Category Archives: Great Books

December/January Reading Wrap-Up

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!

32172614How 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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2017 Standouts

I read some amazing books this year — including tons of debuts. 

I’d love to highlight the standouts here, with the hope that you’ll pick up a few recommendations for the New Year. The books I’m including weren’t necessarily published this year, but I discovered and devoured and loved each one during 2017. The novels below are ones that made me feel — made me laugh, made me long, made me wonder, or made me hurt. They’re the books I’m still thinking about, the books I want you to read, too, so we can chat about them later.

(Book titles link to my Goodreads comments.)

Let me know what your 2017 standouts are in the comments! 😘

Adult

Young Adult

Middle Grade

Coming in 2018

Tell me! 
What were your standout 2017 reads?

October Reading Wrap-Up

Happy Halloween! 🎃
I read an odd assortment of books this month, and found some gems.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these! 

30199656What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
1. David Drucker. Best book boy I’ve read in a looooong time. Unique and brilliant and complicated and sweet and just so, so wonderful. I absolutely adored everything about his perspective. (Kit’s pretty great, too!)
2. Complex narrative. This isn’t a fun, sweet romance — though there are fun, sweet, romantic moments in the story. What to Say Next deals with heavy themes, and they’re handled with sensitivity and nuance.
3. Twisty-turns. This contemporary YA surprised me repeatedly, and I loved that about it. Never once does the story fall flat or feel predictable. And I thought its ending was perfect.

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Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren
1. LOL. Guys, books rarely make me crack a smile, but this one had me giggling more than once. Both MCs are funny, but Evie is particularly hilarious.
2. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Even when Carter and Evie are actively hating each other, it’s so obvious they’re in l.o.v.e. And those moments when they’re — ahem — not hating each other? Whoa.
3. Hollywood. I found the talent agent aspect of this novel surprisingly interesting. Carter and Evie aren’t just hot for each other; they’re passionate about their careers, too, and it shows in various ways throughout the story.

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The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young (Fall, 2018)
1. Full of hope. It’s no secret that I like my YAs sad and Sasha Cade is a tearjerker, but ultimately it’s a hopeful story that made my heart so full.
2. A+ protagonist. Raquel Clearwater is freaking fantastic. I love a protagonist who’s loyal and strong and determined, and Raquel is all those things, and more.
3. Elijah. All my ideal book boy traits, rolled into one: mysterious, flawed, selfless, sweet, driven, and dreamy. You will love him.

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The Long Walk by Stephen King
1. Super character driven. Unlike many of King’s other stories, this one feels fairly restrained. There are no monsters, and there’s not much in the way of atmosphere. It’s all about the internal and external struggles of the boys.
2. Fascinating commentary on competition and military enlistment. Like, is the glory ever worth the pain/solitude/sacrifice?
3. Visceral writing. There were so many moments in this story that made me hurt, made me queasy, made me sad, made me furious. It’s an important, thought-provoking read.

25613996At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer
1. Teen YouTube beauty guru! I’m a junkie when it comes to watching makeup reviews and tutorials on YouTube, so I fell easily and happily into Lacey’s world.
2. Relatable self discovery. I love that Lacey has an abundance of challenges to deal with, and that they all help her learn and grow in different ways. Even though I’ve (sadly) never interned at a magazine, I still connected with Lacey on various levels, and I wish we could be real life besties.
3. Cutest romance. ❤ Guys, Lacey and Tyler are freaking adorable, and they’re relationship plays out so satisfyingly. All the swoons!

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My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
1. Quality middle grade audiobook. We listened to this one during a road trip; the whole family was entertained, and we all learned something.
2. Weighty themes. This middle grade novel is about the Revolutionary War, and it asks important questions about the potential futility of war, while reminding readers that there are two sides to every conflict.
3. Steep character arc. Protagonist Tim begins the story as a naive, whiny boy, and ends it as a mature young adult who’s endured too much loss. While this novel is historical fiction and moves rather slowly, it feels very relevant.

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The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Change
1. Road trip! I’m a sucker for books that revolve around a journey, and the cross-country trip the Wangs embark on definitely delivers.
2. Dry humor. Some of the comedy in this book (like Andrew’s stand-up routines) fell flat, but there were several scenes that had me snickering. A fun shift from the books I typically read (especially for book club).
3. Familial relationships. The Wangs are all flawed, but I found the ways they leaned on each other and loved each other heartwarming. Their relationships felt authentic and dynamic and so, even though each of the family members exhibited moments of selfishness and insensitivity, it was easy to root for them.

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

I’ve been sharing monthly reading wrap-up posts almost as long as I’ve been blogging — like, seven years. And I love doing them; recommending fantastic books is one of my favorite things about being a member of the writing/reading community. But, man, these posts take a long time to compile.

