I only managed to read two books in December (chaotic month, I tell ya), so I decided to combine my December and January wrap-ups.
Can’t wait to share these excellent books with you!
How to Breathe Underwater by Vicky Skinner (August 14, 2018)
1. Fully developed cast. While Kate is the protagonist of this debut, she’s not the only character with layers and flaws and problems. Her parents, sister, love interest, and friends all have challenges that play out alongside Kate’s. I appreciate when a story feels as complicated as real life, and How to Breathe Underwater definitely does.
2. Sweet, slow-burn romance. Love doesn’t come easy for Kate and her v. cute salsa dancing neighbor, Michael, which means that when they finally work things out, the payoff is so worth it.
3. Skillful prose. For a book with a lot of heavy themes, How to Breathe Underwater remains a smooth and endearing read. Vicky infuses the novel with thoughtful commentary and just the right amount of humor, making it read like a wonderful escape.
The Game Can’t Love You Back by Karole Cozzo (May 15, 2018)
1. Badass female lead. Just wait until you meet Eve — she’s strong, smart, loyal, determined, and super athletic. She stares down sexism and attempted intimidation without flinching, and I kind of want to be her.
2. Dreamiest male lead. Jamie is a new favorite book boy; he has a reputation for being a player, but he’s actually got a heart of gold. He’s so sweet with Eve (eventually), and endlessly devoted to his family and his teammates. *swoon*
3. Enemies to lovers. One of my favorite tropes, and Karole pulls it off beautifully. Eve and Jamie begin the story as competing pitchers on the same baseball team and hate each other intensely. It’s not long, though, before they start to see the good in each other and, as their relationship develops, the chemistry between them skyrockets.
Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
1. Voice, voice, voice. Bad Romance is a study in it. Protagonist Grace leaps of the page, and has this very unsettling way of making you feel exactly the way she’s feeling. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so utterly invested in her narrative.
2. Atmosphere. A strange thing to notice about about a contemporary novel, perhaps, but man did this story make me feel tied down — to Grace’s small town, to her dysfunctional family and, mostly, to Gavin, her manipulative and controlling boyfriend.
3. Complex characters. Bad Romance is one of those books populated by characters so layered and flawed, they feel absolutely real. Grace is easy to relate to, particularly when it comes to her intense feelings for Gavin. Her stepfather, who is almost entirely terrible, manages to show tiny glimpses of humanity. And Gavin isn’t just an Abusive Boyfriend; there are moments when he is so vulnerable and charming, it’s easy to see why Grace falls passionately in love with him. Bad Romance is not a feel-good novel, but it’s also one of the most powerful books I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
1. For realz. This one was my book club’s January pick, and it’s not my usual fare. Still, I enjoyed it very much, especially the fact that it’s a memoir written by a strong, courageous woman who I previously knew nothing about.
2. Lovely prose. This one was originally published in 1942, so the language is slightly dated, but it reads as elegant and evocative. I found myself completely caught up in Beryl Markham’s fascinating memories.
3. Unique setting. A great deal of this story takes place in agricultural Kenya, a place I’ve read very little about. I loved learning about the terrain, the people, and the wildlife through Beryl’s engaging chronicle.
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
1. Enviable voice. I’ve read all three of Julie Murphy’s books, and she always awes me with how perfectly she nails her protagonists’ voices. They’ve all been distinct and wonderful, but I’ve got to name Ramona as my favorite; she’s funny and spirited and plucky — an unforgettable force.
2. A sister story. Ramona Blue boasts a large and lively cast and features a lovely romance (Freddie 💙), but at its core, it’s a book about two sisters — Ramona and Hattie — and how fiercely they love one another.
3. Diverse representation. It’s been a long time since I read a book that depicts such a varied, authentic cross-section of our population: different races, different sexualities, different socioeconomic situations, and so on. Incredibly refreshing.
When Life Gives You Demons by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 17, 2018)
1. Fun, fun, fun. This book’s cover perfectly represents the story beneath it. Even though When Life Gives You Demons tackles some serious themes (good vs. evil, finding one’s place within family/community), it never takes itself too seriously. Protagonist Shelby is a Catholic school girl/exorcist in training, after all. 🙂
2. Mystery. Aside from Shelby’s various exorcisms and butterfly-inducing study dates with Spencer, she’s also trying to get to the bottom of her mother’s recent disappearance. Suffice to say, I was very surprised by Shelby’s eventual discovery!
3. All the Buffy vibes. If you’re a fan of show, I think you’ll love this novel. It’s the perfect blend of paranormal and humor, with a kickass heroine you’ll wish you could befriend.
Surviving Adam Meade by Shannon Klare (August 14, 2018)
1. FNL feels. Are you obsessed with Friday Night Lights like I am? Then this is the book for you. It brought me right back to the weeks I spent binge watching that show a few years back, and gave me all of the same swoony feels. Friendship! Football! Kissing!
2. Claire + Adam = Sparks. I mean really — is there anything better than two characters yelling at each other because they *actually* want to kiss each other? Claire and Adam are evenly matched in the snark department, making their banter a thing of beauty, and when they finally make it to romance, it’s fantastic.
3. Senior year challenges. I’m a fan of how author Shannon Klare incorporated the challenges that come along with senior year into her debut. College visits, applications, deciding whether to attempt long distance relationships. It all feels very real and relevant set against the small town football backdrop. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters come August!
Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
1. California. ☀️ I’m obsessed with coastal California towns, which is perfect because Alex, Approximately is set in (what I assume is) a fictionalized version of Santa Cruz. Better yet, it makes mention of some of my favorite real-life places, like Pacific Grove and Monterey. It’s all beachy and dreamy and inspired.
2. Flawless romance. The relationship main character Bailey builds with surfer boy Porter spoke to the heart-eyed idealist inside me. They’re so adorable together; they support each other, have a very interesting history, tons of chemistry, and they challenge one another in all the right ways. I’m smitten!
3. Delightful supporting characters. While Bailey + Porter have become a new favorite fictional couple, they don’t overshadow the awesomeness of the rest of the cast. I adore Bailey’s father, her new friend Grace, and the whole of Porter’s family. Honestly, for me, this book is perfect, perfect, perfect — everything I’d hoped it’d be. Can’t wait to get my hands on another Jenn Bennett novel!
What’s the best book you read recently?