Category Archives: Middle Grade

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. ūüôÉ)¬†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?

February Reading Wrap-Up

Six fantastic novels for your To-Be-Read list…

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – What¬†a relevant, necessary, wonderful book. If I Was Your Girl is¬†thought-provoking, and¬†helps to give¬†a candid¬†and relatable face to the trans community. Its prose is¬†spare but emotive, and¬†it’s #OwnVoices — it reads as such. More than anything, though, this nuanced story of Amanda, who’s trying to make a place for herself at a new school, as well as navigate the relatively unfamiliar¬†experience of living life fully as the female she’s always known she is, is absorbing and¬†entertaining. I was rooting for Amanda from page one, and cheering on the friends she made and the new romance she pursued. And when things got tough, well, my heart broke right along with hers. An important and engaging novel.

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Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (May 2, 2017) – This book is delightful — a¬†charming and romantic beach¬†read, but with depth. California girl Anise’s summer plans are turned upside down when she’s forced to make an extended¬†trip to Nebraska to help care for her young cousins. There, she meets dreamy¬†skateboarder, Lincoln, who challenges her in both silly and significant ways. She also begins to confront the baggage that’s come along with her mother’s abandonment. There’s even a mini road trip in this story, cementing its status as a Katy Book. Laura Silverman’s prose¬†is an unusual but appealing¬†blend of lyrical and gritty, dropping me right into Anise’s world. If you’re a fan of Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord, definitely pick up Girl Out of Water¬†in May.

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Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock (August 1, 2017) – Tiffany and I share a publisher and a release date, which made me all the more excited to get my hands on an¬†ARC of her forthcoming debut. Just Friends is everything I wanted it to be: cute, angsty, and fun. Main characters Chance and Jenny become friends thanks to the ultimate meet-cute, and they share adorable chemistry. This one’s a romance so the conclusion is expected, but the path we get to travel toward Chance and Jenny’s happily ever after has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and it’s populated by an excellent supporting cast. I love how Chance and Jenny grow and change over the course of this story, all the while supporting and caring for each other. Snag Just Friends¬†this August if you love to read contemporary YA romance √† la Kasie West.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If I can get behind a couple’s chemistry, I become blind to any and all flaws a book might otherwise have. Such is the case with The Hating Game. Is it a technically perfect novel? Who knows! I was so completely¬†mesmerized by the legitimately hilarious writing, the I-hate-you-wait-actually-I-might-love-you¬†nature of the plot, and the¬†heat¬†between main characters Josh and Lucy.¬†Their back-and-forth is utterly flawless, their characterizations are deep, and Lucy’s narration is so bright and sparkly and fun and funny, I literally could not put this book down. I know there’s all sorts of hype surrounding The Hating Game¬†which, for me, can be a turn off. But in this case? YES. BUY THE BOOK. #NewFavorite

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Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard – This book is so lovely and melancholy. It’s a middle grade novel about Jory, a boy who lives a mostly secluded life with his stepfather, mother, sister (who has a fascinating backstory all her own), and baby brother. After a meteor shower, Jory’s stepfather, a war vet who’s always talking about “signs,”¬†insists the family descend into the nearby canyon every night to dig a hole in the dirt. As Jory begins to make new friends at school, he starts to question his stepfather’s edicts, and his family’s way of life.¬†Watch the Sky‘s themes–family and loyalty and secrets and fear–are profound, but the story is narrated in a way that feels both accessible and safe. My nine-year-old read this novel a month ago, then immediately put it into my hands. So, it’s earned both of our stamps of approval. Big recommend for middle grade fans.

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – A few things you should know about this debut novel… First, despite what I’d pegged as a fantastical cover, this is¬†a Tennessee-set contemporary about three very different teenagers with a host of diverse struggles. Second, it’s a tale of¬†friendship, and how friendship (and first love) can help a person¬†overcome what might otherwise be a tragic fate. Third, Jeff Zentner’s writing is extraordinary; I listened via audiobook, and the voices of Dill, Lydia, and Travis were so authentic and distinct and vivid, I was blown away. Fourth, I think Jeff Zentner must take a tiny bit of pleasure in shredding hearts, because by the end of this story, mine was in tatters. I see now, why The Serpent King won the Morris Award this year. It is an exemplary novel.

