Category Archives: Swoon Reads

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?

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Cover Voting for THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US!

I’ve been anticipating this for a long while… It’s time to vote on the cover of my July, 2018 book, The Impossibility of Us! Here’s a summary from my publisher, in case you’d like to get to know the story better before seeing the cover directions:

The last thing Elise wants is to start her senior year in a new town. But after her brother’s death in Afghanistan, she and her mother move from San Francisco to a sleepy coastal village to be closer to Elise’s sister-in-law and niece.

When Elise meets Mati during a beachside walk, they quickly discover how much they have in common. Mati is new to town, too, visiting the U.S. with his family. Over the course of the summer, their relationship begins to blossom, and what starts out as a friendship becomes so much more.

But as Elise and Mati grow closer, her family becomes more and more uncomfortable with their relationship, and their concerns all center on one fact – Mati is Afghan.

Beautifully written, utterly compelling, and ultimately hopeful, The Impossibility of Us asks: How brave can you be when your relationship is questioned by everyone you love?

Here are the 3 options the cover designers at Swoon Reads came up with:

  

Guys, I love them all so much! These models so perfectly capture Mati and Elise’s spirits, and I adore the attention to detail paid by the cover designer: Mati’s hands in his pockets, Elise’s long, caramel colored hair, the beachy setting, the beautiful dandelions, and the romantic yet slightly hesitant postures. I also adore the color scheme of each cover — so dreamy. I’m truly smitten with each! 

Visit the Swoon Reads blog to vote for your favorite cover direction, now through September 15th. And if you’d like to learn more about The Impossibility of Us, check out this post, and its Goodreads page, where you can also mark it To-Read.

Which cover direction is your favorite?!

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?

Welcome to the world, Jilly and Max!

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here!

Kissing Max Holden has finally (FINALLY!) made its way into the world — I can hardly believe it! 

FullSizeRender 5(Photo credit: Bridget AKA @DarkFaerieTales_)

In case you’re new around here, a brief summary of the story: 

After his father has a life-altering stroke, Max Holden isn’t himself. As his long-time friend, Jillian Eldridge only wants to help him, but she doesn’t know how. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows that she shouldn’t let him kiss her. But she can’t resist, and when they’re caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it’ll never happen again. Because kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.

With a new baby sister on the way, her parents fighting all the time, and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending more and more time with Max. And even though her father disapproves and Max still has a girlfriend, not kissing him is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and allow their friendship to blossom into more, or will she listen to her head and stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

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I wrote about the beginnings of Kissing Max Holden‘s path to publication in On Patience, Perseverance, and the Elusive Book Deal, back in December, 2015 so I’ll spare you a rehashing of how selling this book was a long, bumpy road, but please do check out that post if you’re into book-ish origin stories, or if you’re working on getting your own manuscript sold and need a little inspiration in the way of sticking it out.

Today, I’d like to say thank you…

Thank you to Holly West and Lauren Scobell, who selected Kissing Max Holden from a wealth of truly excellent Swoon Reads submissions, and helped me shape it into the story it is today. And thank you to Kat Brzozowski, who’s offered such kindness and guidance and patience over the last year.

Thank you to Jean Feiwel, who took the genius idea of a crowd-sourced YA imprint and turned it into a reality, simultaneously making my dream of publication a reality.

Thank you to my ever diligent publicist, Kelsey Marrujo. Thank you to marketing superstar and early Kissing Max Holden champion Ashley Woodfolk. Thank you to Valerie Shea and Starr Baer for their copyediting prowess. Thank you to Emily Settle for all the things. Thank you to Rebecca Syracuse for the gorgeous, gorgeous cover. Thank you to everyone else at Swoon Reads, Fierce Reads, and Macmillan who had a hand in making my debut (and my debut experience!) so amazing.

Thank you to my agent, Victoria Marini, who is smart and honest and funny and real, and who’s stuck with me through it all.

Thank you to my little group of critiquers — Alison Miller, Temre Beltz, Riley Edgewood, and Elodie Nowodazkij — for their brilliant feedback, endless inspiration, and boundless enthusiasm. All writers should be so lucky to have friends like you.

Thank you to Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, Jaime Morrow, Christa Desir, and Erin Bowman for sharing their wisdom, humor, and priceless critiques on Kissing Max Holden at its various stages of storydom. This book is so much better because of you!

Thank you to the #SwoonSquad for being so welcoming and warm. Thank you to my fellow 2017 middle grade and young adult authors. Your support, pep talks, and commiseration have been invaluable. Thank you to the YA community for making me feel like one of you, even in the beginning. And thank you to Jessi Kirby, Miranda Kenneally, Jessica Love, Lisa Schroeder, and Erin Bowman for the beautiful blurbs.

