Category Archives: Paranormal

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?

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What I Read in 2016 + All My Faves

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

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

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

Adult

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

New Adult

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

Middle Grade

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

NonFiction

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

Young Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite 2016 YA Historical Fiction

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

Favorite 2016 YA Speculative Fiction


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

Favorite 2016 YA Fantasy Novel


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

Favorite 2016 YA Contemporary Novels

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

Favorite 2016 “Issue” Book

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

Favorite 2016 YA Mystery


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

Favorite 2016 Family-Focused YA Novel 


Thicker Than Water was high on my most-anticipated of 2016 list, and it did not disappoint. It’s a story about addiction and the toll it takes on an already floundering family. Author Kelly Fiore’s depictions are devastating in their accuracy and, thanks to the novel’s before/after format, there’s a sense of inevitability that makes it hard to put down. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of dark, hard-hitting YA.

Favorite 2016 YA Novel About Friendship


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

Favorite 2016 YA Thriller


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

Favorite 2016 YA Retelling


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

Favorite 2016 YA Romances

    
The Year We Fell Apart does an interesting thing, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan, is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. My favorite part of this novel was its climactic scene; my heart was literally pounding. Read The Year We Fell Apart if you’re into romances full of conflict and will-they-won’t-they moments. In Real Life is Catfish set in Vegas, and it so good. Hannah and Nick have been online besties for years and (they think) they know everything about each other. When Hannah surprises Nick with a visit in Sin City, she learns the startling truth: He hasn’t been completely forthcoming. This story is full of delicious angst, its pacing is fantastic, and its characters, despite their dishonesty with each other and, often, themselves, are utterly endearing. Hannah and Nick’s online and in real life (!) relationship gave me all the feels.

Favorite 2016 YA Magical Realism


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

Favorite 2016 Genre Bender


These Vicious Masks is Austen-esque, but with characters who have special abilities, sort of like X-Men, an element that gives the novel an extra layer of awesome. Protagonist Evelyn is dry and witty, especially regarding the societal norms of her Victorian world. She’s not interested in balls or fancy dresses or marriage, and she balks with the best sort of snark. Plus, she’s super loyal and always courageous. If you’re looking for a lighthearted read with a heroine you’ll root for immediately, be sure to check out These Vicious Masks.

Favorite 2016 YA Series Wrap-Up


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

Favorite 2016 Debut


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

Favorite Reads Published Before 2016

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

Non-YA Favorites Read in 2016

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

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

February Reading Wrap-Up

What an incredible month of books!
Note… The number of novels I’m able to read has doubled since I started listening to audiobooks via OverDrive. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot time to sit down with a physical book. I listen when I’m driving, putting on makeup, folding laundry, walking the dog, whatever. Makes the mundane much more interesting. 🙂
(As always, covers lead to Goodreads pages.)