Bad news… With a busy tween, a mischief-making foster toddler, and a fledgling publishing career, plus my husband and friends and house and various other commitments, I need to scale back on my monthly wrap-ups.

Good news… I’m not giving them up! I’m just going to streamline them into a more manageable “Three Things” structure. So, I’ll share three things I loved about each of the books I read during a given month, and hopefully that will help you decide whether the stories I feature might be ones you’d enjoy.

This month is all about testing the new format, and I’d love your feedback. Let me know in the comments what you think of the “Three Things” wrap-up!

30971685The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
1. Incredibly unique world building. You’ve never read a story quite like this. Full of rich detail, The Disappearances is historical fiction, but with a magical twist, and a puzzle that’ll keep you guessing through its final pages.
2. Gorgeous prose. Emily’s writing is lyrical and lovely. I found myself rereading sentences just for the pleasure of savoring her word choice, imagery, and rhythm.
3. A relatable main character. Aila is strong, determined, and smart, but she can also be self-conscious and uncertain. She loves hard, though, and she’s unfailingly loyal, which makes her so easy to root for.

29437949Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
1. Swiftly paced. While this adult psychological thriller is told in a past/present format, it never drags. In fact, I had a hard time putting it down!
2. Chilling, but not graphic or gratuitous. MC Grace is stuck in an abusive relationship (she’s her husband’s prisoner, basically), and while Jack is terrifying and manipulative and sadistic, no part of this book made me feel like I was going to have nightmares, or created images I couldn’t sweep away soon after.
3. Super satisfying conclusion. I kept wondering, How is Grace ever going to escape this? Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I was pretty pleased with how things turned out.

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Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
1. Slow-burn mystery. This is a tightly plotted book, full of red-herrings, twists, and turns. I wouldn’t call it fast-paced, though, as it focuses heavily on character development, which only serves the story. And the ending’s a shocker.
2. A host of unreliable perspectives. Main character, Kacey, feels at times untrustworthy and at times completely sincere. In fact, at one point or another, all of Little Monster‘s characters seem to be hiding something, upping the intrigue tenfold.
3. Incredibly atmospheric. This book made me cold. It made me hyperaware when walking into dark spaces. And it made me want to stay far, far away from haunted barns. It really is the YA version of a Gillian Flynn novel!

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By Your Side by Kasie West
1. Excellent setting. During the first half of By Your Side, Autumn and mysterious loner, Dax, are trapped in a library. There are a lot of challenges for them to overcome (what to eat, for example) but mostly their situation struck me as pretty darn dreamy.
2. Anxiety Disorder representation. I appreciated reading about a protagonist who is living (flourishing, really) with anxiety. Though Autumn’s disorder presents unique struggles, it does not define her, or drive the plot.  
3. Sweet romance. Kasie West has become a go-to author when I’m looking to read a light book with a gratifying romance. While Autumn and Dax definitely face challenges, their relationship is free of contrived drama, and they’ve got great chemistry.

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Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
1. Truly helpful structural tips. Both for romance writers, and those hoping to thread romance into stories of other genres.
2. Quick, easy read. Also, encouraging! Romancing the Beat left me eager to dive back in to my troublesome WiP.
3. Humorously and irreverently written. Bonus — eighties song references!

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The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin –
1. Bridges the YA/NA gap. The Big F has the same light, hopeful feel of a lot of my favorite YAs (see my mention of Kasie West above), but its MC, Danielle, is trudging through her first year of community college. It’s nice to see this stage featured in a book.
2. Dynamic characterizations. From Danielle, to her younger brother, to her best friend, to potential love interests Luke and Porter, Maggie Ann Martin’s characters leap off the page.
3. Excellent voice. I can totally see myself hanging out with Danielle and her bestie, Zoe. They read as so authentic, and that’s thanks to this debut’s stellar voice.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in August?
And, what do you think of the “Three Things” structure of this post?

July Reading Wrap-Up

I read some amazing YA books in July!
Don’t forget to share your recent favorites in the comments. 😘

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Alterations by Stephanie Scott – My official remarks: “Stephanie Scott’s Alterations is an unputdownable blend of fashion, friendship, and fun, with a romance like the perfect accessory —unexpected and sparkling!” My unofficial comments: This Sabrina-inspired novel is all sorts of cute, but there’s a weightiness to it, too, one I really appreciate. The first half takes place in NYC, while protagonist Amelia takes part in a fashion internship, learning tons about the industry and making new friends. Over the course of the internship, she tells a whopper of a lie (about her upbringing and Ethan, her longtime crush) that snowballs, forcing Amelia to come to terms with her flaws and her reality, and setting up the second part of the story, which was my favorite. It’s during this time that Amelia really comes into her own as far as her talent for fashion and style, and starts to realize that maybe Ethan’s not the right boy for her after all. Alterations is a perfect summer read for fans of contemporary YA.

