September Reading Wrap-Up

Just three books in September, because I logged about a million hours revising and editing my (just announced!) 2018 YA. ¬†ūüôā
(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?¬†

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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 РA 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?

April Reading Wrap-Up

Four books finished in April (all YA!), making¬†my total number of books read so far this year 26. Here’s hoping I can reach my goal of 55 books before the end of the year.
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Dreamology by Lucy Keating – Oh, this book is so fun! It’s romantic and full of drama, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously which, along with its meandering and sometimes silly dream sequences, makes it utterly¬†charming. Main character Alice is lighthearted and witty, and she brings a wonderful sense of whimsy to the story. She’s spent the better part of her life dreaming of¬†perfect Max, who’s become something of an imaginary friend, yet he feels incredibly real to her, like a boyfriend she only sees when she’s sleeping. Then Alice¬†moves from NYC to Boston and discovers that Max — real Max — goes to her new school. Worse yet, he’s got a girlfriend, and perhaps he’s not so perfect¬†after all. I really enjoyed Lucy Keating’s vivid writing, as well as her three-dimensional (and totally unpredictable!) characters. Plus, how gorgeous is that cover? Recommend if you’re looking for a spirited YA romance with a twist.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely – This novel impressed me in so many ways, but mostly because it conveys its message with compassion and nuance. It’s told from two perspectives: Rashad, a spunky, artistic¬†black kid who’s brutally (and absolutely undeservedly) beaten by a white¬†police officer, and Quinn, a white basketball player who’s deeply conflicted about what happened to Rashad¬†because the police officer in question has been a father-figure to him¬†since his dad died. What I love about this book is how no character is without flaws. They all have moments of anger and judgement, and they all have backstories that illustrate how complex an issue race and discrimination are. I love, too, the ways in which¬†Rashad’s friends and classmates band together to take a stand against what happened to him — it’s all so timely and relevant. All American Boys¬†is smart and profound. It¬†made me angry, it encouraged¬†me to think, and it left me hopeful.¬†An important read.

When We Collided by Emery Lord – I feel like Emery Lord is destined to be one of those authors whose most recently released¬†book will always replace her¬†last as my favorite. They just keep getting better and better and oh, my… When We Collided¬†rocked my world. 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. Vivi’s chapters are¬†so good — frenetic and colorful and sometimes chilling– and Jonah’s chapters are a necessary calm amongst the storm that is Vivi. He’s got his own issues — his dad’s recently passed and he, his mom, and his many winsome siblings are dealing with their grief and the restaurant Dad¬†left behind. Vivi and Jonah’s relationship is unlike anything I’ve read in YA. They’re good for each other, and they’re unintentionally awful¬†for each other, and they both care so deeply; watching it all play out did terrible things to my heart. As you might know, 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.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – I’m so blown away by this book. It’s historical fiction set during World War II,¬†focusing mostly on¬†the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the deadliest¬†maritime disaster in history¬†(which, wow, I hadn’t even heard of until I picked up¬†this novel). Salt to the Sea¬†is told through the eyes of four different narrators: Alfred, a self-righteous German sailor; Emilia, a sweet and starry-eyed Polish girl; Joana, an altruistic nurse; and Florian, a Prussian deserter with an invaluable secret. These four characters, both likable and despicable, are all unique and absorbing, and the way their lives¬†weave together is so clever. Salt to the Sea is¬†a raw story that focuses on¬†the horrors of war, yet it boasts¬†heartwarming¬†instances of humanity,¬†too:¬†the birth of a baby, the bond forged between¬†an old shoemaker and a lost orphan, and a romance born of violence and loss. Ruta Sepetys’ prose is spare but visceral, and the way she threads¬†symbolism throughout this¬†novel is masterful. It’s been ages since I read a book so beautiful and affecting. Highly recommend Salt to the Sea.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in April?¬†

Currently…

(I plan to do a ‚ÄúCurrently‚Ķ‚ÄĚ post¬†every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

Barns. (Is that weird?) There are a couple in my current WiP, and we spotted a few¬†that were really cool¬†during a recent trip to Gettysburg. My husband, patient as he is, indulged my requests to “Pull over so I can get a picture!” I have no desire to live on an actual working farm, but I’d really love to have a beautiful red barn on my property one day.

Reading

In observance¬†of Autism Awareness Month, I’m reading¬†How to Say I Love You Out Loud by fellow Swoon Reads author Karole Cozzo¬†and so far it’s excellent! Unrequited love and family discord¬†are two of my favorite themes when it comes to contemporary YA, and How to Say I Love You Out Loud has both.

