Category Archives: Historical Fiction

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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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?

What I Read in 2016 + All My Faves

This is a long post, friends! It’s been fun to look back on my 2016 reads, and I hope you’ll find a new favorite book while perusing. 

First up, I’ve listed all the books I read in the last year, organized by age category: adult, new adult, middle grade, and young adult. Young adult books are broken down more specifically by genre, since there are so many.

FYI: Titles link to Goodreads pages. Young adult titles with * were published in 2016. Titles with ** are debuts that will be published in 2017. Books are categorized as I saw most appropriate; some might fit into more than one age category or YA genre, but I did the best I could. 🙂

Adult

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue, Follow the River by James Alexander Thom, In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, Before the Fall* by Noah Hawley, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

New Adult

November 9 by Colleen Hoover, Love in B Minor* by Elodie Nowodazkij, Summer Skin* by Kirsty Eager

Middle Grade

Wonder by RJ Palacio, Rules For Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

NonFiction

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt, Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker

Young Adult

YA Historical – Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Salt to the Sea* by Ruta Sepetys, Wait For Me** by Caroline Leech

YA Magical Realism – The Weight of Feathers & When the Moon Was Ours* by Anna-Marie McLemore, Devil and the Bluebird* by Jennifer Mason-Black

YA Contemporary – The Distance Between Us & On the Fence by Kasie West, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Thicker Than Water* by Kelly Fiore, Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, How To Keep Rolling After a Fall* & How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo, First & Then by Emma Mills, In Real Life* by Jessica Love, The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark, The Girl Who Fell* by Shannon Parker, Dreamology* by Lucy Keating, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, When We Collided* by Emery Lord, The Year We Fell Apart* by Emily Martin, You Don’t Know My Name** by Kristen Orlando, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett** by Chelsea Sedoti, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, It Started With Goodbye** by Christina June, Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca, The Last Boy and Girl in the World* by Siobhan Vivian, Exit, Pursued by a Bear* by E.K. Johnston, South of Sunshine* by Dana Elmendorf, Escaping Perfect* by Emma Harrison, No Love Allowed* by Kate Evangelista, What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass, The Heartbeats of Wing Jones** by Katherine Webber, Wild Swans* by Jessica Spotswood, Fear Me, Fear Me Not* by Elodie Nowodazkij, Under Rose-Tainted Skies** by Louise Gornoll, Wanderlost* by Jen Malone, Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson, After the Woods* by Kim Savage, Sad Perfect** by Stephanie Elliot, Other Broken Things* by C. Desir, Definitions of Indefinable Things** by Whitney Taylor**, Holding Up the Universe* by Jennifer Niven

YA Fantasy – These Vicious Masks* by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, The Winner’s Kiss* by Marie Rutkowski, The Rose & the Dagger* by Renee Ahdieh, The Raven King* by Maggie Stiefvater, Gilded Cage** by Vic James, The Star Touched Queenby Roshani  Chokshi

YA Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi, Paranormal, etc.) – Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Noggin by John Corey Whaley, A World Without You* by Beth Revis

Of the YA novels I read that were published this year,
some standouts…

Favorite 2016 YA Historical Fiction

Salt to the Sea blew me away. It’s set during World War II, and focuses on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the deadliest maritime disaster in history. Ruta Sepetys tells her story through the perspectives of four different but equally compelling characters. Her prose is spare but visceral, her cast unforgettable, and the way she threads symbolism throughout this novel is masterful. It’s been ages since I read a book so beautiful and haunting. 

Favorite 2016 YA Speculative Fiction


I’m cheating a little here, because A World Without You is actually straight-up contemporary, but a lot of it reads as spec-fic because Bo, our protagonist, is suffering from severe delusions. He believes he is a time-traveler, and he’s desperate to save his girlfriend from 1600s Salem, where he believes he accidentally left her. Because the story is told mostly from Bo’s 1st person POV, it seems as if we really are manipulating time along with him. A harrowing novel that addresses mental illness in a manner unlike any I’ve read before. 

