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! 

March Reading Wrap-Up

Guess who did almost zero writing in March? Guess who read 12 books? Guess who’s mentally recharged, and ready for another round of revisions and/or the continued drafting of a current WiP?

This girl!

March’s books were most excellent.
As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.
Happy reading!

How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozzo (August, 2016)  – With the exception of the first few pages, I read this book in a day — it was that unputdownable. How to Keep Rolling After a Fall‘s got everything I look for in contemporary YA romance. It’s a perfect mash-up of the thoughtful family dynamic of a Sarah Dessen story, the complex friendships of an Emery Lord novel, and the sexy edginess of a Miranda Kenneally book. Protagonist Nikki, though involved in a terrible cyber bullying incident, is somehow immediately relatable, and becomes quite likable as the story progresses. Part of her charm is due to her interactions with love interest, Pax, who’s all sorts of charismatic and swoonworthy. I was rooting for Nikki and Pax from first meeting, and loved watching their relationship unfold. Fans of YA romance, definitely check out How to Keep Rolling After a Fall when it comes out this August.

First & Then by Emma Mills – This book made me happy, happy, happy. I loved everything about it: 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 will-they-won’t-they hints of romance. Devon is the rare MC who’s capable of making me laugh out loud — her wit is perfection. She’s self-depreciating, but in an endearing Jane Austen sort of way, and while she makes her fair share of blunders, she’s so loyal and funny, it’s impossible not to be firmly on her side. I love, too, how realistically high school is portrayed in this novel; friend groups overlap, bullies exist alongside nice guys, and relationships bend and occasionally break. I’m a big fan of First & Then, and I can’t wait to read more from Emma Mills.

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom – Based on true events, Follow the River is apparently something of an American classic. I enjoyed this tale of Mary Draper Ingles’s time as a Shawnee captive, her courageous escape, and her perilous journey home. Follow the River is an intense, graphic story about human spirit written in spare, matter-of-fact prose. My one quibble is that the audiobook, which I listened to, is narrated by a man — an odd choice, as this is a woman’s story. He used weird (distracting) falsettos every time Mary, her sister-in-law, and her female companion spoke. Still, the story is fascinating. If you like history and/or survival stories, Follow the River is likely the book for you.

In Real Life by Jessica Love – Oh, how I love this book! It’s 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 with her. In Real Life is full of delicious angst, its pacing is fantastic, and its characters, despite their dishonesty with each other and often themselves, are utterly endearing. In Real Life is a whirlwind night in Vegas, full of those often romantic, occasionally awkward moments that make contemporary YA romance so fantastic. It boasts a fair amount of humor, too, thanks to Hannah’s outstanding voice, and its final pages… *happy sigh* I was lucky enough to beta read an early draft of this story a few years ago, and even on second read, Hannah and Nick’s online and in real life (!) relationship gave me all the feels. You must pick this one up!

The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark – This is a steamy book! I’m a sucker for boy-next-door stories, and even more enticing are books about best-friends-turned-sweethearts. The Boy Next Door is both, plus a peek into competitive pairs figure skating — a world I don’t know much about but am fascinated by all the same. This debut is told in alternating point-of-view chapters by protagonists Maddy and Gabe. Maddy is brave and delightfully romantic. Gabe, to be honest, was hard for me to like — at least throughout the story’s first half. But! His arc is steep, and by the book’s climax, I was Team Gabe all the way. This story is full of drama and butterflies, mixed with plenty of sweet and sexy moments, combined with edge-of-your-seat skating competitions that had me flying through chapters. Can’t wait to see what Katie Van Ark comes up with next!

The Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black (May, 2016) – This novel’s evocative prose blew me away, as did its meandering, folktale-inspired plot. Jennifer Mason-Black’s style is lyrical and fantastical — perfect for this bewitching story. Main character Blue has made a deal with the devil; she’s traded her voice for help in finding her missing sister, Cass. Blue begins her journey with a pair of magic boots, her dead mother’s guitar, and heart full of grief, and along the way, she meets a host of eclectic characters who help her discover who she really is. This is a unique, moody story and though it was mostly lacking in romance, I was enchanted.