Watching

Outlander. I recently binged, and I’ve got a huge crush on Jamie¬†(you’re welcome).¬†I’m also obsessed with the history and the romance and the costumes — all of it. But oh God, the last two episodes of the first season… my heart. Also watching:¬†Game of Thrones:¬†predictably upsetting yet¬†totally addictive. I’ve gotta say, I’m reading¬†all sorts of rave reviews about the first episode of season 6, but I was kind of eh about it. I loved the scene¬†where Cersei and Jaime talked about Myrcella (man, Cersei’s really starting to grow on me) and of course I adored Daenerys’s conversation with the Dothraki Khal, but Jon Snow… ūüėĘ

Listening To

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which is blowing me away. The four points of view are equally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how each character’s story connects back to the others. I’m a big fan of Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy and so far, Salt to the Sea is just as extraordinary.

Thinking About

How to successfully close out Camp NaNoWriMo (I’m so close to meeting my goal!) while at the same time chipping away at¬†round two¬†of my Kissing Max Holden¬†edits (it’s coming together, guys!). Traditionally, I’m not so great at juggling¬†two projects at once, but I’m striving to become better as far as setting word-count/pages-revised targets and hitting them.

Anticipating

This Thursday’s lunch with two of my favorite writing buddies, this weekend’s proposed brunch with a couple of fellow Swanky Seventeens, getting my car back from the shop (sad day when you get side-swiped in a no-fault state), and¬†some celebration-worthy news I’ll hopefully get to share with you¬†soon…

Wishing

You‚Äôll check out¬†the following Goodreads lists:¬†YA Novels of 2017,¬†YA Debuts 2017,¬†2017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and¬†Books Published by Swoon Reads.¬†Kissing¬†Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting!¬†Maybe you‚Äôd like to vote for my debut, or add it as ‚ÄúTo Read‚ÄĚ. Also! Last week I interviewed 2016 debut author Lucy Keating about her recently released¬†YA speculative fiction/romance, Dreamology¬†for The Swanky Seventeens.¬†I hope you’ll take a moment to read¬†it. ūüėė

Making Me Happy

Springtime. We’ve been enjoying¬†a stretch of beautiful¬†weather and scores of lovely flowers are blooming¬†and I’m feeling extra optimistic and cheerful.

Did you post a ‚ÄúCurrently‚Ķ‚ÄĚ this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

January Reading Wrap-Up

Starting 2016 off right with five incredible novels.
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West – Hello, Katy Book. The Distance Between Us is everything I look for in contemporary YA romance. Its protagonist, Caymen, is full of pluck and sarcasm; her personality sparkles, and she made me laugh repeatedly. She feels so authentic — I think we would’ve been friends in high school. ūüôā Her romantic interest, Xander, is all sorts of swoony. He’s filthy rich and Caymen’s definitely not, and while Xander is never anything but sweet and gracious, the class differences make for some interesting conflict. Bear in mind, most of the discord is created by Caymen, her feelings of inadequacy, and her prejudices against the wealthy, but her issues make sense and come from struggles in her — and her mother’s — past. Speaking of Caymen’s mother, I really enjoyed her. She’s present and kind and, while she has her issues, it’s very clear that Caymen is her sun and moon. The Distance Between Us is full of heart, romance, and perfect, perfect voice. Some might call it fluffy, but I disagree. It’s a cleverly told story about real people with real problems, and I loved it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – I had high expectations for this sophomore effort. In fact, I had very specific expectations — I was itching to read something outwardly lighthearted, but with an underlying depth. More specifically, I wanted a book with a complicated romance, a likable and layered protagonist, a small-town setting, and eccentricities guaranteed to make me smile. Dumplin’ was everything I was hoping it’d be, and more. Willowdean Dickson is incredible — I dare you not to fall instantly in love with her. She’s spirited and resilient and smart, and she faces challenges that will likely be familiar to anyone who’s experienced high school: self-consciousness, envy, bullies, evolving friendships, parental expectations, and unrequited love. I adored Willowdean’s voice and her sense of humor; even when she was screwing up, causing me cringe by making choices I knew she’d regret, I never stopped cheering her on. I loved so many aspects of this novel, including Will’s new friendships, her complex relationships with Bo and Mitch, her confidence and her inhibitions, every single scene leading up to and set during the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, and the many Dolly Parton references. Dumplin’ is a delight from start to finish — recommend!