Favorite 2016 YA Fantasy Novel


I loved everything about The Winner’s Kiss, the final book in one of my very favorite trilogies. It’s a beautifully written story about love and war, full of emotion and fraught with tension, and its protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, will stay with me forever. I would honestly live in this world, if I could — it’s so rich in detail, populated by characters I wish I could know. I hesitate to say too much about the last installment’s plot for fear of spoiling its gloriousness, but if you’ve yet to read the Winner‘s novels, I highly recommend them.

Favorite 2016 YA Contemporary Novels

  
Wild Swans is so lovely. It’s a quiet story about a girl named Ivy who, thanks to her talented (and troubled) lineage, is striving to meet her granddad’s sky-high expectations. Give it a read the next time you’re in the mood for a heartfelt contemporary with gorgeous writing and a wonderfully relatable protagonist. The Last Boy and Girl in the World‘s main character Keeley’s lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she’s absolutely charming and lovable, and its setting, a town that’s about to be sunk by a damned river, is super unique. Both of these stories surprised me in a lot of really great ways, and both Jessica Spotswood and Siobhan Vivivan are now among my favorite contemporary YA writers.

Favorite 2016 “Issue” Book

  
Other Broken Things is an unflinching exploration of alcoholism and recovery, narrated by Natalie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s fresh out of rehab after a DUI. This story is so complex; I found myself desperate to shake some sense into Natalie while simultaneously wanting to give her the world’s biggest hug. Check this one out if you like stories about ballsy girls facing enormous challenges. When We Collided is an incredibly affecting story. It’s told from two points of view: Vivi, a girl with bipolar disorder who blows into idealistic Verona Beach like a tornado, and Jonah, a sad boy who gets swept up in her tumultuous wind. I never cry when it comes to books, but the conclusion of When We Collided ~almost~ got me. It’s so realistic, so perfectly bittersweet… I loved it.

Favorite 2016 YA Mystery


Fear Me, Fear Me Not is chilling in the best way! It’s part romance, part murder mystery, and it’s bursting with suspense. If you’re ready for a book that’ll have you searching for clues while giving you a few good scares, featuring characters who are easy to root for, plus some very well written swoon, check out Fear Me, Fear Me Not.

Favorite 2016 Family-Focused YA Novel 


Thicker Than Water was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story about addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. Author Kelly Fiore’s depictions are 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. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Favorite 2016 YA Novel About Friendship


Exit, Pursued by a Bear, about a girl who is raped at cheer camp, is smart and nuanced. While E.K. Johnston realistically portrays the trauma of sexual assault and the viciousness of teenagers in the wake of a “scandal” like the one featured in this book, main character Hermione never reads as weak. She’s sad and confused and angry and afraid, but she’s so resilient, and she never lets what happened at camp bury her. I love how cheerleading is depicted — as a legitimate, kick-ass sport. Hermione and her friends aren’t vapid pom-pom shakers; they’re loyal athletes who rally around their own. Big recommend.

Favorite 2016 YA Thriller


After the Woods reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. MC Julia survived an abduction — one she became involved with because she sacrificed herself to save her best friend, Liv. Now, the anniversary of the abduction is approaching, and it’s obvious that something’s not right with these girls and their families and the case and the reporter who’s sniffing around, but it’s hard to pin down what, exactly, which kept me frantically turning pages. Read this one if you like tightly plotted, expertly written  psychological thrillers.

Favorite 2016 YA Retelling


Not sure if Devil and the Bluebird is technically a retelling, but it’s inspired by a folktale so I’m rolling with it. Gorgeous cover, evocative prose, atmospheric and unique. Protagonist Blue has made a deal with the devil; she’s traded her voice for help in finding her missing sister. Blue begins her journey with a pair of magic boots, her dead mother’s guitar, and heart full of grief. This is a unique, moody story that had me entirely enchanted.

