Category Archives: Great Books

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?

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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?

May Reading Wrap-Up

May has been a super varied month of reading,
and I’ve got lots of good stuff to recommend…

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – This one is the June pick for my book club (I’m actually ahead for once!) and it really impressed me. It’s based on the life of historical figures Sarah and Angelina Grimke, early abolitionists and feminists, but also tells the (almost entirely fictionalized) story Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave who comes of age in the Grimke household. I was worried that this tale would center on Sarah helping Handful to freedom, but it doesn’t. Both Sarah and Handful are strong women with agency, and their evolving relationship is fascinating. The Invention of Wings is a difficult read, as it holds little back in the way of depicting the severe realities of slavery, but it is also a beautiful story about love and sacrifice and standing up for what’s right. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American history, and fans of sweeping historical fiction.

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The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles – This is a cool book — it calls back to those 2007-2009 paranormal romances we all loved so much, but it definitely has its own unique spin. I bought The Edge of Everything because of its fabulous cover, but didn’t know much about what I was getting into until I started reading. The gist: Montana girl meets underworldly (yes)  boy; mayhem, mystery, and romance ensue. I love Zoe for her stubbornness and sass, and I love X for his vulnerability and sense of chivalry, and I love the two of them together because, despite the completely bonkers situation they find themselves in, they just… make sense. The voice of this debut impressed me, too. While the story is action-packed, author Jeff Giles has infused some smart humor into, too, which made it a super entertaining read. Pick this one up if you’re nostalgic for paranormal romance, or if you like captivating characters and evocative prose.

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The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo – I’ve loved all of my Swoon Sister Karole’s books, but this one is definitely my new favorite. The Truth About Happily Ever After is everything I wanted it to be — fantastic writing, layered characters who are so easy to root for, and super swoony romance. Protagonist Alyssa is relatably flawed and instantly likable, and I’ve got a new favorite Book Boy in Miller. This NA novel takes place at Enchanted Dominion, a stand-in for Disney World (my favorite!). Alyssa and her friends are character actors — Alyssa plays Cinderella with passion and perfection, and expects life and love to be the fairytale she presents at work. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, and Alyssa is forced to come to terms with some pretty unexpected challenges. Her character arch is steep and satisfying, while still feeling magical and fun. Perfect for those wanting an authentic-feeling romance between college-aged characters, with a delightfully enchanting setting.

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The Hot Shot by Kristen Callihan – I’m not even gonna lie — this book is full of smutty goodness, so if that’s not your thing, probably steer clear. But if you’re looking for a guilty pleasure read about an NFL quarterback and the utterly endearing photographer he falls for, this is the book for you. I recommend reading the first three books in this series first; I found them all unputdownable!

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han – It’s hard for me to chat about this third and final book about Jenny Han’s adorable Lara Jean and her winsome boyfriend Peter K because to admit that I loved this story probably gives a lot away. But yeah. I LOVED IT. Always and Forever, Lara Jean tackles the very real challenges of a high school senior: college applications and acceptances, stretching friendships, shifting family dynamics, and tested romances. It’s all very authentic, but still very charmed, as Lara Jean’s stories tend to feel. She’s matured in this book, which I appreciated seeing. She’s a better communicator, she’s less naive, and she’s even more thoughtful when it comes to the people she loves. And Peter’s grown too — he’s basically the world’s best boyfriend. ❤️ I could rave about this one all day. Read it if you haven’t yet, and if you’re waiting around to start this series, now’s the perfect time!

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The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – May’s book club selection, and I was captivated. This one’s about a couple who leaves their 6 month old baby, Cora, asleep in her crib while they have dinner/drinks with (you guessed it) the couple next door. They’ve got a baby monitor and they’re checking on her every half hour, but of course something horrible happens: Cora is kidnapped. This novel is fast-paced and full of twists and turns; it kept me guessing through its final pages. My only two qualms are the writing style — for me, it felt flat and at times tell-y — and the conclusion which, as far as baby Cora is concerned, I thought to be incredibly implausible. Still, this is a great summer read, sensational as it is. Recommended for those who like mystery and psychological thrillers.

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Fireworks by Katie Cotugno – Oh my goodness — this book exactly what I needed in nineties-set novel about a fledgling pop girl group and the dreamy boy band they come to know. Y’all, if you’re not reading Katie Cotugno’s books, please start now. She’s so good. I adored my time with this third novel of hers very much. Main character Dana is cool and layered and easy to relate to, and her love interest, Alex, is fantastic. I loved the way their relationship unfurled — it’s equally romantic and realistic. I also enjoyed how the demise of Dana’s best friendship was portrayed; her “break-up” with Olivia rang very true, and is an issue I don’t see addressed often enough in young adult literature. Fireworks is another excellent summer story, perfect for the beach or pool, and a must-read for contemporary lovers, particularly those who were teens in the nineties. 😘

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

Go read DANGEROUS PLAY!