30763950A Million Junes by Emily Henry – Emily Henry’s debut, The Love That Split the World, blew me away, so I went into her sophomore effort, A Million Junes, with high expectations. This beautiful, beautiful book is the first in a very long time to keep me reading well beyond my bedtime. It’s a Romeo and Juliet sort of story about June and Saul and the the dark, curiously linked histories of their families. Emily Henry writes a love story like nobody’s business; even though June and Saul’s romance was a bit instantaneous, it makes sense because they’ve got mad chemistry and witty banter and an inexplicable bond you can just feel. Look how lovely: “When the stars burn out and the oceans freeze over and the whole world is ash and dust and ice, our names will still be carved into this tree of life, side by side, and I’ll still be loving you.” A Million Junes is about more than romance; it’s a story chronicling all sorts of love, as well as grief and survival and curses and mistakes and the way we put our own unique stamp on our world and the people who occupy it. Big recommend for fans of gorgeous prose, heartfelt romance, long buried family strife, and magical realism.

20443235The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – (This was an audio reread, and I’ve copied and pasted most the review I shared last year. It’s full of spoilers, but seeing as how this series concluded more than a year ago, I’m going to let you proceed at your own risk…) My thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss are a rambling mess — I loved everything about this book! 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’re 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 give the Winner’s books a shot. They’re breathtaking and affecting and intensely entertaining, and I think you’ll be won over.

32048554Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith – This book reminded me of that old Nicholas Cage movie, It Could Happen to You, only it’s way better. Windfall is the story of Alice, a girl who buys her best friend (and secret love), Teddy, a lottery ticket for his eighteenth birthday. He wins bazillions of dollars, which is excellent because Teddy is charming, and he and his mom can definitely use the money. Except, the winnings bring many complications, most notably uncertainty regarding Alice’s future, ghosts from Teddy’s past, and tension in the story’s various relationships. While the book revolves around a high concept, I found it to be a quieter, more character-driven story, which is almost always my preference. I loved watching Alice come into her own, and it was super fulfilling to see Teddy mature over the course of the book. Alice’s cousin, Leo, is a wonderful supporting character who offers a lot of wisdom and support. Thematically, Windfall focuses on luck and misfortune and whether any one person deserves either, as well as the assumed responsibility of a person suddenly gifted with an unfathomable amount of money. Read it if you’re a fan of skillfully written contemporary YA.

25543153Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer (November 14, 2017) – Oh my gosh, this is such an affecting novel; I can’t imagine myself ever forgetting its remarkable characters. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I began reading, but as I became immersed in the story of Fishkill, a twelve-year-old girl from a tragically abusive and neglectful family, her friend, Duck-Duck, and Duck-Duck’s mother, Molly, I felt simultaneously heartbroken and hopeful. Being Fishkill is about chosen family and resilience — of children in particular. It will devastate you with its honesty and stun you with its gorgeous prose, and just when you think Fishkill can’t possibly endure another setback (because she endures many, many setbacks), she will reaffirm your faith in humanity with her strength of character, her humor, and her enormous heart. I want to mention, too, that as someone who’s been through foster care training and is currently caring for a child who is not biologically mine, this book reads as incredibly accurate, both in its depiction of the child welfare system, and its portrayal of the emotions that stem from foster parenting. Please do check Being Fishkill out when it releases this fall.

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Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon – This was such a cool book. Done Dirt Cheap is like nothing else I’ve read in YA; it’s an incredibly strong and searing debut. It’s the story of eighteen-year-olds Tourmaline and Virginia and their unlikely, complicated friendship, as well as the secrets they’re hiding and the enemies they’re trying to keep at bay. It’s a twisty tale featuring two girls who are down on their luck in some pretty extraordinary ways, but who refuse to buckle under adversity. I adored Tourmaline and Virginia, and I was captivated by their impossible choices and fierce loyalties and utter badassedness. Read: “We’re friends because when girls – women – are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off.” Done Dirt Cheap also features bikes and winding rides, boys and sultry kisses, and a setting so atmospheric, I could smell the tarry asphalt and taste Cash’s delectably described cooking. If you like books about girls who make bad decisions for good reasons, girls with lives messy and dangerous, girls who go after what they want, be it a man or revenge or a degree, you’ll love Done Dirt Cheap.

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

Kind of an eccentric mish-mash of books this month… 
A little something for everyone? 😉

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Dare Me by Megan Abbott – I picked this one up after it was discussed on Christa Desir & Carrie Mesrobian’s most excellent The Oral History Podcast. While this story’s about a group of high school cheerleaders, it’s definitely an adult novel, and it’s fantastic — a twisty, disturbing spin on competition and how far girls will go to get to the top (of the pyramid, literally), as well as a mystery and a study in decomposing friendships. Megan Abbott’s writing is seriously beautiful, but also like a sharp kick to the gut: Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise. Touching every tender place. Watching the swirl at your feet, the glitter spinning. Like a mermaid shedding her scales. You’re really just trying to get your heart to slow down. You think, this is my body, and I can make it do things. I can make it spin, flip, fly. Big recommend if you’re looking for a book that will have you compulsively turning pages, and questioning everything you think you know about cheerleaders.