Favorite 2016 YA Romances

    
The Year We Fell Apart does an interesting thing, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan, is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. My favorite part of this novel was its climactic scene; my heart was literally pounding. Read The Year We Fell Apart if you’re into romances full of conflict and will-they-won’t-they moments. In Real Life is 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. This story is full of delicious angst, its pacing is fantastic, and its characters, despite their dishonesty with each other and, often, themselves, are utterly endearing. Hannah and Nick’s online and in real life (!) relationship gave me all the feels.

Favorite 2016 YA Magical Realism


Everything that’s amazing about YA: unique plot, gorgeous prose, unforgettable characters, plus threads of magic so strange and surreally beautiful, I couldn’t help but be absorbed into this extraordinary world. When the Moon Was Ours is the story of enigmatic Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and who loves Sam, a boy who has a penchant for hanging moons about town, and who is keeping a potentially devastating secret. I loved this story’s twists, its reverential portrayal of LGBTQIA themes, and the tangible bond between its lead characters. All the stars (or moons) for this enchanting novel.

Favorite 2016 Genre Bender


These Vicious Masks is Austen-esque, but with characters who have special abilities, sort of like X-Men, an element that gives the 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. Plus, she’s super loyal and always courageous. If you’re looking for a lighthearted read with a heroine you’ll root for immediately, be sure to check out These Vicious Masks.

Favorite 2016 YA Series Wrap-Up


The Rose and the Dagger is a very satisfying end to an incredible duology. Renee Ahdieh pens some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Her descriptions are lush, and she has this way of relating her characters’ emotions that’s so powerful. This story is fantastical (flying carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, serpents) and has some stunning twists, but it never gets lost in sensationalism. Its characters are layered and authentic, its relationships are real and often imperfect, and it’s grounded in feminism — a most excellent spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights.

Favorite 2016 Debut


The Love That Split the World is beautiful, emotional, and despite its… um… more extraordinary elements, it feels incredibly real. Protagonist Natalie Cleary is  dealing with a lot: a complicated break-up, a best friend who’s moving away, nerves regarding her acceptance to Brown, and the conflicted feelings that’ve come with being an American Indian adopted into a white family. On top of all that, she’s had a lifetime of nightmares and visions and strange lapses in time. Then she meets Beau. I suspect that your enjoyment of this novel will hinge on whether you buy into Natalie and Beau’s intense relationship — I absolutely do. From its first chapter, I could not put this book down. Big recommend!

Favorite Reads Published Before 2016

  
  
What’s Broken Between Us‘s MC, Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother Jonathan, with whom she has a painfully complex relationship, has just finished a year-long prison sentence for killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. My heart hurt through the better part of this novel, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda won the William C. Morris Award last year — it’s smart and funny and voice-y. Protagonist Simon is a drama kid who’s being blackmailed because of his sexuality, and he’s also dealing with changing friendships, his slightly offbeat (but cool) family, and his own identity. This is a thoughtful read that prompts contemplation while at the same time being delightfully entertaining. First & Then made me happy, happy, happy. I loved 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 hints of romance. I can’t wait to read more from Emma Mills! Althea & Oliver is gritty and poignant. It’s set in the late nineties, and author Cristina Moracho does an amazing job of nailing down the simpler, grungier feel of the decade. Althea and Oliver have been best friends forever, which works, until Althea develops feelings for Oliver, and he begins to suffer from a debilitating sleep disorder. These two have the most riveting character arcs, and even in their ugliest moments, I found myself hoping they’d triumph. 