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – This book is so much fun — like, I was literally grinning throughout the better part of it. It’s Austen-esque, but with characters who have special abilities, sort of like X-Men, an element that gives this 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. When Evelyn’s sister, Rose, goes missing, she knows she hasn’t run off on her own, and she makes sacrifices to find her even when no one else shows much concern. I love Evelyn for her intelligence and determination; she’s no damsel, and she faces problems head-on, using her cleverness to solve them. There’s some love triangle potential in this story, seeing Evelyn’s interactions with Mr. Kent and Mr. Braddock (who I’m totally swooning for) and I’m very curious to see how these relationships play out in the next installment. If you’re looking for a spirited read with a heroine you’ll root for immediately, be sure to check out These Vicious Masks.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover – This book was guilty-pleasure entertaining. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Colleen Hoover’s Maybe Someday, but November 9 definitely kept me absorbed. It’s the story of two eighteen-year-olds, Fallon and Ben, who meet on — you guessed it — November 9th, and feel an immediate connection. Alas, it’s not a good time for either to be in a relationship, so they agree to meet every November 9th for the next five years, while avoiding all contact otherwise. Fallon will work on overcoming self-esteem issues stemming from a disfiguring accident, and Ben will work on a manuscript inspired by their arrangement. Cool premise, right? And it totally works. November 9‘s pacing is crazy-fast, and there are plenty of sweet/romantic/steamy moments between Fallon and Ben. There are some pretty excellent surprises, too. The only thing I didn’t love about this new adult novel were specific (possibly nit-picky) aspects of Fallon’s and Ben’s personalities. She’s rather melodramatic, and he’s got a savior complex that occasionally rubbed me the wrong way. Neither of these character traits kept me from being charmed by the story, though. If you’re a new adult fan, I bet you’ll like it, too.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore – I am obsessed with this book. Every aspect of it speaks to me; it makes me feel things, a lot of things, even now, weeks after reading. These characters, Lace and Cluck and their vast supporting cast, are layered and rich and full of passion. Their relationships are complicated and this novel’s stakes are super high. I’ve seen it described as Romeo and Juliet meets The Night Circus, and I’m onboard with that comparison. Lace’s and Cluck’s families are traveling performers; the Palomas are swimming mermaids and the Corbeaus are like winged fairies tightrope walking through the trees. The families have been feuding for years and years, but that doesn’t keep Lace and Cluck from connecting in this intense, sexy, heart-wrenching way. Their chemistry combined with the many reasons they shouldn’t be together… such perfect, perfect angst. The Weight of Feathers is a magical story with beautiful language and gorgeous imagery and characters so enchanting, they’re impossible to forget. I love this novel in the same ways I love books by Jandy Nelson and Jodi Lynn Anderson. Definitely a new favorite.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt – This non-fiction book was fascinating. It centers around the Maines family: Wayne and Kelly, who adopted identical twin boys, Jonas and Wyatt, as infants. As the boys grew, though, it became clear that they were quite different. Wyatt had little interest in “boy” things, preferring The Little Mermaid and feminine clothing, and eventually made it known that he identified as girl. While his family mostly accepted him (Wayne takes much longer than Kelly and Jonas to make peace with Wyatt’s differences), he ends up facing varying degrees of intolerance as he makes the slow transition from little boy to young woman. Author Amy Ellis Nutt focuses most of her narrative on the Maines family, but she discusses gender identity in detail, too, providing scientific evidence and alternate experiences alongside Nicole’s story. My favorite parts of this book were the glimpses into Nicole’s mindset through her journal entries and poetry, as well as Jonas’s perspective on their unique experiences. The twins’ love for each other throughout the many challenges presented by Nicole’s transition feels profound, and the family’s unexpected venture into activism is inspiring. A timely and affecting read.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue – Far from my usual fare, I listened to The Boy Who Drew Monsters and found it gripping. The setting (coastal Maine during a harsh winter) was perfectly drawn, as were the underlying chords of something is very wrong here. I hated pretty much all of this novel’s characters, especially Tim, the father, who’s a complete asshole; I suspect that’s by design, though, and the way this book kept me on the edge of my seat makes up for its mostly despicable cast. I did enjoy Jack Peter, an apparently agoraphobic boy on the autism spectrum. He draws monster after monster, watching the world from the windows of his family’s beach house and occasionally playing with Nick, the only friend who hasn’t given up on him. Jack Peter is appropriately creepy, but with an innocence that kept me guessing. The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a legit horror novel, and it boasts some truly frightening moments. And the end? I totally got the shivers.

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry – I love this book. Along with The Weight of Feathers, it’s a new all-time favorite. There’ve been many stories that I’ve deeply enjoyed, but almost always, I’m able to step back and look at the work from a thoughtfully critical standpoint. No book is perfect, right? But as far as I’m concerned, The Love That Split the World is as close as close can get. It’s beautiful, enormously emotional, and despite its *SPOILER* parallel universe/time travel elements, it feels incredibly tangible. Natalie Cleary is a remarkable narrator. She’s dealing with plenty: a complicated break-up, a best friend who’s moving away (I adore Megan), nerves regarding her acceptance into Brown and pending move to Rhode Island, and the conflicted feelings that’ve come with being an American Indian adopted into a white family. On top of all that, Natalie’s had a lifetime of nightmares and visions and strange lapses in time. Then she meets Beau who is, frankly, everything I’ve ever wanted in a Book Boy. He’s gorgeous and sweet, he plays football and piano, he has this charming drawl (fine = fahn), and, most importantly, he’s adorable with Natalie. I suspect that your enjoyment of this novel will hinge on whether you buy into Natalie and Beau’s intense relationship, and I absolutely do. Without saying too much about The Love That Split the World‘s plot, I will mention that it’s multi-layered and wonderfully imaginative and, regardless of some carefully placed exposition, it moves fast. Debut author Emily Henry’s prose is stunning in its evocativeness, and the characters she’s created have claimed a place in my heart. From its first chapter, I could not put this book down. Recommend!

Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey – I’ve owned this book for ages, but for whatever reason, I only just felt compelled to pick it up. Cold Kiss falls into the paranormal romance category — in fact, it’s a zombie book — but more than that, it’s a story about grief. Wren’s lost her boyfriend, Danny, in a tragic car accident and she’s so overcome by sadness, she casts a spell to bring him back. But the boy who appears in the cemetery after Wren’s incantation isn’t the warm, funny Danny she remembers. This Danny is cold and needy, and he lacks a heartbeat (though, he’s not a shuffling, brain-eating zombie — he’s a romanticized version of the undead). Wren knows she’s made a mistake, but she doesn’t know how to deal with her corpse of a boyfriend, or her lingering sadness, until she meets compassionate Gabriel, who she has more in common with than she could’ve guessed. I love Amy Garvey’s writing; Wren’s voice is lovely and lyrical, and her sorrow is palpable. I love, too, the way this novel concludes. It’s the first in a duology, but it ties the most important threads in a way that’s bittersweet yet satisfying. If you’re into bewitching prose, or if you’re nostalgic for the paranormal YA of five years ago, please do give Cold Kiss a read.

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho – This book is gritty and poignant, and I enjoyed it so much. It’s set in the late nineties (a time I refuse to call “historical fiction” because I was a teen in the late nineties) and author Cristina Moracho does an amazing job nailing down the simpler, grungier feel of the decade. Althea and Oliver have been best friends forever, though they’re very different. Oliver’s chill and effortlessly smart, while Althea is impulsive and fiery. Their friendship works, though, until Althea develops feelings for Oliver, and he begins to suffer from a debilitating sleep disorder, one that knocks him out for weeks, leaving him with no memory of the time that passes. It’s during one of these sleep spells that Althea lets something irrevocable happen, changing her relationship with Oliver forever. He decides to leave North Carolina for New York, where he’ll participate in a sleep study, leaving Althea alone with her guilt — until she makes the decision to track Oliver down so she can set things right. Althea and Oliver have the most captivating character arcs, and even in their ugliest moments, I found myself hoping they’d triumph. This book is fearless and very smart, and it deals in a lot of gray areas. Its conclusion feels inevitable, an appropriate — though far from perfect — ending for Althea and Oliver.

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

November Reading Wrap-Up

I wish I’d been able to do more reading in November. Luckily, the books I managed to sneak in were quite good…
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – I went into Grave Mercy expecting a light, fantastical read, but what I got was a rich, well-researched historical fiction with an ass-kicking heroine and a to-die-for slow-burn romance. Though many of my trusted book-ish friends have read and recommended this one, I put it off for a long time. The back cover summary mentions “assassin nuns” and that didn’t do much to snare my attention. I’m glad I gave Grave Mercy a chance, though, because it’s so good. There’s mystery, court intrigue, betrayal, and legit history presented in really interesting ways. Ismae, the novel’s protagonist, has a fascinating backstory and a wicked sense of humor. I found myself laughing out loud more than once, most memorably at this line: “I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” Duval, of course, is Grave Mercy‘s romantic interest, and he’s equal parts brutish and charming. There’s a scene near the story’s climax where his survival is uncertain, and I experienced that unpleasant I’ll-throw-this-book-at-the-wall-if-he-dies feeling — so, basically I fell for Duval just as hard Ismae did. While historical fiction isn’t my first choice in genres, I found Grave Mercy enchanting. It’s got two follow-up novels (Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart), and I’m very much looking forward to picking them up.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan – Guys, there’s something about these Game On books that totally sucks me in. Rationally, I know they’re a tad melodramatic, but they’re also impassioned and entertaining and totally addictive — especially if you’re a football fan. While Anna and Drew from The Hook-Up will probably always be my favorite Kristen Callihan couple, The Game Plan‘s Dex and Fiona are close contenders. They’re freaking cute together, and their chemistry is super steamy. And, like all of the Game On couples, they’re kind and respectful and loving to one another, even during stressful (often terrible) circumstances. So, while the plots are splashy and the drama is sensational (in the case of The Game Plan, lifted from recent news headlines), these books never feel manufactured or insincere because the couples read as totally genuine. Specific to this third installment, I love Fiona’s spunkiness, Dex’s quiet strength, and the various settings — New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. I love, too, the appearances of Gray and Ivy, and Anna and Drew, and the kindred bond of the group. The Game Plan is a big recommend if you’re looking for a sexy, escapist book to read over the holidays.