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Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 18, 2017) – This forthcoming debut was everything I was hoping for in a summer read: voice-y, witty, and swoony, but with depth I always appreciate. Quinn’s summer is becoming quite a mess: her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, her father has gambling addiction that’s costing him a lot more than money, she’s lost her shot at a band trip to England, and her friend-turned-nemisis, Wesley James, is back in Seattle after years spent in Portland. Quinn makes it her mission to punish Wesley for a mistake he made years before, but along the way, she starts to realize that maybe she doesn’t hate him quite as much as she’d like. Quinn and Welsey have fantastic banter and flirty chemistry, but their relationship is deeper than that, too, and I loved watching it rekindle, and then develop into more. I also loved this story’s setting: Seattle and, more specifically, Quinn and Wesley’s workplace, Tudor Tymes, which is full of charm and ridiculousness. Pick this one up in a few weeks if you’re looking for a fun, smart, romantic poolside read.

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Hold Still by Nina LaCour – I’m a Nina LaCour super fan, but somehow I’d neglected to read her debut before now, despite the fact that it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years (I bought it at Borders!). Hold Still is a beautiful book about loss and revival; if you read and enjoyed Nina LaCour’s latest, We Are Okay, I suspect you’ll adore this one as well. Caitlin’s struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her best friend, Ingrid, by attempting to reclaim their joint hobby of photography, gradually letting in a few new friends, and building a treehouse. Caitlin’s recovery is slow, particularly as she learns more about the depth of Ingrid’s depression through her journal entries, making for a largely sorrowful story. And yet, it’s a hopeful story, as well — one that shows the importance of family, and friendship, and the acceptance of our personal limitations when it comes to the mental health of those we love. Nina LaCour’s prose is just lovely — spare yet lyrical, and at all times affecting. Read Hold Still if you gravitate toward novels that are literary and moving, with a focus on friendship, and a hint of romance.

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Speak of Me as I Am by Sonia Belasco – One of my favorite debuts of the year, and another novel that deals with suicide and grief and recovery. Speak of Me as I Am is told from the points of view of Damon, whose best friend, Carlos, recently took his life, and Melanie, whose mother recently died of cancer. Both protagonists are wading through unimaginable sadness when they meet, and while they don’t miraculously fix each other, they do begin to heal through conversation about shared emotions and experiences. It’s really beautiful to witness, and set against a school production of Othello (Damon is the lead, and Melanie works on set design) the characters’ arcs feel particularly profound. Two other things I loved about Speak of Me as I Am: It’s set in D.C., a city I’m really growing to enjoy, and its secondary characters are as well developed and complex as its protagonists. Tristan and Carlos, especially, leap of the page. Speak of Me as I Am is gorgeously written and poignant, and I highly recommend it to all readers.

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – Not my usual fare, but this one’s a book club pick, and I’m glad I gave it a read. Hillbilly Elegy is a sociological study, definitely, but more often than not, it reads like a memoir. J.D. Vance’s family is historically white, working class (on the low end of working class, really), and descended from the Appalachian region. While detailing his family’s origins and his own upbringing in the Rust Belt, he muses on how and why “hillbillies lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.” An affecting and insightful read, especially considering the current social and political landscapes.


Amid Stars and Darkness by Chani Lynn Feener (July 18, 2017) – I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but I was immediately drawn to this novel’s beautiful cover, as well as its summary: Earth girl Delaney is mistaken for alien princess Olena, then dragged to a faraway planet, where she’s imprisoned in a castle and forced to impersonate Olena in order to maintain galactic peace. Amid Stars and Darkness is a fast-paced space opera with cool world-building and a swoony romance (I adored Ruckus!), plus some well executed humor, thanks to Delaney’s spectacular voice. If you’re not sure whether you’re into sci-fi/space fiction, this book is a great way to dip your toe in the water. It reads as vast and futuristic, while still feeling accessible. While Amid Stars and Darkness wraps up neatly, it leaves off with a big hook for the second book in this planned trilogy — a book I’m already itching to get my hands on! Check this one out when it releases in a few weeks.

BONUS…
I haven’t read either of these myself, but my daughter has, and she adored them both. In fact, she hasn’t stopped talking about them, and she’s given them both the coveted 5-star rating. So, if you’ve got a middle grade reader, hand them copies of Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure and The Infinity Year of Avalon James!

Tell me…
What’s the best book you read in June?