18711172Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore – This one was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story of addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. CeCe Price’s big brother, Cyrus, has been hooked on OxyContin since suffering a soccer injury. He used to be CeCe’s hero, but now he’s something of a tragedy — lying and manipulating, abusing CeCe, stealing from their father, disappearing for long stretches of time. Money’s tight in the Price household and, thanks to an unfortunate but seemingly unavoidable series of events, CeCe begins dealing pills she’s filched from her brother. Cyrus ends up dead and CeCe’s accused of his murder and this story… it makes me sad, sad, sad. I have experience with an addicted family member, and Kelly Fiore’s narrative hit hard. Her depictions are unflinching, devastating in their accuracy, and, thanks to the novel’s before/after format, there’s a sense of inevitability that makes it hard to put down. CeCe is easy to relate to (even if you haven’t encountered addiction first hand, I think), and even while she stands trial for killing her brother, she’s incredibly sympathetic. I haven’t read anything quite like Thicker Than Water before, and its authenticity impressed me. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – This book is SO impressive. It’s got everything: a strong, fully developed protagonist, tons of action, a setting unlike any other (the Oregon Trail!), perfectly planted plot twists, an incredibly diverse cast, and prose so evocative, you’ll feel like you’re trekking across the prairie with Samantha, Annamae, and the cowboys they befriend along the way. Last month I read Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road and it converted me into a true Western fan, which is why I decided to give Under a Painted Sky a go. It didn’t hurt that I’ve been reading excellent reviews of this debut for the last year. All that hype is well deserved. This is such a strong novel — reading it is a complete experience, and it is intense. These characters who I grew to love face all sorts of hardships along the trail: unforgiving elements, outlaws, cholera, wild mustangs, rushing rivers, and unrequited love (obviously — this is a YA novel <3). My very favorite aspect of Under a Painted Sky is the friendship that forms between Samantha (a Chinese violin prodigy) and Annamae (an intrepid runaway slave). The way these girls care for each other through unimaginable adversity is incredibly moving. Definitely give Under a Painted Sky a read — I think you’ll love it.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I want to live in this beautiful, beautiful book. The spun-sugar prose, the lovingly crafted characters, the wonderfully vivid settings, the way multiple layers of story tie together in the end… The Night Circus is perfection. I listened to Jim Dale’s narration of the audiobook, then immediately bought myself a physical copy because I will definitely reread, and because I can’t not own this novel — it sits among my top five favorite stories ever. The Night Circus is about illusion, and competition, and sacrifice, but it’s mostly a story about love. Marco and Celia are adversaries in a dangerous, high-stakes game, yet they’re too well matched. They fall for each other and their romance is pure magic. Like, I got literal chills pretty much every time they were on the page together — their chemistry is that amazing. I adored, too, Bailey and Poppet and Widget; their friendship is so lovely, their immediate bond so charming. Erin Morgenstern’s writing is exquisite. She’s so imaginative, and her ability to engage the senses with her dreamlike descriptions is unparalleled. Her prose is elegant and arrestingly powerful, and I found myself hoping it would seep into my brain and stay with me forever. Please, please, please give The Night Circus a read (or a listen, because Jim Dale is fantastic!) if you haven’t already.

What’s the best book you read in January?

Currently…

(I plan to do a ‚ÄúCurrently‚Ķ‚ÄĚ post¬†every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

My new yoga studio! My husband bought me a membership for Christmas and it is aMaZiNg. I’ve practiced yoga for several years now, but mostly at home. I’ve never consistently attended classes, but after just a few short weeks in the studio with instructors who are deeply knowledgeable about the practice, I’m hooked.

Reading

Julie Murphy’s sophomore novel, Dumplin’, a contemporary YA about a small town girl who loves Dolly Parton and ends up an unlikely participant in a local beauty pageant. So far, it’s as glorious as its cover.

Watching

My husband and I just caught up on Homeland¬†and, as per usual, my favorite character appears to have died in the season finale. I’m sad. My falling in love with a TV character pretty much guarantees his or her demise, which is why I don’t watch much TV.

Listening To

The new season of Serial, for starters. It explores the case of¬†Bowe Bergdahl, the Army soldier who was held as a POW by the Taliban for five years. I have a lot of feelings about Bergdahl and the circumstances under which he was captured, and I’m finding Sarah Koenig’s reporting compelling as usual. I’m also listening to a YA historical fiction, Stacey Lee’s¬†Under a Painted Sky (using the new-to-me¬†OverDrive app). I’m enjoying the story and the narration very much.

Thinking About

Goal setting, and the sort of 2016 I’d like to have. In the past, I’ve set a focus word for the New Year (Resolve,¬†Acceptance,¬†Stoicism, and Present) and tried to keep that word in mind as I went about the business of being a wife, mama, friend, and writer. This year, though, I’ve decided to create a mission statement, one that will hopefully remind me to live my best life in¬†2016. Already, it feels like a postive step forward…

Anticipating

My upcoming writers’ retreat! I get to spend four days in a lovely Maryland house with five of my favorite writer buddies. I’ve got plenty to do as far as my Kissing Max Holden edits go, and I’m super excited about a girls’ weekend away. Can. Not. Wait!

