to watch for this April.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – Such a gorgeous cover, right? It’s indicative of this fantastical 2016 debut’s dreamy, atmospheric setting and elegant prose. The Star-Touched Queen reminds me of stories like Beauty & the Beast and Hades and Persephone (girl kept by a possibly volatile dude who may or may not have a heart of gold). From what I’ve read, this novel is based on Indian mythology, which is absolutely apparent in its details. Cursed main character Maya finds herself unexpectedly married to enigmatic Amar, ruler of Akaran, a world of secrets and mysteries and magic. While Amar lavishes Maya with love and affection, she’s not sure she can trust him or his motives, making their relationship fraught with tension and, sometimes, danger. Pick this one up if you like fantasy rich in setting and full of intense romance.

A World Without You by Beth Revis – Guess what? A World Without You is straight-up contemporary, which came as a big surprise to me (because Beth Revis). That said, lot of it reads more as spec-fic because Bo, the story’s protagonist, suffers from severe delusions. He believes he is a time-traveler attending a special school for teens with “powers.” As the novel opens, his girlfriend, Sofia, has just died, though Bo is convinced that she’s actually in 1600s Salem, where he accidentally left her. He is desperate to save her, and for the better part of the story, believes he is very close. Because A World Without You is told mostly from Bo’s 1st person POV, it seems as if we really are manipulating time along with him, an unsettling experience because we also know that Bo is seriously ill. A harrowing, hard-to-put-down novel that addresses mental disorders in a manner unlike any I’ve read before.

What’s the best book you read in December?

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? 

August Reading Wrap-Up

I read some amazing books this month, and I’ve been so excited to share them here. Big recommend to all of these novels, guys!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu – My nine-year-old daughter and I read this middle grade novel together, and we loved it. It’s a story that 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. Silly is the youngest of four; she and her sisters are deftly drawn — each unique, with her own strengths and flaws. While they lean on each other, there’s distance between the girls, too, due to their mother’s drinking and their father’s inattentiveness and the general discord a pair of inept parents bring to a household. Silly and her sisters have their closets, though — extraordinary places full of magic and beauty (mostly), where they can escape their unhappy reality. Corey Ann Haydu combines Silly’s authentic, youthful voice with charming insight and enchanting descriptions, while creating a world that is both vastly sad and infinitely hopeful. I feel so lucky to have shared this one with my girl, and I highly recommend it.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (March 14, 2017) – I added this 2017 debut to my list of Katy Books immediately upon finishing — it’s everything I hope for when I pick up a YA novel. Wing is a fascinating character: often uncomfortable in her skin and full of longing, yet strong in spirit, too. When Marcus, the big brother she idolizes, kills two people (and almost himself) while driving drunk, Wing steps out of his shadow and into a pair of running shoes in an effort save both her sanity and her family’s home. While The Heartbeats of Wing Jones features touches of magic, it’s a story rooted in reality, in family and friendship and first love (Aaron — you will adore him). It’s beautifully written, nuanced, and full of lovely, evocative language, the sort of descriptions that make you want to start the story all over again the second you finish (that first kiss, man…). Definitely pick up The Heartbeats of Wing Jones when it debuts in March — I loved it!

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood – This book 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. Ivy’s such a great protagonist. She’s smart and sporty and incredibly kind, though she doesn’t exactly excel at any one thing — a problem, considering the gifted women who’ve come before her. Along with her perceived mediocrity, Ivy’s also trying to come to terms with the sudden return of her absolutely awful mother, and the two sisters she knows little about. My favorite aspects of Wild Swans are its setting (a small town on the Chesapeake Bay), its friendships (Ivy’s got two awesomely supportive girl friends), and its romance, which is equal parts sweet and steamy. Love interest Connor is the hottest YA boy I’ve encountered in a long while (hello, ink! 😍 ).  Give Wild Swans a read the next time you’re in the mood for a heartfelt contemporary with gorgeous writing and a wonderfully relatable protagonist.

Gilded Gage by Vic James (February 14, 2017) – The marketing material on and inside the Gilded Cage‘s ARC makes some big promises about its excellence and let me tell you — it’s not kidding around. This book is so cool; its concept is unique, its world-building is outstanding, and its characters are captivating. It’s set in a fantastical version of modern England, where those with magical abilities rule, and commoners serve in the way of a ten year slavery stint. Main characters Abi and Luke are a sister/brother pair who have very different experiences while enslaved. Their voices are marvelously vibrant, as is Vic James’s third person narration; her prose is enviable, her style somehow both classic and accessible. Gilded Cage is full of twists and magic and rebellion and romance, and to be honest, I had a hard time putting it down. Mark it To-Read now, and snatch it up when it debuts in February.

Fear Me, Fear Me Not by Elodie Nowodazkij (September 27, 2016) – Ooh, this book is chilling, in the best way! I think it might be my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij novel, and I know Erin and Dimitri are my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij couple. They have a long history, and amazing chemistry, and I loved all of their swoony scenes. But Fear Me, Fear Me Not is not just a romance; it’s a murder mystery, too, and it’s bursting with suspense. Elodie manages to pull off three distinct points-of-view, including the killer’s, while keeping the tension high and the thrills coming. I love the roles family and friendship play in this novel, rocketing the stakes up and up and up, and keeping me turning pages (or scrolling through the document — whatever 😉 ) late into the night. 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 cheer for, check out Fear Me, Fear Me Not at the end of September.