Guys, my longtime critique partner and friend, Alison Miller, uploaded her story, Dangerous Play, to Swoon Reads

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Here’s the official summary…

Best friends and soccer all-stars Jesse, Ashton, and JD are on opposite sides of a prank text that leaves Jesse girlfriend-less and spirals into a vicious social war. Their friendship teeters on a misunderstanding and secrets they’ve been downplaying—Jesse’s temptation to cheat for a classmate, JD’s sexual identity, and Ashton’s harbored feelings for Jesse’s girl—look to blow wide open. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

And my thoughts…

I love this book so much! Its concept is unique, its characters are complex and unforgettable, and its voice is spot-on YA — funny, insightful, and vibrant. Jesse, JD, and Ashton are such an awesome group of friends — it’s fascinating to witness their close bond, and heartbreaking to watch the unveiling of secrets that threaten to rip their friendship apart. I love Mags, too; she’s relatable and fresh and fun, and she brings out the best in each of the boys (though she’s also a catalyst for big upheavals). The prank war is equal parts hilarious and cringeworthy, and all of the different problems that arise for each character are so compelling. I’d buy this book in a heartbeat!

Read Dangerous Play now, free, on Swoon Reads!

(And don’t forget to rate and comment. One of the most amazing things about Swoon Reads is that YOU can help this extraordinary book get noticed by the Swoon Team, giving it a shot at possible publication!)

April Reading Wrap-Up

Two selections from my book club, and four remarkable YA novels.
Your TBR list is about to grow!

19161864Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer – This is a hard book to review. Had my local book club not selected it for March, I never would have picked it up. That said, I did enjoy it, though it was hardly the “global thriller” its synopsis promised. Yes, there’s some spying, some advanced technology, some wild political occurrences, and a mysterious uprising, but that all comes second to what is essentially a character study. Leo, Mark, and Leila are all fascinating leads, charming and flawed in their own distinct ways, but — whoa — this is a long book with a lot of backstory, a lot of character development, a lot secret plotting, and… not much else. Plus, that ending. 🤔 Have you read WTF? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments — I’m curious!

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We Are Okay by Nina Lacour – The Disenchantments is one of my favorite YAs (a road trip story about a girl band — yes, please!) so I had high expectations for this college-set story. The two books are quite different, though they’re similar in their subtleness and their sensitivity. We Are Okay takes place over a few days, on an isolated and snowy New York campus, though it flashes back to the previous year in California often enough, chronicling the friendship-romance-demise of Marin and Mabel, two girls who share a tangible bond. I loved every moment I spent with these characters, though my very favorite thing about this story is the way it reflects life’s bittersweetness — how happiness can follow even the most tragic moments. Pick up We Are Okay if you enjoy enchanting prose and quiet but emotional books.

290083791You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow (August 29, 2017) – I’m not even a little bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this contemporary YA; its author is lovely and wonderfully sharp, much like her debut. I really can’t pinpoint why, but it reminded me of my all-time favorite Judy Blume book, Just As Long As We’re Together (though You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is firmly YA). It’s the story of Audrey, a girl who finds herself accidentally pregnant — even though she and her boyfriend, Julian, have been careful — and is forced to make some seemingly impossible choices. It’s also about stretching friendships, unique families, and love of all sorts. Audrey’s voice is stellar — totally authentic, at times funny, and always forthright. I appreciated this novel’s exploration of circumstance versus choice, and I think its message is both courageous and important. Watch for it this August!

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Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – Well, this was adorable. If I can be frank for a moment, though — at first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this contemporary YA. Its beginning is full of California stereotypes, and main character Jessie is pretty resentful about her circumstances. Her widower father’s just remarried, forcing a move from Chicago to L.A., completely uprooting his daughter. Luckily, Jessie grew on me super quick (come to find out, her personality is really similar to Teen Katy’s) and those stereotypes? Thoughtfully dismantled. Tell Me Three Things boasts a delightful secret romance, which definitely kept me engaged, and Jessie’s sense of humor is spot-on. I LOLed more than once. Give this one a read if you like your contemps fresh, fun, sex-positive, and full of voice.

32713479Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson (May 16, 2017) – This YA debut is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and it’s wonderful. I’m a big fan of the “best friends turned sweethearts” trope, and author Kate Watson pulls it off fantastically. Finley and Oliver so obviously belong together (their chemistry is equal parts sweet and swoony), yet the obstacles keeping them apart are real and compelling. Seeking Mansfield isn’t all romance; there are some really interesting family dynamics at play, and when movie stars Emma and Harlan roll into town, there’s plenty of friendship angst, too. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this novel is the affinity that develops between Finley and Emma. If you’re an Austen enthusiast, a theater lover, or a contemporary YA fan, grab a copy of Seeking Mansfield in just a few weeks!

