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?

June Reading Wrap-Up

Only four books this month, but all four were extraordinary!
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby – I’ve loved all of Jessi Kirby’s books, but this one’s neck-and-neck with In Honor as my favorite. What I found so brilliant about this story is the simplicity of its plot, and the nuanced, aching way the author lets her characters’ emotional journeys unfold. Things We Know By Heart is a quiet story about a sad girl and a sweet boy who fall slowly and convincingly in love, but both characters have secrets – Quinn’s last boyfriend died suddenly, and his heart now beats in Colton’s chest. I love how considerate and patient Quinn and Colton are with each other, even as they hold their secrets close. In moments of (understandable) dishonesty, there are no overblown fights or melodramatic break-ups; I got the sense that Quinn and Colton are meant to be, no matter how rutted and roundabout their path to each other has been. I also love this story’s secondary characters, particularly Ryan and Gran, who offer Quinn support that never feels preachy, as well its setting, the beautiful California coast, which allows Quinn and Colton some pretty amazing dates. Big recommend for fans of contemporary YA romance.


Something Real by Heather Demetrios – I must’ve been living under a rock when this story released in 2014, because I hadn’t heard of Heather Demetrios until I devoured I’ll Meet You There earlier this year. Shortly after, I read some friends’ rave reviews of Something Real and knew I had to get my hands on it. I’m so glad I did — this book is awesome! The “growing up on reality TV” situation is fascinating, and the “super enormous family” situation is compelling, and I always love a sweet romance. Something Real combines all three, and I could not put it down. Chloe (AKA Bonnie) is now one of my favorite YA protagonists. She’s just so real. Deeply flawed thanks to a supremely messed up childhood, but at the same time fiercely loyal, enviably tough, delightfully snarky, and heartbreakingly vulnerable. Her voice is almost conversational, and totally unflinching. Despite the utter chaos of her life, Chloe is surrounded by some wonderful people: her BFFs Tessa and Mer, her charming boyfriend Patrick, and her brother Benton, who’s funny and steadfast and, along with his boyfriend Matt, completely adorable. Something Real is a gripping sneak peek into a world that seems widely overlooked — the toll reality TV can take on its non-consenting minor stars. It’s also a story about relationships, and standing up for what’s right, and love of all sorts. Highly recommend!


Truth & Temptation by Riley Edgewood – Lucky me! I got to read Riley Edgewood’s up-and-coming contemporary new adult novel early and it’s predictably amazing. Remember Teagan from Riley’s debut, Rock & Release? Well, she’s telling her own story now, one that’s sexy and fun, but also multifaceted and deep. Teagan’s childhood was not exactly charmed, and now she’s struggling with anger issues, plus a multitude of other difficulties that are uncovered as the story progresses. But things aren’t all bad. Teagan’s got a new job, a couple of fantastically loyal friends (Cassidy and Vera – yay!), and a new guy, Alec, who’s the perfect combination of steamy and sweet. Honest confession: I didn’t love Teagan when I read R&R. She struck me as petty and, sometimes, downright mean. But T&T sheds so much light on her backstory and the personality it fostered, and it didn’t take me but a few pages to find myself firmly on Teagan’s side. I desperately wanted to see her successful and happy and at peace with herself. If you’re into NA that’s weighty as well as sexy, check out Truth & Temptation when it releases in late July.


The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – I’ve read some outstanding fantasy over the last few years, and The Wrath & the Dawn is right up there with the best. I love this book. It’s a spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights — supposedly monstrous king takes a new bride each night, then kills her in the morning; clever girl marries the king, then saves her life by telling him an infinite story. The Wrath & the Dawn is full of tension and mystery and magic, and main characters Shahrzad and Khalid have some of the best chemistry I’ve read. She’s smart and courageous and cunning, while he’s dark and brooding and furtive. Their exchanges are witty, intense, and passionate, making them so easy to root for. The Wrath & the Dawn’s secondary characters are equally absorbing. I love Despina and Jalal and Tariq, and the way they interact with the story’s protagonists. Renee Ahdieh’s prose is gorgeous and evocative, and the world she’s built is rich and vividly described. I went into this book not realizing it had a sequel, so be prepared for a cliffhanger of an ending that just might break your heart. Can’t wait for The Rose & the Dagger!