Wishing

For smooth sailing as I tackle a fairly substantial revision. I know the changes on¬†my To-Do checklist are going to make for a stronger story, but man… I’d forgotten how challenging revisions can be! One tiny alteration, and I’ve suddenly got a waterfall of adjustments¬†to make. But! I love revising a thousand times more than drafting, so no complaints here. ūüôā

Making Me Happy

Guys, I signed a publishing contract. I have an amazing editor, and an edit letter I believe in. Kissing Max Holden is on Goodreads. I have an author page on Facebook. In 2017, my book is going to be a BOOK. How can I not be happy?!

What’s currently making YOU happy?

December Reading Wrap-Up

A¬†weird mix of books in December…
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – Guys, I would’ve sworn I didn’t like Westerns before reading this Arizona-set stand-alone. Now, I’m a convert. I loved Erin Bowman’s Taken trilogy, but Vengeance Road¬†affected me in a completely different way. It’s a trek¬†through a rugged and unforgiving desert, a quest for revenge, a treasure hunt, and a romance. It’s historical fiction at its best: rich, authentic, atmospheric, and incredibly well-researched. MC Kate Thompson is stubborn and rash, but she’s also brave and loyal, making her a narrator worth rooting for. And I love the people she meets during her journey — Will and Jesse and Liluye in particular. They’re fascinating in their own right, and they make this novel feel even deeper and more vivid. All of Vengeance Road‘s¬†characters have enviable strengths and cringe-worthy weakness. There are no easy decisions in this story, and there are no perfect outcomes, but there are some super surprising twists which made¬†for an intense reading experience. Vengeance Road is definite 2015 favorite, plus such a gorgeous cover!

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – A satisfying conclusion to a series I’ve loved since the release of its first book, This Shattered World. As much as I enjoyed this final novel, I couldn’t read more than a chapter or two per sitting — it made me so anxious. That speaks to how much I’ve grown to care about these characters, but man — Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner had my pulse racing¬†for the better part of Sofia and Gideon’s¬†story. It’s hard to chat candidly about¬†Their Fractured Light because it’s full of spoilers from the first and second books in the trilogy, but suffice to say: I thought this story¬†was amazing. It’s super fast-paced and packed with emotion. My heart literally hurt for these characters because they run into road block after road block, and they’re challenged in ways that are just awful (poor¬†Tarver can’t catch a break… that boy needs a hug). ¬†The Starbound novels have some of the most incredible world-building I’ve read, and I was thrilled to see tiny threads from the earlier books picked up and woven into the tapestry of this final installment. I’m endlessly impressed with this trilogy, and I recommend you pick it up, even if you don’t fancy yourself a sci-fi fan — it’s that good.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – This one was a reread for me; this time, I read it aloud to my eight-year-old daughter. While the story of Brain’s survival in the Canadian wilderness was just as riveting as I remember, it was the language, Gary Paulsen’s spare but evocative prose, that¬†awed me most. Those¬†scenes with the mosquitos, and the porcupine quills, and the turtle eggs — so visceral! This¬†is a really cool story of¬†perseverance and courage, and it’s packed with interesting facts¬†about surviving with nothing but a hatchet and some serious gumption. Additionally, Writer Katy found Hatchet¬†to be a compelling character study. I can’t remember the last story I read that featured a protagonist with such a steep arc. Check it out if you haven’t read this classic!

Every Day by David Levithan – I listened to the audio version of this book¬†and the¬†narrator did a wonderful¬†job. The story came to life as she read A’s¬†tale and, overall, I enjoyed it very much. The concept is fascinating, the pacing is quick, and the flow is seamless. I have one¬†issue, though: I didn’t feel¬†as though I got to know A as someone¬†other than a person who loves Rhiannon. Maybe I’m shallow, but without a physical appearance, or hobbies, or friendships, or a gender, or familial relationships to go on, I had a hard time connecting with¬†A. Rhiannon, yes — she felt whole, fully formed and charming. Even the¬†minor characters, like Justin and Nathan, struck me as complete. But A… A was¬†mostly¬†focused on checking for Rhiannon’s emails and plotting new ways to be near her. I get that — love was a new experience for A, but still… I wanted more.¬†That said, I did feel like A was redeemed in the novel’s final scenes; A’s gesture and the way Rhiannon was left¬†in a place of hopefulness were¬†really lovely. My favorite aspect of this story is its vignettes (for lack of a better word) — the scenes where A is in random bodies and has experiences completely unrelated to Rhiannon. I found them¬†captivating, and very¬†profound. Pick Every Day¬†up¬†if you like a novel with a unique concept and a focus on romance.

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