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

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‚Äôll 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. ūüôā

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 РThe 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 Queen*¬†by Roshani ¬†Chokshi

YA Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi, Paranormal, etc.) РCold 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she‚Äôs 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‚Äôs traded her voice for help in finding her missing sister. Blue begins her journey with a pair of magic boots, her dead mother‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs smart and funny and voice-y. Protagonist Simon is a drama kid who‚Äôs being blackmailed because of his sexuality, and he‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ so sweet), the incredibly likable cast of supporting characters, and the hints of romance. I can‚Äôt 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? 

August Reading Wrap-Up

I read some amazing books this month, and I’ve been so excited to share them here. Big recommend to all of these novels, guys!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu – My nine-year-old daughter and I read this middle grade novel together, and we loved it. It’s a story that 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. Silly is the youngest of four; she and her sisters are deftly drawn — each unique, with her own strengths and flaws. While they lean on each other, there’s distance between the girls, too, due to their mother’s drinking and their father’s inattentiveness and the general discord a pair of inept parents bring to a household. Silly and her sisters have their closets, though — extraordinary¬†places full of magic¬†and beauty¬†(mostly),¬†where¬†they can escape their unhappy¬†reality. Corey Ann Haydu combines Silly’s authentic, youthful¬†voice with charming insight and enchanting¬†descriptions, while¬†creating a world that is both vastly¬†sad and infinitely hopeful. I feel so lucky to have shared this one with my girl, and I highly recommend it.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (March 14, 2017) – I added this 2017 debut to my list of Katy Books immediately upon finishing — it’s everything I hope for when I pick up a YA novel. Wing is a fascinating character: often uncomfortable in her skin and full of longing, yet¬†strong in¬†spirit, too. When Marcus, the big brother she idolizes, kills two people (and almost himself) while driving drunk, Wing steps out of his shadow and into a pair of running shoes in an effort save both her sanity¬†and her family’s home. While The Heartbeats of Wing Jones features touches of magic, it’s a story rooted in reality, in family and friendship and first love (Aaron — you will adore him). It’s beautifully written, nuanced, and full of lovely, evocative language, the sort of descriptions that make you want to start¬†the story¬†all over again the second you finish¬†(that first kiss, man…). Definitely pick up The Heartbeats of Wing Jones when it debuts in March — I loved it!

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood – This book 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. Ivy’s such a great protagonist. She’s smart and sporty and incredibly¬†kind, though she doesn’t exactly excel at any one thing — a problem, considering the¬†gifted women¬†who’ve come before her. Along with her perceived mediocrity, Ivy’s¬†also trying to come to terms with the sudden return of her absolutely awful mother, and the two sisters she knows little about. My favorite aspects of Wild Swans are its setting (a small town on the Chesapeake Bay), its friendships (Ivy’s got two awesomely supportive girl friends), and its romance, which is equal parts sweet and steamy. Love interest Connor is the hottest YA boy I’ve encountered¬†in a long while (hello, ink! ūüėć ). ¬†Give Wild Swans a read the next time you’re in the mood for a heartfelt¬†contemporary with gorgeous writing¬†and a wonderfully relatable protagonist.

Gilded Gage by Vic James (February 14, 2017) – The marketing material on and inside the¬†Gilded Cage‘s ARC makes some big promises about its excellence and let me tell you — it’s not kidding around. This book is so cool; its concept is unique, its world-building is outstanding, and its characters are captivating. It’s set in a fantastical version of modern England, where those with magical abilities rule, and commoners¬†serve in the way of a ten year slavery stint. Main characters Abi and Luke are a sister/brother pair who have very different experiences while enslaved. Their voices are marvelously¬†vibrant, as is Vic James’s third person narration; her prose is enviable, her style somehow both classic and accessible. Gilded Cage is full of twists and magic and rebellion and romance, and to be honest, I had a hard time putting it down. Mark it To-Read now, and snatch it up when it debuts in February.