Love in B Minor by Elodie Nowodazkij – First of all, how great is this story’s title?! Love in B Minor is a juicy, guilty pleasure read with powerfully written musical and dance sequences, a gorgeous Parisian setting, and main characters, Lucas and Jen, who’ve got chemistry for days. Though this novel is part of the Broken Dreams series, it falls more into the NA category than YA, and can be read as a standalone. It’s an intense, emotional story with three distinct strengths. First, its romance, which is full of sparks. Second, its diverse cast of characters, who have backstories that are layered and, often, haunting. And third, its conclusion, which is a surprising  and exciting deviation from the other Broken Dreams books. Pick up Love in B Minor if you’re looking for a read with scandal and heat and characters who’ll stay with you long after The End.


Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier – I went into this audiobook expecting a somber fantasy (I guess because of its cover?), but I got a fun, voice-y time travel story. Ruby Red was a bit of a slow start for me — there are a lot of characters and some extensive backstory to get ahold of — but once Gwyneth makes her first planned time travel journey with enigmatic Gideon, the action really picks up. There’s a mystery at the center of Ruby Red, one with high stakes and real-life history and a secret time travel society woven in, and it’s quite compelling. I enjoyed Gwyneth’s innocent nature and amusing inner monologue, and thanks to a stellar set-up at this novel’s conclusion, I’m super curious to find out what happens in this trilogy’s next book, Sapphire Blue.

The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker – My version of a horror novel, basically. Zephyr’s a field-hockey-playing senior whose dad has recently abandoned her family, and she’s struggling with the transitional time that is the end of high school. She’s not super experienced, romance-wise, when she meets new boy Alec, and she’s immediately swept away by his apparent charm. Turns out Alec’s got some serious issues, which manifest in his manipulation and eventual abuse of Zephyr. Remember that 90s movie Fear with Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon? The Girl Who Fell is similar in a lot of ways. I found it hard to put down, and I have a lot of thoughts even now, a week after reading. There were times when I wanted Zephyr to wake up — she’s a smart girl with goals and drive, yet she made some decisions that were clearly ill advised when it came to “spending time” with Alec, as well as her future. That said, I found her behavior to be realistic to her circumstances. Thank God for BFF Lizzie who, save an occasional chivalrous act from hot-and-cold hockey stud Gregg, was this novel’s singular voice of reason. I found myself applauding her constantly. The Girl Who Fell is a strong debut, a novel that’s both important and engaging.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker – This craft book is clear, concise, and eye-opening. Basic premise: Outline your novel using your main character’s flaw as a jumping off point and central focus, since “story” is all about a protagonist’s emotional journey. So smart, right? With the exception of Save the Cat, Take Off Your Pants is the most helpful “how to write” book I’ve read. I had so many duh moments, and took tons of notes. It’s a quick read with straight-forward, easily applicable suggestions that just make sense. Libbie Hawker’s advice applies to all fiction, from picture books to literary tomes. Big recommend if you’re working on honing your plotting skills, like me.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski — A reread because this trilogy’s final book, The Winner’s Kiss, came out on the 29th and I read it in 24 hours and just — aaahhhh! My review of The Winner’s Crime (from last spring) still stands. Find it HERE. And scroll down for my thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss.

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – First of all, how happy are we that Macmillan decided to stick with this gorgeous cover treatment? I’m thrilled that my trilogy matches; it looks so beautiful on my shelf! My thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss are about to become a rambling mess, and they’re riddled with series spoilers, so I’m going to post in white. Please do highlight to continue reading, but you’ve been warned: spoilers ahead! –> I loved everything about this final book. Everything. I’d change literally nothing. It’s a beautifully written story full of emotion and fraught with tension. I’m so pleased that Arin and Kestrel spend most of Kiss together, learning to cooperate, trust, and love each other in new and deep and meaningful ways. I’m a big fan of how the prison rescue plays out and after, when Arin reminds Kestrel that she bought him and she asks if she still owns him and he says, “Yes.” Guys, my heart. I had legitimate physical reactions to this story — all of it, but particularly that scene on the tundra. Also, the scene where they finally seal the deal. ❤ I love the resolute strength we’ve continued to see in our two protagonists, but more than that, I love how their weaknesses are presented in this final book, and how they come to terms with those weaknesses and learn to lean on each other, to fill the voids in each other’s hearts. I love Kestrel’s complicated relationship with her father, and Arin’s dealings with the General in the final battle scene. Incidentally, I enjoyed all of the battles scenes (I often find myself skimming anything that has to do with actual combat), for they are fast-paced and intense, full of the scheming and out-maneuvering I’ve come to expect from Kestrel and Arin. More than that, the war plays such an important role in this book’s plot, and Marie Rutkoski gives it the weight it deserves. Additionally, I love how elements from the first and second books come into play in this final novel — Bite and Sting in particular. I love Roshar for his spirit and his comic relief, and I love Sarsine for her kindness and quiet wisdom. And I love how this story concludes a series I’ve been invested in for the last two years — so elegantly, and so satisfyingly: Arin and Kestrel, an equal, loving pair with a true future ahead of them. <– Even if you’re a reluctant fantasy reader (like me!), I suggest you at least give the Winner’s books a shot. They’re breathtaking and affecting and intensely entertaining, and I think you’ll be won over.