Non-YA Favorites Read in 2016

 
 
I want to live in the beautiful, beautiful world that is The Night Circus. The spun-sugar prose, the lovingly crafted characters, the wonderfully vivid settings, the way multiple layers of story tie together in the end… I found it all to be perfection. Summer Skin far exceeded my sky-high expectations. It’s a college-set story about friendship and love, about learning and growing and changing for the better — even when that’s really, really hard. It’s a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between MC Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Rules For Stealing Stars tackles weighty issues (a mother’s alcoholism, most notably), but it’s a fairy tale as well, a book about sisters and magic and imagination and secrets and unbreakable bonds. Author Corey Ann Haydu combines protagonist Silly’s authentic, youthful voice with charming insight and lovely descriptions, while creating a world that is both vastly sad and infinitely hopeful. In the Unlikely Event is historical fiction set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town where three planes crashed in the space of 58 days in late 1951 and early 1952. I love how the fates of the fictional citizens of Elizabeth are woven together, and how each of their paths alters in the wake of the plane crashes. I also love how the early 1950s come to life within the pages of this novel. It’s all about the human experience, and it’s full of heart.

So, that’s it — my 2016 reading wrap-up.
Tell me! What’d you read and love in 2016? 

November Reading Wrap-Up

I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to this November, mostly because I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which sucked up tons of my time. Plus, it’s tough for me to get in to a story when I’m trying to draft my own. Luckily, I managed to get my hands on three totally captivating books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Perfect for fans of the game The Oregon Trail, as well as those who’ve read and loved Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky, Walk on Earth a Stranger follows Lee Westfall, who’s set on making it to California during the Gold Rush. She carries two secrets — first, the simple fact that she’s a girl (she’s disguised herself as a boy to make her trek across the continent safer), and second, the not-so-simple fact that she can sense gold when it’s nearby. Though Lee’s dealt a hell of a hand in the novel’s opening pages, she’s an awesome protagonist. She’s smart, brave, and driven, and there’s a sweetness about her, too, especially when she shares the page with children or her longtime friend, Jefferson. While there are threads of magic running through Walk on Earth a Stranger, it reads like historical fiction; there’s great emphasis on time and place, as well as many of the challenges travelers faced on the California Trail: disease, starvation, dehydration, theft, racism, sexism, childbirth, and power struggles. I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to pick up its follow-up, Like a River Glorious, which is out now.

Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot (February, 2017) – Sad Perfect is the story of Pea, a girl with ARFID, a little known eating disorder that not only makes her averse to the taste/texture/idea of most foods, but gives her great anxiety about eating new things for the first time. Stephanie Elliot does a fantastic job of describing the “monster” that lives within Pea. She made me feel Pea’s fear, and worry, and anger, and sadness in an uncomfortably visceral manner, which made me root for our protagonist all the more (though, I suspect this book could be triggering for ED sufferers and those recovering from EDs). For me, the brightest part of Sad Perfect was Ben, the boy who sweeps Pea off her feet in the most adorable and romantic ways. He’s the best sort of boyfriend: sweet and supportive and understanding, yet he challenges Pea, and always has her best interests in mind. I love how he helped her see that while seeking and accepting help would certainly be hard, it could also be worth it. Contemporary YA fans, mark Sad Perfect To Read, and keep an eye out for it in February.

Other Broken Things by C. Desir – I’ve loved Christa Desir’s writing since I read her debut, Fault Line, a few years ago. Her prose is some of the most unflinching in YA. Her third novel, Other Broken Things, is no exception. It’s an exploration of alcoholism and recovery, narrated by Natalie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s fresh out of rehab after a DUI. She’s required to attend AA meetings, where she meets her eventual sponsor Kathy, who is both flawed and incredibly supportive, as well as Joe, a recovering alcoholic who Natalie’s immediately drawn to — regardless of the fact that he’s more than twice her age. This story is so complex; I found myself desperate to shake some sense into Natalie while simultaneously wanting to give her the world’s biggest hug. She’s dealing with a lot of heavy stuff: her addiction, a complicated relationship with her ex, distant parents, dissolving friendships, and the loss of her passion, boxing. Plus, there’s Joe, who Natalie leans on, then falls for, despite all the reasons she probably shouldn’t. I love the way this story wraps up — certainly not with a perfect bow, but in a way that feels authentic and true to Natalie’s journey. Check out Other Broken Things if you like stories about ballsy girls facing enormous challenges.