Fear Me, Fear Me Not by Elodie Nowodazkij (September 27, 2016) – Ooh, this book is chilling, in the best way! I think it might be¬†my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij novel, and I know¬†Erin and Dimitri are my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij couple. They have a long history, and amazing chemistry, and I loved all of their swoony scenes. But¬†Fear Me, Fear Me Not is not just¬†a romance; it’s a murder mystery, too, and it’s bursting with¬†suspense. Elodie manages to pull off three distinct points-of-view, including the killer’s, while keeping the tension high and the thrills coming. I love the roles family and friendship play¬†in this novel, rocketing the stakes up and up and up, and keeping me turning pages (or scrolling through the document — whatever ūüėČ ) late into the night. 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 cheer for, check out¬†Fear Me, Fear Me Not¬†at the end of September.

On the Fence by Kasie West – I read this romantic contemporary while on a camping trip, and that’s exactly what the¬†story¬†is — the perfect vacation read. I found MC Charlie to be endearing and relatable, while simultaneously full of spunk and delightfully flawed. She spends the novel coming to terms with her athletic body and tom-boy-ish sensibilities (not to mention hazy memories of her deceased mother), while discovering that the Charlie she’s always been is not¬†necessarily the Charlie she has to be forever. I love the family dynamics in this novel (Charlie’s big brothers are excellent), and I thought the romance was so sweet. Boy-next-door Braden is a love interest worth rooting for; he appreciates Charlie for exactly who she is and stands in as a constant source of support. Recommended for fans¬†of contemporary YA.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornoll (US edition out January 3rd, 2017, UK edition¬†available from Book Depository now)¬†– This debut is masterful in its balance of dark and light. Main character Norah battles agoraphobia, as well as OCD and frequent urges to self-harm. Basically, she’s trapped in her house, her only companions¬†her doting mom and her frank therapist. She’s stifled and scared, emotions that are conveyed brilliantly through Louise¬†Gornoll’s evocative language.¬†Norah’s challenges absolutely wear her down, and her sadness and frustration are palpable, but she’s full of wit and sarcasm, too.¬†It seems she’s¬†gained a certain level of acceptance regarding her mental illness — until cute new boy Luke moves in next door. While Luke’s¬†not a savior, he challenges Norah¬†in this gentle, respectful way that¬†pushes her¬†to begin confronting¬†her fears. The final quarter of this book surprised me; it’s¬†action-packed¬†and rather creepy, and it allows us to see¬†the true scope of Norah’s strength. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an affecting and beautifully written book — big recommend.

What’s the best book you read in August?

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

Watching my daughter compete with her swim team. It’s been such an amazing¬†experience for her, and she’s improved SO MUCH in two months. Her times are dropping and her strokes are looking better and better, and I’m just really, really proud of her. I swam in high school, and it’s awesome to see her enjoying (and beginning to excel at!) a sport I love.

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Reading

I just finished Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison. While I enjoyed the setting and found the secondary characters to be super likable, I don’t think the “Gone Girl meets the TV show Nashville” comparison is at all fitting. Also, that ending, man… ūü§Ē ¬†In other news, my girlie and I are reading Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, and whoa. Equally¬†beautiful and heartbreaking and magical. It’s also initiating a lot of interesting conversation. We’re loving it so far!

Watching

Parenthood. Still obsessed. Also, my husband and I recently started watching United States of Tara, about a woman struggling with her family and her dissociative identity disorder. Toni Collette is so good!

Listening To

Invisibilia, an NPR podcast about “the invisible forces that control human behavior ‚Äď ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” The topics are fascinating, and they’re discussed in a very accessible and entertaining way. Recommend!

Thinking About

Camp NaNoWri Mo. I‚Äôm participating, and I’m chipping away at my 15K word goal. Currently sitting pretty at 8,471 words, and I just passed 60K on my WiP — whoop! Now I need to figure out how to wrap the story up (why are endings always so hard?!)