Shattered Blue by Lauren Bird Horowitz – I hadn’t heard of this one before I saw in mentioned in a Twitter recommendation. It’s not the sort of book I normally pick up (Fae — not really my thing), but the cover intrigued me and the story’s set in one of my very favorite cities (Monterey) and I’m weirdly drawn to “dead sister” books. Also, the prose I read in the sample pages was lyrical and evocative. Oddly enough, the Fae aspect didn’t end up bothering me — in fact, I thought Shattered Blue‘s world-building was very well done. Noa is a compelling character; I particularly enjoyed her interactions with her little sister Sasha. And Lauren Bird Horowitz’s writing really is gorgeous. The imagery and bits of verse sprinkled throughout the story… wow. The one thing I didn’t love about Shattered Blue was Noa’s intense and quickly developing feelings for the mysterious Callum and, later, an additional character. Young adult books (specifically paranormal, I think) catch a lot of flak for “insta-love” and love triangles; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that those devices kept me from enjoying this particular story, but I do prefer a slowly building romance and this… was not that. Still, I’m interested to see how these characters and unresolved plot lines develop over the course of the series, and I can’t wait to lose myself in Lauren Bird Horowitz’s beautiful prose once again.

Sloth by Ella James – I debated about whether to discuss this book on my blog. It’s really smutty and really graphic, and it explores marijuana dealing, as well as marijuana as a treatment for cancer-related side effects, among other adult themes. Even though Sloth is a story for a mature audiences and my blog generally focuses on sharing YA love, I want to mention it because it’s very good. Like, I-read-late-into-the-night-because-I-couldn’t-put-it-down good. Its mystery snagged my attention from its earliest pages, and the chemistry between its main characters, Cleo and Kellan, is intense. Despite this book’s serious subject matter, it’s tons of fun to be in Cleo’s head. She’s awkward and funny and transparent in the best way; she takes zero shit. And Kellan, for all his apparent flaws, is utterly captivating. It’s easy to see why Cleo falls for him, and why she’s willing to make big sacrifices to keep him. Ella James’s writing is lovely (even when what she’s describing is totally indecent), and she’s crafted characters who feel both relatable and extraordinary. Another recommend, and big thanks to Riley Edgewood for insisting I read Sloth immediately. 😉 Also, after reading Ella James’s Author’s Note, I feel compelled to share this important link, but maybe wait to click until you’ve read the story to avoid spoilers.

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

What’s Up Wednesday

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to. And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. It’s incredible. I’m in awe of the brilliant plotting, plus the complex characters the authors created. And, there are some wonderfully steamy moments which, of course, I loved. I also read The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, which is poignant and evocative and cold and lonely, just as beautiful as her Tiger Lily. She’s quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. Now I’m reading All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and even though I’ve only just started, I’m loving Finch and Violet and their authentic voices.

  

What I’m Writing: Continuing to read through my NaNo manuscript, (which still doesn’t have a conclusion). I’ve left myself tons of notes about things I need to research/revise, and I’ve cleaned up a lot of its messiness. I’ve also got a plan for The End, which (GOAL) I’m going to carefully plot in the coming week. I’m going on a most amazing writing retreat in February (yay, yay, yay!), during which I hope to do the actual writing.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Playing around with Tumblr. I just signed up and though I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve enjoyed posting (reblogging?) pictures of books and Disney characters and Taylor Kitsch and inspirational images, plus quotes on writing and success. Do you Tumbl? Is that even a word? I’m HERE if you’re interested in linking up!


Spreading the word about Cavalcade of Authors West, a literary conference for Western Washington middle school students. My longtime friend Kari Bradley is one of the organizers and their list of participating authors is aMaZiNg — Kimberly Derting, Peggy Eddleman, Kristin Halbrook, Mindy McGinnis, Richelle Mead, Marissa Meyer, Alyson Noel, Lisa Schroeder, Liesl Shurtliff, and Staia Ward Kehoe, to name a few. You can learn more about COA West on the post I shared last week, or you can visit the official site. If you’re able, I highly encourage you to donate to this fantastic literary event.


And, since one of my 2015 goals was to fix more treats, I present… A plate of super rich, super delicious Rocky Road Fudge. (You’re welcome.)

What Works For Me: Vlogagrams! Author Megan Whitmer had the brilliant idea to initiate a weekly vlogagram challenge on Instagram, and it’s been so much fun! I find vlogging daunting, normally, because I’m shy and I hate the pressure of coming up with a topic and having to speak in an entertaining manner for minutes upon minutes. Vlogagrams are short (fifteen seconds) and Megan is hooking participants up with weekly themes, which makes the process much less intimidating. I’ve loved “meeting” fellow writers and building on the sense of community I’ve already found via IG. If you’re interested, check out the vlogagram hashtag. The videos I’ve done so far are HERE

Tell me… What’s up with you today? 