On the Fence by Kasie West – I read this romantic contemporary while on a camping trip, and that’s exactly what the story is — the perfect vacation read. I found MC Charlie to be endearing and relatable, while simultaneously full of spunk and delightfully flawed. She spends the novel coming to terms with her athletic body and tom-boy-ish sensibilities (not to mention hazy memories of her deceased mother), while discovering that the Charlie she’s always been is not necessarily the Charlie she has to be forever. I love the family dynamics in this novel (Charlie’s big brothers are excellent), and I thought the romance was so sweet. Boy-next-door Braden is a love interest worth rooting for; he appreciates Charlie for exactly who she is and stands in as a constant source of support. Recommended for fans of contemporary YA.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornoll (US edition out January 3rd, 2017, UK edition available from Book Depository now) – This debut is masterful in its balance of dark and light. Main character Norah battles agoraphobia, as well as OCD and frequent urges to self-harm. Basically, she’s trapped in her house, her only companions her doting mom and her frank therapist. She’s stifled and scared, emotions that are conveyed brilliantly through Louise Gornoll’s evocative language. Norah’s challenges absolutely wear her down, and her sadness and frustration are palpable, but she’s full of wit and sarcasm, too. It seems she’s gained a certain level of acceptance regarding her mental illness — until cute new boy Luke moves in next door. While Luke’s not a savior, he challenges Norah in this gentle, respectful way that pushes her to begin confronting her fears. The final quarter of this book surprised me; it’s action-packed and rather creepy, and it allows us to see the true scope of Norah’s strength. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an affecting and beautifully written book — big recommend.

What’s the best book you read in August?

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?

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

I met Morgan Matson! She’s been one of my favorite authors for a long time now (Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour is among my top five favorite contemporary YAs) and in person, she’s an absolute delight. Listening to her talk about writing and characters and travel-as-research and the inception of her novels’ ideas… I’m feeling so inspired. Plus, she could not have been more personable and genuine. I picked up her latest release, The Unexpected Everything, and had a copy of Amy & Roger signed for a future giveaway. Keep an eye out!

Reading

I finished reading Summer Skin by Kristy Eagar and it was freaking amazing. Look for it on The Book Depository if you want to order — well worth your money, I think! I also read my very first Swanky 17 ARC: You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando, a spy story with dashes romance and family angst — really fantastic. Now, I’m reading Renne Ahdieh’s The Rose & the Dagger, sequel to The Wrath & the Dawn, one of my very favorite novels of last year. Guys, how gorgeous is this book? Watching

Still obsessing over Game of Thrones and Outlander, but that’s pretty much it. I have very little patience when it comes to TV. That said, once I turn in this round of Kissing Max Holden edits, I’m going to give Parenthood a shot. Thoughts?

Listening To

I finished listening to Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event and I enjoyed it so much. The cast is huge, but the character who’s given the most focus is a fifteen-year-old named Miri, and she’s adorable. Now, I’m waiting for Me Before You by JoJo Moyes to become available because the movie trailer! 😍

Thinking About

Knocking out what’s left of my second round of Kissing Max Holden edits. This round has been easier than the first, but isn’t it funny how when it comes to revising, a tiny change at the beginning of the story ends up snowballing into adjustments made throughout the entire manuscript? Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love revising, and I’m thrilled to work on KMH during the early morning and late into the night if that means I’m making the story stronger.

Anticipating

Our summer travels… We’re meeting friends at a lake house in a few weeks, and at the end of August we’ll be spending five days with my husband’s parents in Washington, then five days with my parents in Arizona. My daughter is super excited about quality time with her grandparents!

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

Today’s our thirteenth wedding anniversary! My husband’s out of town (of course — he’s only been present for half of our anniversaries) but we celebrated on Saturday night with dinner at The Melting Pot, which was delicious. And… he got me (us) a new mattress! We’ve had the same crappy mattress for the duration of our marriage and I’ve been (not-so-subtly) hinting that we need a new one for a few years now. And he surprised me with a really nice one. It’s like sleeping on a cloud… 🙂

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

Mount Vernon! We made our third trip the other day (we’re trying to visit during each of the four seasons), and it was beautiful as usual. George Washington’s home is one of our favorite D.C. spots. If you’re ever in the area, definitely give yourself a day to check it out.

Reading

I recently finished Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Kiss, my most anticipated release of the year, and it was just… perfection. It made me feel a million feelings and the end was just so satisfying. Plus, it’s a NYT Bestseller! Check out my more detailed review in March’s Reading Wrap-Up. Now I’m reading Emery Lord’s latest release, When We Collided, and it’s lovely so far.

Watching

Nothing much, honestly. The older I get, the less patience I have for TV and I just haven’t had time for movies lately. That said, despite my ranting at the end of the last season of Game of Thrones (*sob*), I am looking forward to April 24th and the first episode of Season 6.

Listening To

I just finished All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and it was fantastic. Powerful and important and, unfortunately, timely. I’m so impressed with how layered the characters are, and how complex Rashad and Quinn’s relationships with family and friends turn out to be. Plus, the audiobook narrators are exceptional. Big recommend.

Thinking About

My WiP. It’s coming along, word-count-wise, but oof… it’s a mess. I keep reminding myself that I can’t fix words that aren’t written, but I’ve never dealt with a first draft this shitty. Hopefully by the time I’m done drafting I’ll have figured out what this story’s actually about. I did come across this line, though, written months and months ago — She smells like fields of lavender. She tastes like strawberries. She kisses like a freaking champ. — and I kind of like it. I’m hoping that, eventually, I’ll kind of like the rest of the book.

Anticipating

So, so excited about the Gilmore Girls revival — especially now that Entertainment Weekly has released photos from the set. Can’t wait to be reunited with Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Sookie, and the rest of the gang!

Wishing

That you’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”. 😘

Making Me Happy

Longtime friends who flew across the country to visit, and were willing to participate in a 10 mile trek through D.C., during which dozens of tourist attractions were viewed. We’re having an awesome time with Kari and Patrick!

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