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

February Reading Wrap-Up

What an incredible month of books!
Note… The number of novels I’m able to read has doubled since I started listening to audiobooks via OverDrive. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot time to sit down with a physical book. I listen when I’m driving, putting on makeup, folding laundry, walking the dog, whatever. Makes the mundane much more interesting. 🙂
(As always, covers lead to Goodreads pages.)

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – This book is so much fun — like, I was literally grinning throughout the better part of it. It’s Austen-esque, but with characters who have special abilities, sort of like X-Men, an element that gives this 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. When Evelyn’s sister, Rose, goes missing, she knows she hasn’t run off on her own, and she makes sacrifices to find her even when no one else shows much concern. I love Evelyn for her intelligence and determination; she’s no damsel, and she faces problems head-on, using her cleverness to solve them. There’s some love triangle potential in this story, seeing Evelyn’s interactions with Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock (who I’m totally swooning for) and I’m very curious to see how these relationships play out in the next installment. If you’re looking for a spirited read with a heroine you’ll root for immediately, be sure to check out These Vicious Masks.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover – This book was guilty-pleasure entertaining. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Colleen Hoover’s Maybe Someday, but November 9 definitely kept me absorbed. It’s the story of two eighteen-year-olds, Fallon and Ben, who meet on — you guessed it — November 9th, and feel an immediate connection. Alas, it’s not a good time for either to be in a relationship, so they agree to meet every November 9th for the next five years, while avoiding all contact otherwise. Fallon will work on overcoming self-esteem issues stemming from a disfiguring accident, and Ben will work on a manuscript inspired by their arrangement. Cool premise, right? And it totally works. November 9‘s pacing is crazy-fast, and there are plenty of sweet/romantic/steamy moments between Fallon and Ben. There are some pretty excellent surprises, too. The only thing I didn’t love about this new adult novel were specific (possibly nit-picky) aspects of Fallon’s and Ben’s personalities. She’s rather melodramatic, and he’s got a savior complex that occasionally rubbed me the wrong way. Neither of these character traits kept me from being charmed by the story, though. If you’re a new adult fan, I bet you’ll like it, too.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore – I am obsessed with this book. Every aspect of it speaks to me; it makes me feel things, a lot of things, even now, weeks after reading. These characters, Lace and Cluck and their vast supporting cast, are layered and rich and full of passion. Their relationships are complicated and this novel’s stakes are super high. I’ve seen it described as Romeo and Juliet meets The Night Circus, and I’m onboard with that comparison. Lace’s and Cluck’s families are traveling performers; the Palomas are swimming mermaids and the Corbeaus are like winged fairies tightrope walking through the trees. The families have been feuding for years and years, but that doesn’t keep Lace and Cluck from connecting in this intense, sexy, heart-wrenching way. Their chemistry combined with the many reasons they shouldn’t be together… such perfect, perfect angst. The Weight of Feathers is a magical story with beautiful language and gorgeous imagery and characters so enchanting, they’re impossible to forget. I love this novel in the same ways I love books by Jandy Nelson and Jodi Lynn Anderson. Definitely a new favorite.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt – This non-fiction book was fascinating. It centers around the Maines family: Wayne and Kelly, who adopted identical twin boys, Jonas and Wyatt, as infants. As the boys grew, though, it became clear that they were quite different. Wyatt had little interest in “boy” things, preferring The Little Mermaid and feminine clothing, and eventually made it known that he identified as girl. While his family mostly accepted him (Wayne takes much longer than Kelly and Jonas to make peace with Wyatt’s differences), he ends up facing varying degrees of intolerance as he makes the slow transition from little boy to young woman. Author Amy Ellis Nutt focuses most of her narrative on the Maines family, but she discusses gender identity in detail, too, providing scientific evidence and alternate experiences alongside Nicole’s story. My favorite parts of this book were the glimpses into Nicole’s mindset through her journal entries and poetry, as well as Jonas’s perspective on their unique experiences. The twins’ love for each other throughout the many challenges presented by Nicole’s transition feels profound, and the family’s unexpected venture into activism is inspiring. A timely and affecting read.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue – Far from my usual fare, I listened to The Boy Who Drew Monsters and found it gripping. The setting (coastal Maine during a harsh winter) was perfectly drawn, as were the underlying chords of something is very wrong here. I hated pretty much all of this novel’s characters, especially Tim, the father, who’s a complete asshole; I suspect that’s by design, though, and the way this book kept me on the edge of my seat makes up for its mostly despicable cast. I did enjoy Jack Peter, an apparently agoraphobic boy on the autism spectrum. He draws monster after monster, watching the world from the windows of his family’s beach house and occasionally playing with Nick, the only friend who hasn’t given up on him. Jack Peter is appropriately creepy, but with an innocence that kept me guessing. The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a legit horror novel, and it boasts some truly frightening moments. And the end? I totally got the shivers.