What’s the best book you read in November?

October Reading Wrap-Up

Five books in October (one a reread)…
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

Wait For Me by Caroline Leech (January 31, 2017) – I loved this historical debut so much. Main character Lorna is living on her father’s Scotland farm in 1945, as WWII is winding down. When a German POW arrives to lend a hand with farm duties, Lorna is at once put-off. Her brothers are fighting for the Allies, and Lorna wants nothing to do with the perceived enemy. But as she gets to know Paul, she discovers he’s not the evil Nazi she initially took him for; he’s kind and smart and sensitive, and she begins to fall for him — a very understandable reaction because *swoon*. But being with a German soldier means that Lorna must choose between love and allegiance, Paul and her family. Author Caroline Leech does an amazing job of capturing the essence of her setting and the spirit of her protagonist — it’s obvious she’s got a deep well of knowledge when it comes to Scotland and its history — and she writes a very convincing romance, full of sweetness and steam. Mark this one To-Read now, and look for it in stores at the end of January.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – One of my very favorites. My third read of this novel (this time I listened to the audiobook) and it was every bit as captivating and haunting as it’s been previously. If you haven’t read this Kabul-set story of friendship and love, I highly recommend picking it up.

After the Woods by Kim Savage – This psychological thriller reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. The plots aren’t similar, but they share an unsettling sort of tension, and a cast of characters who are very hard to trust. MC Julia survived an abduction — one she became involved with because she sacrificed herself to save her best friend, Liv. Now, the anniversary of the abduction is approaching, and Julia’s grappling with resurfacing memories of her time in the woods with her sociopath kidnapper, as well as Liv’s increasingly destructive behavior. It’s obvious that something’s not right with these girls and their families and the case and the reporter who’s sniffing around, but it’s hard to pin down what, exactly, which kept me frantically turning pages. I’m a big fan Kim Savage’s writing style; Julia has issues, but she’s also got a super dry sense of humor, and I loved being in her head. I also really enjoyed Kellan — in fact, the only thing I might’ve liked to see more of is him. Check out After the Woods if you like tightly plotted, expertly written mystery/thrillers.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Everything that’s amazing about YA, basically: unique plot, gorgeous prose, unforgettable characters, plus threads of magic so strange and surreally beautiful, I couldn’t help but be absorbed into this extraordinary world. I absolutely adored The Weight of Feathers, Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut, so her sophomore novel was an auto-buy and, whoa, did it ever live up to my high expectations. It’s the story of enigmatic Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and who deeply loves Sam, a boy who has a penchant for hanging moons about town, and who is keeping a potentially devastating secret. There’s a quartet of sisters, too, arresting mean girls with rumored preternatural powers, and they’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Miel’s roses. When the Moon Was Ours blew me away with its twists, its reverential portrayal of LGBTQIA themes, and the lovely, tangible bond between its lead characters. All the stars (or moons) for this enchanting novel.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Did I tell you guys I joined a book club? Before the Fall was our first read, a selection that had me rolling my eyes because, if I can be frank, on the long list of characters I find compelling, rich, white men are very near the bottom. I’m just rarely drawn to their narratives, and that was the case here, too. Luckily, this story of an unexplained plane crash with only two survivors has a large cast. While I mostly skimmed the sections about Bill, David, and Ben, I was completely drawn into the chapters told from the perspectives of characters like Sarah, Eleanor, and Rachel. I enjoyed, too, the complex backstories and the unique bond painter Scott shared with the only other crash survivor, little JJ. Before the Fall is wonderfully written, full of well-drawn (though at times off-putting) characters, and the way the mystery comes together at the end is satisfying. I’m glad I gave this one a read, even though it’s not a novel that fits comfortably into my wheelhouse.

What’s the best book you read in October?