Class of 2014: YA Superlatives Blogfest HEAD OF THE CLASS

The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 15th through Thursday, December 18th and will highlight favorite books published in 2014 using a variety of fun superlative categories. The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year, so if you haven’t already, draft a post and sign up to participate at the end of this post. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2014!

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2014 Reading List (starred = debut): The Winner’s Curse, *Let’s Get Lost, *Loop, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, *17 First Kisses, Ashes to Ashes, *The Secret Sky, *Behind the Scenes, Isla and the Happily Ever After, *The Only Thing To Fear, Bleed Like Me, The Bridge From Me to You, *Creed, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I’ll Give You the Sun, *One Two Three, *Of Scars and Stardust, We Were Liars, *Wish You Were Italian, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Frozen, What I Thought Was True, *The Eighth Guardian, *Pointe, *Push Girl, *Open Road Summer, *Far From You, *The Symptoms of My Insanity, Panic, *The Truth About Alice, *NIL, Complicit, The Summer I Found You, The Evolution of Emily, Into the Still Blue, Heartbeat, The Killing Woods, Brown Girl Dreaming

Head of the Class

Favorite Dystopian


Frozen by Erin Bowman – Loved it even more than its predecessor, Taken! Gray is such a compelling protagonist, and I can’t wait to see how this trilogy wraps up with Forged come spring.

Favorite Science Fiction


Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi – Is this a stretch for the sci-fi category? It’s the only sci-fi-esque 2014 book I read, and it was a fantastic conclusion to a trilogy I’ve followed since its first book. Bravo! (Honorable Mention to These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, which came out late in 2013 and therefore missed a spot on my Class of 2013 list. It’s so excellent!)

Favorite Fantasy


The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Not only my favorite fantasy of 2014, but one of my favorite reads of the year, period. Oh, the glorious world-building and the slow-burn, deliciously forbidden romance…

Favorite Contemporary

   
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid – I could not choose between these two! They’re both incredibly moving and gorgeously written, and they both left me feeling just… joyful. New favorites!

Favorite Action/Adventure


Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – Another trilogy concluded. I love Laini Taylor’s prose, and this book was a true page-turner. Unputdownable!

Favorite Historical


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Oh my gosh… So gorgeous. I’m such a sucker for verse stories and this one, a chronicle of the author’s childhood in the 1960s and 1970s (so, it’s a little bit middle grade if you want to get technical), is mesmerizing. Plus, that cover… Love.

Favorite Comedy


The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf – I’m not big on comedies and this book certainly has plenty of profound moments, but it was also full of genuine, perfectly penned humor. I legit LOLed more than once!

Favorite Mystery

  
Far From You by Tess Sharpe and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Again — I could NOT choose! Both of these are gripping, full of beautiful writing, diverse characters, and gut-wrenching twists. So, so good.

Favorite Romance

   
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord – Both of these are lovely romances, but they’re so much more, too — friendship and travel and authentic voice. Love them both! (Honorable mention to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, which I couldn’t select this year because I *must* read the sequel before deciding if Lara Jean and Peter’s romance is a favorite.)

Favorite Paranormal


Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – Obviously, right? I am such a fan of this series, and I am already so anxious to see how it concludes next fall. Can I please be Maggie Stiefvater when I grow up?

Favorite Genre Bender


Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian – While I did not love how this trilogy concluded (I want to tear the epilogue out of my copy, quite honestly) there’s no denying that the series, as a whole, is crazy-good. Oh, Reeve. ❤

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Click the graphic below to add your name and your Head of the Class post link to our sign up so we can hop around and check out your selections. Don’t forget — there will be a new link sign-up each day!

June Reading Wrap-Up

Lots of books this month! June’s been my most diverse reading month of the year by far, and I definitely found some gems…


Of Poseidon by Anna Banks – A fantastic book to kick of my summer reading. Of Poseidon has a lot going for it: I’ve been on a major mermaid kick lately, it’s set partially Destin, which is close to where I live, it’s written by a local author, and it’s surprisingly funny. MC Emma is full of snark, and her love interest, Galen, is still learning his way on land. Hilarity ensues. This is one twisty book, friends, and it ended with a big ol’ cliffhanger. Luckily I have the second and third installments, Of Triton and Of Neptune, waiting for me.