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry – I love this book. Along with The Weight of Feathers, it’s a new all-time favorite. There’ve been many stories that I’ve deeply enjoyed, but almost always, I’m able to step back and look at the work from a thoughtfully critical standpoint. No book is perfect, right? But as far as I’m concerned, The Love That Split the World is as close as close can get. It’s beautiful, enormously emotional, and despite its *SPOILER* parallel universe/time travel elements, it feels incredibly tangible. Natalie Cleary is a remarkable narrator. She’s dealing with plenty: a complicated break-up, a best friend who’s moving away (I adore Megan), nerves regarding her acceptance into Brown and pending move to Rhode Island, and the conflicted feelings that’ve come with being an American Indian adopted into a white family. On top of all that, Natalie’s had a lifetime of nightmares and visions and strange lapses in time. Then she meets Beau who is, frankly, everything I’ve ever wanted in a Book Boy. He’s gorgeous and sweet, he plays football and piano, he has this charming drawl (fine = fahn), and, most importantly, he’s adorable with Natalie. I suspect that your enjoyment of this novel will hinge on whether you buy into Natalie and Beau’s intense relationship, and I absolutely do. Without saying too much about The Love That Split the World‘s plot, I will mention that it’s multi-layered and wonderfully imaginative and, regardless of some carefully placed exposition, it moves fast. Debut author Emily Henry’s prose is stunning in its evocativeness, and the characters she’s created have claimed a place in my heart. From its first chapter, I could not put this book down. Recommend!

Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey – I’ve owned this book for ages, but for whatever reason, I only just felt compelled to pick it up. Cold Kiss falls into the paranormal romance category — in fact, it’s a zombie book — but more than that, it’s a story about grief. Wren’s lost her boyfriend, Danny, in a tragic car accident and she’s so overcome by sadness, she casts a spell to bring him back. But the boy who appears in the cemetery after Wren’s incantation isn’t the warm, funny Danny she remembers. This Danny is cold and needy, and he lacks a heartbeat (though, he’s not a shuffling, brain-eating zombie — he’s a romanticized version of the undead). Wren knows she’s made a mistake, but she doesn’t know how to deal with her corpse of a boyfriend, or her lingering sadness, until she meets compassionate Gabriel, who she has more in common with than she could’ve guessed. I love Amy Garvey’s writing; Wren’s voice is lovely and lyrical, and her sorrow is palpable. I love, too, the way this novel concludes. It’s the first in a duology, but it ties the most important threads in a way that’s bittersweet yet satisfying. If you’re into bewitching prose, or if you’re nostalgic for the paranormal YA of five years ago, please do give Cold Kiss a read.

