Category Archives: New Releases

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

20443235The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – (This was an audio reread, and I’ve copied and pasted most the review I shared last year. It’s full of spoilers, but seeing as how this series concluded more than a year ago, I’m going to let you proceed at your own risk…) My thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss are a rambling mess — I loved everything about this book! I’d change literally nothing. It’s a beautifully written story full of emotion and fraught with tension. I’m so pleased that Arin and Kestrel spend most of Kiss together, learning to cooperate, trust, and love each other in new and deep and meaningful ways. I’m a big fan of how the prison rescue plays out and after, when Arin reminds Kestrel that she bought him and she asks if she still owns him and he says, “Yes.” Guys, my heart. I had legitimate physical reactions to this story — all of it, but particularly that scene on the tundra. Also, the scene where they finally seal the deal. ❀ I love the resolute strength we’ve continued to see in our two protagonists, but more than that, I love how their weaknesses are presented in this final book, and how they come to terms with those weaknesses and learn to lean on each other, to fill the voids in each other’s hearts. I love Kestrel’s complicated relationship with her father, and Arin’s dealings with the General in the final battle scene. Incidentally, I enjoyed all of the battles scenes (I often find myself skimming anything that has to do with actual combat), for they’re fast-paced and intense, full of the scheming and out-maneuvering I’ve come to expect from Kestrel and Arin. More than that, the war plays such an important role in this book’s plot, and Marie Rutkoski gives it the weight it deserves. Additionally, I love how elements from the first and second books come into play in this final novel — Bite and Sting in particular. I love Roshar for his spirit and his comic relief, and I love Sarsine for her kindness and quiet wisdom. And I love how this story concludes a series I’ve been invested in for the last two years — so elegantly, and so satisfyingly: Arin and Kestrel, an equal, loving pair with a true future ahead of them. Even if you’re a reluctant fantasy reader (like me!), I suggest you give the Winner’s books a shot. They’re breathtaking and affecting and intensely entertaining, and I think you’ll be won over.

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

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

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

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

June Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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?

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 Ă  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?