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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – Another book club pick, and oh-my-gosh, I adored this novel. It was a difficult read, as it’s about foster care and motherhood and loss and chosen family; perhaps that’s why it made me feel ALL the things. The Language of Flowers follows two significant times in main character Victoria’s life: her tenth year, the one she spends with Elizabeth, the foster mother teaches her how to communicate with flowers, and her time as a young adult, emancipated, homeless, and alone. While all of this story’s characters are layered and complex, Victoria is deeply flawed, unable to bond, to love, to tolerate being touched, and yet… I never stopped rooting for her. Her story gave me literal chills more than once and, upon finishing, I immediately wanted to begin again at page one. Big recommend if you like literary novels that’ll make your heart hurt, but will also make you better for the experience.

So… What’s the best book you read in April?

March Reading Wrap-Up

I read so many great books this month, including a few extraordinary 2017 debuts. You can pick up Allegedly and The Hate U Give at your local bookseller now; make sure to add Gray Wolf Island and Kat Greene Comes Clean to your To-Read list!

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This story tackles weighty issues like immigration, racism, familial expectations, and fate vs. free will, but it’s also a romance between two meant-to-be teens. Main characters Natasha and Daniel leap off the page, their spark burning bright and hot. I love stories with unusual timelines and this one takes place in a day, but never fear — Natasha and Daniel aren’t in instalove. What they experience is an intense connection that builds minute by minute. Also! This novel features a scene that takes place at noraebang, which is the BEST. I love, too, the way The Sun Is Also a Star shows how the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential interactions can have lasting impact on the lives we touch. Recommend!

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One Summer With Autumn by Julie Reece – Sometimes I just really enjoy reading angsty, impassioned romances full of flawed but lovable characters who do dumb things in the name of love — or, dumb things in the name of avoiding love. (I enjoy writing these sorts of romances, too. 🙃) One Summer With Autumn gave me exactly what I’d hoped for, including steamy chemistry between plucky Autumn and complicated Caden, its romantic leads, plus compelling family and friendship dynamics. Check it out if you’re into more mature YA, especially stories set in that strange in-between time that is the summer after high school and before college.

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Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott (October 10, 2017) – This book is so mind-blowingly good it gave me chills, even on my second read. Author Tracey Neithercott’s prose is gorgeously lyrical, her plot (a treasure hunt involving an atmospheric island and a host of tragic secrets) is full of surprises, and her cast will burrow into your heart — particularly sad-but-strong Ruby, and enigmatic, sensitive Elliot. Gray Wolf Island is like a darker, swoonier version of The Goonies, and is absolutely one of my newest favorites. You’ll love it, too, if you enjoy books with unique settings, evocative writing, and authentic friendships, as seen in books by Maggie Stiefvater and Nova Ren Sum and Laura Ruby.

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Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske (August 22, 2017) – This middle grade novel is so cute. Kat’s grappling with her mom’s mental illness, changing friendships, and her rather underwhelming role in her school’s production of Harriet the Spy, yet she’s still utterly delightful. This debut’s got the same timeless feel as Judy Blume’s middle grade books, and it relays its themes in a similarly clever and entertaining way. Along with its winsome voice, I most loved the way author Melissa Roske empowers Kat and, as a result, her tween readers. Can’t wait to pick up a copy of this book for my daughter (and me!).

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I enjoyed everything about this #BlackLivesMatter-inspired novel, but especially main character Starr. She makes such thoughtful, poignant observations over the course of the story, while her occasional naivety makes her easy to relate to. Her family, too, is layered — equal parts charming and flawed, making them feel real and vibrant. They lend Starr much needed support as she struggles to come to terms with being the only witness present the night her longtime friend, Khalid, is murdered by a police officer. While fictional, The Hate U Give offers an important perspective on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I found it a timely, must-read novel that has earned the accolades it’s received.

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Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – Allegedly is the story of Mary, a pregnant teen who’s living in a group home after years spent in “baby jail” thanks to a murder conviction at age nine. This book is gritty and unflinching, and I loved it. I had the pleasure of hearing author Tiffany Jackson talk about researching and writing Allegedly at recent book festival, and knowing now that much of this debut is based on the accounts of real-life girls caught up in a system that’s constantly failing them made this read all the more riveting. Big recommend, especially if you favor books that’ll leave you feeling shredded, and changed.

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Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage – This novel is as strange and beautiful as its cover. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s perhaps not for everyone, but whoa. I found it fascinating. It’s the story of Ben, a sixteen year old boy who’s tracking down notes left for him by his now-dead ex-girlfriend, Mira, who fell (jumped?) into the local quarry with her sister. Beautiful Broken Girls has strong religious themes, and it’s set in a small, close-knit community where most people are not who they seem on the surface; I loved the mysterious, almost creepy vibe, as well as the novel’s creative format. Plus, Kim Savage’s prose is stunningly emotive. Read this one if you like your YA dark and literary.

Tell me!
What’s the best book you read in March?