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho – This book is gritty and poignant, and I enjoyed it so much. It’s set in the late nineties (a time I refuse to call “historical fiction” because I was a teen in the late nineties) and author Cristina Moracho does an amazing job nailing down the simpler, grungier feel of the decade. Althea and Oliver have been best friends forever, though they’re very different. Oliver’s chill and effortlessly smart, while Althea is impulsive and fiery. Their friendship works, though, until Althea develops feelings for Oliver, and he begins to suffer from a debilitating sleep disorder, one that knocks him out for weeks, leaving him with no memory of the time that passes. It’s during one of these sleep spells that Althea lets something irrevocable happen, changing her relationship with Oliver forever. He decides to leave North Carolina for New York, where he’ll participate in a sleep study, leaving Althea alone with her guilt — until she makes the decision to track Oliver down so she can set things right. Althea and Oliver have the most captivating character arcs, and even in their ugliest moments, I found myself hoping they’d triumph. This book is fearless and very smart, and it deals in a lot of gray areas. Its conclusion feels inevitable, an appropriate — though far from perfect — ending for Althea and Oliver.

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

Currently…

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

Currently

Loving

The #AuthorLifeMonth photo challenge, hosted by Dahlia Adler. I’m still going strong, and so are tons of other writers. Check out the hashtag on Instagram to see how everyone’s responding to the prompts. A few of my favorites so far…

Reading

If you remember back to my last Currently… post, I mentioned I was reading The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore. Well, I finished, and I loved it — it’s definitely a new favorite. Please, please, please pick it up! I also recently finished These Vicious Masks by fellow Swoon Reads authors Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, and it was SO much fun. Protagonist Evelyn is the best sort of snarky, and the “Jane Austen meets X-Men” pitch is spot-on. Recommend! Now, I’m reading The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry and it is aMaZiNg so far. Guys, I’m so lucky — I’m picking up the BEST books this year!

Watching

Kendra Akins on YouTube. She posts videos on health and beauty and lifestyle. I love her makeup-focused videos most. I’ve learned tons about the big name brands, as well as lesser-known natural products. Check her out if you’re into beauty and/or healthful eating — she’s super savvy.

Listening To

I recently listened to Colleen Hoover’s November 9, which was everything I was hoping it’d be: romantic, but also angsty and overwrought — a total guilty-pleasure listen. If you can overlook some slight but irritating misogyny, you’ll likely be entertained. And I just finished Keith Donahue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters, a creepy adult horror. Different from my usual fare, but I liked it!

Thinking About

Wrapping up the Kissing Max Holden revision I’ve been working on since Christmastime. I’ve completed all of the big-picture changes, and now I’m in the midst of a read-through, doing all the fun fine-tuning stuff. Yay!

Anticipating

My birthday… It’s Saturday! I’m going to (try to) sleep late, and then my husband and daughter are going to make me crepes for breakfast — yum! Be on the lookout for a Thirty Before 35 update later this week. Spoiler alert: I haven’t finished all of my goals, but I’m not about to let them go. 👍

Wishing

For sandals and summer and sunshine. Simple as that…

Making Me Happy

These two, as usual. My girlie has had lots of time off school lately (snow days and end-of-quarter days and holidays), and while I do value my quiet work time, I really love having her home. ❤