March Reading Wrap-Up

I only read books with blue covers in March. 😉
As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – This is a story about unlikeable people who find themselves in some incredibly unlucky situations, then proceed to do idiotic/drunken/terrible things to one another. There’s not a lot of light or hope in The Girl on the Train, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an engrossing story. It’s a mystery told from the perspective of multiple female narrators who are bizarrely linked and lack major reliability points (alcoholic, liar, adulteress). The men of this novel, too, are shady characters. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to root for and who I was supposed to hate — even at the story’s conclusion, my feelings regarding Rachel, Anna, and Scott were particularly muddled, though that didn’t make me less fond of this novel as a whole. All in all, The Girl on the Train is a twisty, smartly plotted adult debut, one I had trouble putting down.

The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes – Another strong debut, this a contemporary YA. MC Hallelujah (Hallie, Hal) has had a rough several months thanks to this ass, Luke, who’s been harassing her for reasons we don’t discover until midway through the novel. Through a serious of unfortunate choices at a youth retreat, Hallie finds herself lost in the woods with her estranged friend, Jonah, and new girl, Rachel. The Distance Between Lost and Found is a captivating survival story. These kids are legitimately lost and suffering terribly; they’re injured, starving, freezing, and fighting off wild animals — it sort of reminded me of Hatchet at times. It’s also a tale about Hallelujah reclaiming her voice and autonomy after the Luke “incident.” It’s a joy to watch Hallie change and grow and toughen up. Her newly formed friendship with Rachel is authentic and fun (despite their whole lost-in-the-woods situation), and her slow-build romance with Jonah is adorable and kind of perfect. I’m very much looking forward to Kathryn Holmes’ future books.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – I could rave about this novel for days. I’m a self-professed Contemporary Girl, but I love this fantasy series SO MUCH. I recently read a review that commented on how (and I’m paraphrasing) this follow-up book is packed with tension even though the plot itself is rather slow. And yes — exactly. I mean, things definitely happen in this second installment of The Winner’s Trilogy, but Marie Rutkoski takes plenty of time to build a rich, compelling world, plus tons of suspense. Arin and Kestrel are some of my favorite YA characters. They’re incredibly smart and courageous. They make difficult decisions with selflessness and poise. They make sacrifices for love. And, they have aMaZiNg chemistry — even when they’re hating on each other. The Winner’s Crime includes some new and compelling characters, and it’s full of twists and surprises. My only complaint? Its brutal cliffhanger ending. I need The Winner’s Kiss, like, yesterday!


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Read my thoughts on this debut HERE, in yesterday’s YA Book Club post.


Drowning Instinct by Isla J. Bick – This story’s voice took some getting used to. Its tone is very conversational, and there are times when protagonist, Jenna, slips into 2nd person narration because she’s telling her tale to a police officer (readers don’t find out why she’s talking to this officer until the story’s climax). Once I read a few chapters, though, I was hooked. Poor Jenna. She basically has the worst luck ever; everyone she meets seems to be out to break her. Even her apparently altruistic chemistry teacher, Mr. Anderson, crosses some decidedly fixed barriers. While he was entirely inappropriate, I’m still on the fence about whether he’s truly a “bad guy.” Honestly, there are no real heroes or villains in Drowning Instinct. It’s hard to find any one character to root for because they’re all layered and flawed and just… sad. And for me, that’s this novel’s greatest strength — its characters, and its unflinching delivery. If you’re a fan of dark contemporary written in shades of gray, check this book out.

What’s the best book you read in March?