Anticipating

Remember the¬†annoyingly vague “top-secret” news I mentioned two weeks ago? Well, I can finally share about one of the things I’ve been anticipating… The Uppermans are an officially approved foster family, and we recently received our first placement. I can’t share details or photos of the child, and we’re not yet sure how long the placement will last, but I can say that we’re very happy. Also, very tired. ūüôā Here’s my cat resting on a Boppy pillow, in case you’re wondering how she’s adjusting…IMG_4178Wishing

You‚Äôll¬†sign up to receive my monthly newsletter,¬†chock full of current favorites (reads, shows, movies, recipes, products, quotes, etc), plus occasional updates on¬†my own book-ish pursuits. It‚Äôll be all kinds of fun ‚ÄĒ promise!

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Making Me Happy

All of the well wishes we’ve gotten regarding our decision to become foster parents. I’m overwhelmed by the kind words of family and friends from afar, as well as the support and excitement¬†and help we’ve received from our local friends. Makes my heart full. ‚̧

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

Apparently in June I only read books with primary-colored covers…
{As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.}

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes –¬†I really enjoyed¬†this story of¬†Louisa, a cheerful caregiver, and Will, a man who has recently become quadriplegic and is (understandably?) bitter as¬†a result. Me Before You is¬†heartbreaking and intense, but it’s full of¬†humor, too, and I found its¬†message is inspiring. I‚Äôve seen a lot of backlash about the #LiveBoldly tagline;¬†it seems some¬†people assume it means that those with physical challenges can‚Äôt live boldly, but as far as I can tell,¬†Me Before You is Lou‚Äôs story, and she learns to live boldly through Will, even while he‚Äôs made the polarizing decision to end his life six months after the book’s¬†opening¬†(a decision he‚Äôs entitled to because he‚Äôs an adult with autonomy; I‚Äôm pro Death with Dignity, for what it‚Äôs worth). If you‚Äôre curious about this novel¬†and have yet to give it a read, know that its portrayal¬†of disability isn‚Äôt without flaws, but the overall story is¬†an engaging and affecting read.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – This is a tricky book to talk about, seeing as how pretty much anything I say will spoil the earlier three books in the series. So, here are my super vague thoughts… Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is, as always, beautiful and enchanting. Her world building is exceptional. I’m a fan of how Blue’s and the Raven Boys’ arcs panned¬†out, particularly Ronan’s and Adam’s, but I’m slightly underwhelmed by the conclusions given to to some of the¬†lesser¬†characters. Also, I wish the whole Glendower thing had played out differently. To me, it felt rather anticlimactic. Despite my minor¬†gripes with this final installment, I love The Raven Cycle¬†as a whole. It’s one of the most unique series I’ve read, YA or otherwise.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti (January, 2017) – This forthcoming debut is¬†wonderfully fresh and achingly bittersweet. Main character Hawthorn’s voice is so great. She’s a lonely teenager¬†with a quirky sense of humor and an enormous imagination. When Lizzie Lovett — a girl who graduated from Hawthorn’s high school a few years prior — vanishes, Hawthorn becomes fixated on discovering what might’ve happened to her, mostly because the assumed tragedy is¬†more interesting (and more manageable) than her¬†actual life. Hawthorn’s¬†a girl with a devil-may-care attitude; she’s got wild theories about what happened to Lizzie, and she does things that many might momentarily consider, then brush off as far too reckless. The most fascinating aspect¬†of this novel, for me, is¬†Hawthorn’s relationship¬†with Lizzie Lovett’s boyfriend, Enzo. It’s complicated and ill-advised (he’s significantly older, plus he’s grieving), and¬†man did it make¬†my heart hurt. I love, too, Hawthorn’s interactions with the hippie caravan¬†that’s moved into her family’s backyard, and her brother’s best friend, Connor. I’m endlessly impressed with this Swanky book — definitely check it out when it debuts in January!