September Reading Wrap-Up

Just three books in September, because I logged about a million hours revising and editing my (just announced!) 2018 YA.  🙂
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Wanderlost by Jen Malone – So cute! Voice-y and fun and sweet, plus Wanderlost gave me a wicked case of wanderlust. To be completely honest, the plot here is rather implausible, but I didn’t even care because the story itself is so full of wit and charm. I’m all sorts of jealous of Aubree’s European adventures, I loved her character arc, and I can totally relate to her duck-out-of-water feelings when it comes to stepping out and taking risks. I adored her super swoony romance with adorable Sam, as well as the expertly-developed (and unexpectedly hilarious) elderly people on the tour she leads. Definitely pick Wanderlost up if you’re looking for a light contemporary YA that’s bursting with heart.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – I bought this novel in an airport bookstore after watching the movie trailer in a random Facebook ad. I loved it. It’s historical fiction with a setting so vividly described, I felt as though I was on Janus with Tom and Isabel. Tragically, our protagonists have lost three pregnancies, leaving them (Isabel especially) desperate for a child. Serendipitously, a row boat washes up on their isolated lighthouse island. Inside is a baby girl, who Tom and Isabel decide to raise her as their own. Obviously there are a lot of intensely bittersweet feelings that come along with such a choice, especially when they discover the baby’s mother is alive, grieving her lost daughter on the mainland. While I became frustrated with Isabel at certain points, I could also relate to her fertility struggles and her longing, which may have played a part in my appreciation of this story. Regardless, it’s beautifully written and deeply emotional, and I highly recommend it if you’re into historical fiction with a literary slant.

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson – I borrowed this one from the library on a whim, mostly because its cover caught my eye. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I thought it’d be a fluffy, wish-fulfillment sort of story, but it’s not, thanks to author Kim Culbertson’s skillful writing and main character Carter’s overall awesomeness. When Hollywood bad boy Adam Jakes comes to Carter’s small town to film a movie, he tangles her up in a PR stunt, paying her to play his small-town girlfriend, thus improving his image. Carter only accepts because she’s got a legitimate need for the cash Adam offers, but of course it’s not long before she begins to fall for him. Without giving anything away, a lot about this story surprised me, and I ended up smitten with Adam just as Carter was. Give Catch a Falling Star a read if you’re into books by Huntley Fitzpatrick and Leila Howland.

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

May Reading Wrap-Up

Seven books read in May. Thirty-two books read in 2016.
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

How to Say I love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo – I was charmed by this story of family and first love and fitting in. Main character Jordyn is so complex. Her home life is tricky because her younger brother, Phillip, falls at the severe end of the Autism spectrum, and her parents spend most of their time and energy accommodating him. Jordyn often feels left out and overlooked, and as a result, she’s not Phillip’s biggest fan. At times, Jordyn’s hard to like, but that’s because she’s real. She’s not always kind to her brother, and she experiences moments of selfishness and resentment, but don’t worry — her arc is steep. I love that Jordyn has to learn how to say eff it, and I love that she discovers ways to appreciate her brother for who he is, and I especially love the way her romance with adorable and altruistic Alex pans out. Karole Cozzo’s prose is simultaneously concise and emotive, and she writes amazing kissing scenes. I recommend How to Say I Love You Out Loud for fans of family-focused and romantic contemporary YA.

The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin – Another contemporary YA with a main character who’s so authentic and so flawed, she often comes across as prickly. Throughout the course of this story, Harper makes some big mistakes, and I found myself cringing more than once. Author Emily Martin’s done an interesting thing here, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan (who I’m smitten with), is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. I think this is a unique take on contemporary YA romance, and the flip definitely kept me engaged. My favorite thing about The Year We Fell Apart (aside from its incredible romantic tension) is Harper and Declan’s friend group, Cory in particular. He’s so constant and loyal — exactly the sort of buddy Harper needs to temper the upheaval in her life. I love, too, that climactic scene in the parking lot. My heart was literally pounding. Read this one if you’re into romances full of conflict and angst.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdeih – A reread, this time I listened to the (outstanding) audiobook. The glowing review I wrote last summer is HERE.