YA Book Club :: RED QUEEN


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

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

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

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

Like I said, Red Queen is a good book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Up Wednesday

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to. And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: Last week I read Isla Bick’s Drowning Instinct, a very intense, very dark contemporary. I love that there are no real heroes or heroines — just a bunch of broken people making messes of each others’ lives. It’s really well done. I’m currently making my way through Victoria Aveyard’s fantasy debut, Red Queen so I can participate in YA Book Club next week.

  

What I’m Writing: NOTHING. I sent Stars Like Dust to my agent yesterday. Phew! Now, I wait (and stress about whether she likes it). In the meantime, I’m reading a most excellent manuscript by my CP, Alison Miller. This one’s super smart, heartfelt, and truly funny — like, legitimately laugh-out-loud funny. And, it’s so unique, I refuse to tell you any more about it. 🙂

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Last week I skipped out on WUW because we took an impromptu journey across the U.S. to Washington. My husband’s grandmother passed away, and we wanted to be at her funeral. She was a fun and fiesty French lady, and we loved her lots.


While there were some sad moments during our trip, there were some good times, too. We saw family and reveled in the Pacific Northwest’s (rainy) spring.

 
Now, it’s spring break and I’ve been spending quality time with my girl. Over the weekend we saw Cinderella (say what you will about its lack of fierceness/ingenuity, but I loved it!), on Monday we treated ourselves to fro yo, and yesterday we went strawberry picking. Today, we’re off to the beach!

What Works For Me: I’ve been feeling the writerly blues lately. Not really sure why, but this happens to me from time to time, and usually the best cure is a step back — time away to freshen my perspective. I recently reread a pretty fabulous blog post by writer Robin Lafevers titled Surviving Almost There. If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant or like it’s NEVER going to happen, I highly recommend checking it out. 

Tell me… What’s up with you today?

What’s Up Wednesday

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to. And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I read Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse back in November, kind of begrudgingly, actually — it didn’t sound like my jam at all. But I ended up LOVING it (in the same way I love the Graceling Realm and Lumatere Chronicles novels), and waiting for its sequel, The Winner’s Crime, has been torture. But I finally have this most-anticipated sequel in my hot little hands, and I’m almost done reading. Guys, it is gLoRiOuS. It’s rare that I have physical reactions to books, but this one’s got my face flushed and my heart racing; I’m pretty much obsessed with these characters. Highly recommend! (Also, if you’re curious like I was, Marie Rutkoski says Arin like “Aaron” but advised the audiobook reader to pronounce it “R-rin” because that’s more in keeping with the Herrani language. The more you know!)

What I’m Writing: Now that my latest project, Stars Like Dust, is with some brilliant and trusted readers, I’m taking a bit of a break from my own stuff. I’m using my time to read one of my CP’s middle grade manuscript and, oh my gosh, I am so lucky! This story is fanciful and emotional and beautifully written. It’s magic on a page, and I’m loving it!

What Else I’ve Been Up To: We’ve been having lovely, sunny weather in Florida, so my little family and I have been exploring the panhandle…

  
This weekend we went to Falling Water’s State Park, home of Florida’s highest waterfall. We’ve been to Yosemite so, honestly, the waterfall wasn’t all that impressive, but the rest of the scenery was beautiful.


We also visited the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, which was very cool. We got to interact with and pet wolves, and we learned tons about wolf conservation. Definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.

What Works For Me: Positive feedback. I appreciate constructive criticism as much as the next writer, but sometimes I just really need to hear, “Hey, I LOVE this thing you wrote.” I let my husband read Stars Like Dust over the weekend, and he seemed genuinely impressed. I’m not sure what he was expecting, or what he thinks I’ve been doing over the last many years if not improving my craft, but yeah. He had complimentary things to say, and that made me feel really good. He even said my story was better than all of the Nicholas Sparks movies I’ve made him watch over the years, so there’s that. ❤

Tell me… What’s up with you today?

February Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read in February?