Wonder by RJ Palacio – I feel like this novel should be required reading in all elementary/middle schools. It was recommended to me by my daughter (how fun that we can now share books!) and I adored it as much as she did. Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a fifth grade boy with severe facial disfigurement¬†who’s making the jump from homeschool to public school. He’s worried because he hasn’t had an easy go of it as far as friendships and fitting in, and despite his unique situation, he’s easy to empathize with. Auggie is such an honest, earnest protagonist. While Wonder is told mostly through¬†his his first-person lens, there are plenty of chapters told by his family and friends, too, which were fascinating perspectives through which to view his¬†situation, as well as an important reminder that¬†we all face¬†challenges and make mistakes and are¬†capable of becoming¬†heroes. It’s common knowledge that I’m not a book crier, but this one definitely made me tear up — it’s just so heartfelt and, well, wonderful.¬†Read it, then pass it on to the kiddos in your life.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – It‚Äôs easy to see¬†why this debut won the William C. Morris Award last year ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs smart¬†and funny and awesomely 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 as it contrasts with¬†the assumed white/straight norm. Simon is immediately likable, and so is his cast of supporting characters. I particularly love enigmatic Blue, as well as Simon’s buddies Nick, Leah, and Abby who, while relatively minor, feel¬†like fully realized people. I love, too, the element of mystery — trying to guess Blue’s identity right along with Simon.¬†Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda¬†is an important book and a profound story, but it never feels bogged down with agenda (see what I did there?). Instead, it’s a thoughtful, nuanced read that prompts contemplation while at the same time being delightfully entertaining.

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June (May, 2017) – Another Swanky book! I had so much fun reading It Started with Goodbye. It’s a modern spin on Cinderella, a¬†story¬†with weighty themes that’s told in this spirited, heartfelt way that made diving into its world¬†an absolute joy. Main character¬†Tatum is awesome; she’s constantly railing against her too-strict stepmother, but she never reads as¬†bratty. Her voice is spot-on, full of humor and insight, and I’m pretty sure Teen Katy would’ve wanted her as a¬†BFF. It Started With Goodbye has some steep arcs, but¬†author Christina June handles them with finesse, letting her characters grow in meaningful ways while preserving¬†the heart¬†of their well-developed personalities. And, as a romance lover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “SK”, the mysterious and witty boy Tatum trades emails with after he contacts her regarding her graphic design work.¬†So cute and so sweet, and the payoff is perfection. It Started with Goodbye¬†debuts May, 2017, but mark it To-Read now, because you’ll want to snatch it up as soon as it hits shelves.

Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca – This soap-y 2015¬†debut¬†was exactly what I was looking for in a poolside novel¬†— in fact, I read it in its entirety during one sunny afternoon. Last Year’s Mistake is told in alternating before-and-after chapters, chronicling the rise, fall, and rekindling of protagonist¬†Kelsey’s relationship with baseball stud David. I was impressed with the complexity author Gina Ciocca gave¬†Kelsey and David’s relationship — it¬†starts out as a platonic friendship, morphs into an unrealized then unspoken¬†crush, and¬†turns into an angsty will-they-won’t-they love affair. Alongside Kelsey and David’s relationship, there’s a lot going on: a health scare, a cancer diagnosis, moves, new romances, faltering friendships, school dances, and I found myself caught up in all of it. These characters live full lives and are far from perfect (love how authentic Kelsey and her supporting cast feel!), yet they’re easy to root for. Recommended for fans of Simone Elkeles and Katie McGarry.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian – When I’m really¬†into a story, I do one of two things: race to the finish to see how it concludes, or drag my feet so as to prolong the reading experience. In the case of The Last Boy and Girl in the World, I did some major feet dragging. Main character Keeley’s lack of self-awareness made me cringe about a thousand times, but she’s absolutely charming and lovable, even while she’s misreading situations and acting foolish to get a laugh. She’s so silly and real and flawed, I found myself cheering¬†for her from¬†the story’s¬†earliest pages. The Last Boy and Girl in the World is set in Aberdeen, a town that will soon be sunk by a dammed river. There’s all sorts of scandal surrounding the dam and the pending demise of Aberdeen, but more than that, there are a lot of conflicted feelings¬†swirling around¬†Keeley, her friends, and her family as¬†they¬† prepare for the drowning of their town. Keeley defaults to making the best of the situation, even when that means alienating those who’re suffering, and she’s got a partner in merrymaking in swoony soccer boy Jesse. So as not to spoil¬†the story’s ending, I’ll just say that The Last Boy and Girl in the World surprised me in a lot of really great ways, and¬†Siobhan Vivivan is now among my favorite contemporary YA writers.

What’s the best book you read in June?¬†