The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh – A satisfying end to an incredible duology. As much as I wanted to rush through this book so I could learn the fates of Shazi and Khalid and Tariq and Despina and all of the other characters I’ve come to love, I made myself savor each page because Renee Ahdieh pens some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Her descriptions are lush, and she has this way of relating her characters’ emotions that’s just so powerful. I’m a fan of this concluding book for a lot of reasons, most of which have to do with Shahrzad and how utterly badass she is. She never falters in her convictions, though she’s not opposed to experimenting with new tactics and accepting help from an eccentric bunch of secondary characters. While I loved every moment she spent with Khalid (that first scene they shared… <3), I was particularly fascinated by her evolving relationships with Tariq and her younger sister, Irsa (who’s a badass in her own quiet way). The Rose & the Dagger is full of fantasy (magic carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, flying serpents) and some stunning twists, but it never gets lost in sensationalism. Its characters are layered and authentic, its relationships are real and often imperfect, and it’s grounded in feminism — a most excellent spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – Honest moment: If this book hadn’t been written by Judy Blume, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s historical fiction set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town where three planes crashed in the space of 58 days in late 1951 and early 1952 (that actually happened). Not subject matter that would normally pique my interest, but I’m so glad I gave this book a read — I thought it was wonderful. Its cast is huge, but a great deal of the story is told through fifteen-year-old Miri’s eyes, and she’s awesome — a lot like the winsome girls of Judy Blume’s earlier MG and YA novels. Miri comes of age during the winter of the plane crashes, partly because of the crashes, and partly because she’s dealing with all sorts of normal teenage issues: family strife, first love, and failing friendship. She responds to it all with such genuine sentiment; she feels absolutely real. I love how the fates of the fictional citizens of Elizabeth are woven together, and how each of their paths alters in the wake of the plane crashes. I also love how the early 1950s come to life within the pages of this novel. It’s all about the human experience, and it’s full of heart. I loved it.

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (January, 2017) – I went into this book expecting a fun spy story, but by the novel’s end I was tense and torn and totally heartbroken. Seventeen-year-old MC Reagan’s parents are Black Angels — super secret spies who go out on dangerous missions and change their identities at a moment’s notice. That means Reagan, too, has to pick up and move, often in the middle of the night, leaving her fledging friendships — not to mention a piece of herself– behind. Thanks to a childhood spent training in martial arts and weaponry and foreign languages, Reagan’s expected to become a Black Angel herself, but she’s questioning her presumed future thanks to her most recent group of friends — cute JROTC cadet Luke, in particular. But when Reagan gets tangled up in one of her parents’ missions and is forced to put her training to use, her life changes irrevocably. Author Kristen Orlando does such an amazing job capturing the many facets of Reagan’s life, including the sweet romance she and Luke are developing, the anxiety she experiences thanks to her intense lifestyle, her complicated relationship with her parents, and the tragic rescue-mission-gone-wrong in Columbia. Definitely pick You Don’t Know My Name up of you’re into unflinching novels that’ll set your heart racing.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar – THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! I mean, it’s written by an Aussie author so its quality comes as no surprise, but even so, Summer Skin far exceeded my sky-high expectations. It’s a college-set story about friendship and love, about learning and growing and changing for the better — even when that’s really, really hard. Jess is such an extraordinary MC. She’s driven and super smart, she’s all sorts of fun, and she takes zero shit. She’s comfortable in her skin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not sometimes awkward and uncertain, She makes mistakes just like the rest of us did in college, which is a big part of why she’s so relatable and endearing. Summer Skin is a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Between the angst and the humor and the swoon, I found Summer Skin to be unputdownable. Just a note, it’s not available in the US, so if you’re interested in reading (and you should totally be interested in reading) find it at The Book Depository.

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