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

January Reading Wrap-Up

Starting 2016 off right with five incredible novels.
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – Hello, Katy Book. The Distance Between Us is everything I look for in contemporary YA romance. Its protagonist, Caymen, is full of pluck and sarcasm; her personality sparkles, and she made me laugh repeatedly. She feels so authentic — I think we would’ve been friends in high school. 🙂 Her romantic interest, Xander, is all sorts of swoony. He’s filthy rich and Caymen’s definitely not, and while Xander is never anything but sweet and gracious, the class differences make for some interesting conflict. Bear in mind, most of the discord is created by Caymen, her feelings of inadequacy, and her prejudices against the wealthy, but her issues make sense and come from struggles in her — and her mother’s — past. Speaking of Caymen’s mother, I really enjoyed her. She’s present and kind and, while she has her issues, it’s very clear that Caymen is her sun and moon. The Distance Between Us is full of heart, romance, and perfect, perfect voice. Some might call it fluffy, but I disagree. It’s a cleverly told story about real people with real problems, and I loved it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – I had high expectations for this sophomore effort. In fact, I had very specific expectations — I was itching to read something outwardly lighthearted, but with an underlying depth. More specifically, I wanted a book with a complicated romance, a likable and layered protagonist, a small-town setting, and eccentricities guaranteed to make me smile. Dumplin’ was everything I was hoping it’d be, and more. Willowdean Dickson is incredible — I dare you not to fall instantly in love with her. She’s spirited and resilient and smart, and she faces challenges that will likely be familiar to anyone who’s experienced high school: self-consciousness, envy, bullies, evolving friendships, parental expectations, and unrequited love. I adored Willowdean’s voice and her sense of humor; even when she was screwing up, causing me cringe by making choices I knew she’d regret, I never stopped cheering her on. I loved so many aspects of this novel, including Will’s new friendships, her complex relationships with Bo and Mitch, her confidence and her inhibitions, every single scene leading up to and set during the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, and the many Dolly Parton references. Dumplin’ is a delight from start to finish — recommend!

18711172Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore – This one was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story of addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. CeCe Price’s big brother, Cyrus, has been hooked on OxyContin since suffering a soccer injury. He used to be CeCe’s hero, but now he’s something of a tragedy — lying and manipulating, abusing CeCe, stealing from their father, disappearing for long stretches of time. Money’s tight in the Price household and, thanks to an unfortunate but seemingly unavoidable series of events, CeCe begins dealing pills she’s filched from her brother. Cyrus ends up dead and CeCe’s accused of his murder and this story… it makes me sad, sad, sad. I have experience with an addicted family member, and Kelly Fiore’s narrative hit hard. Her depictions are unflinching, 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. CeCe is easy to relate to (even if you haven’t encountered addiction first hand, I think), and even while she stands trial for killing her brother, she’s incredibly sympathetic. I haven’t read anything quite like Thicker Than Water before, and its authenticity impressed me. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – This book is SO impressive. It’s got everything: a strong, fully developed protagonist, tons of action, a setting unlike any other (the Oregon Trail!), perfectly planted plot twists, an incredibly diverse cast, and prose so evocative, you’ll feel like you’re trekking across the prairie with Samantha, Annamae, and the cowboys they befriend along the way. Last month I read Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road and it converted me into a true Western fan, which is why I decided to give Under a Painted Sky a go. It didn’t hurt that I’ve been reading excellent reviews of this debut for the last year. All that hype is well deserved. This is such a strong novel — reading it is a complete experience, and it is intense. These characters who I grew to love face all sorts of hardships along the trail: unforgiving elements, outlaws, cholera, wild mustangs, rushing rivers, and unrequited love (obviously — this is a YA novel <3). My very favorite aspect of Under a Painted Sky is the friendship that forms between Samantha (a Chinese violin prodigy) and Annamae (an intrepid runaway slave). The way these girls care for each other through unimaginable adversity is incredibly moving. Definitely give Under a Painted Sky a read — I think you’ll love it.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I want to live in this beautiful, beautiful book. The spun-sugar prose, the lovingly crafted characters, the wonderfully vivid settings, the way multiple layers of story tie together in the end… The Night Circus is perfection. I listened to Jim Dale’s narration of the audiobook, then immediately bought myself a physical copy because I will definitely reread, and because I can’t not own this novel — it sits among my top five favorite stories ever. The Night Circus is about illusion, and competition, and sacrifice, but it’s mostly a story about love. Marco and Celia are adversaries in a dangerous, high-stakes game, yet they’re too well matched. They fall for each other and their romance is pure magic. Like, I got literal chills pretty much every time they were on the page together — their chemistry is that amazing. I adored, too, Bailey and Poppet and Widget; their friendship is so lovely, their immediate bond so charming. Erin Morgenstern’s writing is exquisite. She’s so imaginative, and her ability to engage the senses with her dreamlike descriptions is unparalleled. Her prose is elegant and arrestingly powerful, and I found myself hoping it would seep into my brain and stay with me forever. Please, please, please give The Night Circus a read (or a listen, because Jim Dale is fantastic!) if you haven’t already.

What’s the best book you read in January?