Just One Night by Gayle Forman – {This is spoiler-ish, so turn away if you haven’t read Just One Day and Just One Year!} Just One Night is an eNovella, yes, but it was also one of my most anticipated 2014 reads. I loved Just One Day and Just One Year, and I was all kinds of anxious to find out what happened to Allyson and Willem after that door opened. Luckily, Just One Night was the perfect finale to their globe-spanning story. It was sweet and joyful and laced with fantastic sexual tension. Basically, Gayle Forman is brilliant.


An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – I feel sort of terrible recommending this adult novel because it is absolutely brutal. But, it is also superbly written and utterly haunting (I had nightmares) and, I think, a must-read. It’s the story of a woman who is kidnapped for ransom in Haiti, and it chronicles her ordeal with the gang of kidnappers (whatever terrible things you’re imagining, multiply them by ten) and her (equally harrowing) journey to recovery. I recently read an analysis of this novel in which the reviewer said she “loved the book, but hated the story” and that’s exactly how I feel. So terrible. So incredible.


One Two Three by Elodie Nowodazkij – An incredibly entertaining fusion of the book Perfect Chemistry and the movie Save the Last Dance. In other words, One, Two, Three is angsty and sexy and fast-paced, full of diverse, layered characters who effortlessly won me over. I’m still thinking about them, and I’m still swooning. Fans of Simone Elkeles and Katie McGarry will be all over this one! Read more about Elodie’s fantastic debut HERE.


I‘ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (September, 2014) – Oh, this book. I can’t even… It’s just so beautiful and magical and wonderful, and I love it more than I can adequately describe. It’ll be among my top 2014 reads, if not my very favorite of the year. (Mark it To-Read now if you haven’t already.) I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of twins, Noah and Jude, organized into chapters that tell of the past (his narration) and the present (her narration), with some of the loveliest, most whimsical and evocative prose I’ve read. I don’t want to give too much away, but this novel is equal parts sad and exuberant, and it is spectacular.


The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate – If I have a literary weakness, it’s animals in peril. Charlotte’s Web, Stone Fox, Shiloh, Because of Winn-Dixie all tugged at my heartstrings, and Ivan was no different. It’s a book with some truly sorrowful moments, but it’s a hopeful, heartening story as well, about love and loyalty and the true meaning of freedom. And the writing… It’s as if Katherine Applegate was transcribing for an actual gorilla — and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I laughed and I very nearly cried. My six-year-old daughter loved The One and Only Ivan just as much as I did.


Breakable
by Tammara Webber – I’ve made no secret of my love for Tammara Webber’s Easy. It’s, uh, easily one of my favorite NAs. When I heard about Breakable, I wondered if it might just be a gratuitous retelling of the original book from Lucas’s POV, and bits of it are. But, there’s also a lot of new material, as well as some fascinating insight into why Lucas/Landon is the way he is. Plus, there are some fun new characters — including Boyce, who literally made me laugh out loud. If you liked Easy, I bet you’ll like Breakable too. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan of sensational and steamy NA.


Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – Epic for sure. I am such a fan of Laini Taylor’s prose, and Daughter of Smoke & Bone remains one of my very favorite fantasies. There’s something so intense about Karou and Akiva’s connection, and I’ve been rooting for them ever since I read that beautiful an angel and a devil fell in love opening. That said, I found Dreams of Gods & Monsters a bit dense. It wasn’t until page 200 that I felt drawn in, and even then, there were some chapters that seemed to drag (Zuzana spends five pages checking into a hotel, for instance). Still, the chemistry between Karou and Akiva is electric, and hello… Ziri and Liraz are pretty much the best. They made the last quarter of this novel unputdownable. Overall, I found Gods & Monsters a satisfying conclusion to a series I’ve loved since it debuted.


More Than Music  by Elizabeth Briggs – This was such a fun beach read. It’s NA without damaged characters, which was refreshing. That’s not to say MCs Maddie and Jared don’t have backstories and drama, but theirs felt less manufactured than most of the books I’ve read in this genre. Maddie is cool, not the typical NA virginal angel, and the supporting characters are equally engaging. Also, More Than Music is tightly plotted. The pacing was spot-on and the way everything came together at the conclusion felt like kismet. There was just enough surprise, just enough sentimentality, and just enough sexiness. I can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Briggs comes up with next!

So… What was the best book you read in June?