Thank you to my parents, for indulging my lifelong love of reading, and for stressing the importance of education, and for making me feel loved at all times. Thank you to my brothers for providing plenty of fodder for my fictional familial relationships, and for accompanying me on the wild ride that was growing up. Thank you to my mother-in-law and father-in-law for their unwavering support, and thanks to the rest of my family for their constant excitement regarding my writing. You guys are the best!

An enormous, heart-shaped thank you to my husband, who shares Max’s best traits, who always knows how to cheer me up, and who happily orders pizza when I’m in the weeds. Thank you to my daughter, who has never stopped believing this would happen, and thank you to my littlest munchkin because even now, your love of books (and me!) shines bright.

And thank you — yes, you!

Thank you for asking about my writing, for sharing my shamelessly promotional tweets/posts/images, for asking me to come to your town for a signing, for passing out my bookmarks, for preordering Kissing Max Holden, for requesting it at your library, for talking about it with the readers in your life, for complimenting its cover, its summary, and its blurbs. Thank you, so much, for your tireless support.

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Because it’s release day, I’m going to drop a few links below — you know, should you want to order Kissing Max Holden for yourself or your favorite book lover. You should also be able to find it at most major brick-and-mortar book retailers, as well as many independent bookstores. If you can’t find it, just ask! Most stores are more than willing to order requested books. 🤗

  Order Kissing Max Holden from Amazon
Order Kissing Max Holden from Indie Bound
Order Kissing Max Holden from Barnes and Noble
Order Kissing Max Holden from BAM!
Order Kissing Max Holden from Target
Order Kissing Max Holden from Powell’s
Order a signed copy of Kissing Max Holden from One More Page Books

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Kissing Max Holden‘s launch party is this Saturday, August 5th, 7PM – 8PM at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. All are welcome, and I hope to see you there!

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And I’ll be on tour next week, so if you’re in Richmond VA, Charlotte NC, Asheville NC, Atlanta GA, or Greenville SC, please do come see me, my tour buddy, Christina June, and our lovely special guests!

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For information on other future appearances, visit my Out and About page.

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And… I think that’s it.

I’m officially an author now.

Dreams do come true. 💕

Go read DANGEROUS PLAY!

Guys, my longtime critique partner and friend, Alison Miller, uploaded her story, Dangerous Play, to Swoon Reads

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Here’s the official summary…

Best friends and soccer all-stars Jesse, Ashton, and JD are on opposite sides of a prank text that leaves Jesse girlfriend-less and spirals into a vicious social war. Their friendship teeters on a misunderstanding and secrets they’ve been downplaying—Jesse’s temptation to cheat for a classmate, JD’s sexual identity, and Ashton’s harbored feelings for Jesse’s girl—look to blow wide open. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

And my thoughts…

I love this book so much! Its concept is unique, its characters are complex and unforgettable, and its voice is spot-on YA — funny, insightful, and vibrant. Jesse, JD, and Ashton are such an awesome group of friends — it’s fascinating to witness their close bond, and heartbreaking to watch the unveiling of secrets that threaten to rip their friendship apart. I love Mags, too; she’s relatable and fresh and fun, and she brings out the best in each of the boys (though she’s also a catalyst for big upheavals). The prank war is equal parts hilarious and cringeworthy, and all of the different problems that arise for each character are so compelling. I’d buy this book in a heartbeat!

Read Dangerous Play now, free, on Swoon Reads!

(And don’t forget to rate and comment. One of the most amazing things about Swoon Reads is that YOU can help this extraordinary book get noticed by the Swoon Team, giving it a shot at possible publication!)

KISSING MAX HOLDEN has a cover!

Guys, Kissing Max Holden has a finalized cover, and I could not love it more!

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Let’s talk about the pretty, shall we?

The colors: I liked the grayscale of the winning cover direction, but I LOVE how this new image looks: sharp and crisp, with plenty of contrast. And then there’s the gradient pink of the title; pink is my favorite, and I’m so happy to see it featured on Kissing Max Holden‘s cover. It feels fresh and fun and romantic.

The cover models: I mean, I couldn’t have handpicked a more perfect Jilly and Max. She’s beautiful but approachable, and he’s got dark, wild hair and a jaw that won’t quit. Together? They’re adorable.

The composition: The way he’s coming over the fence for her? Yes. They way she’s touching his face? There’s a history there. The way he’s holding her wrist? Clearly, he wants her. The almost-kiss? Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Also, bonus: My name! At the top! My name — on a book!

Good news! Kissing Max Holden is available for preorder at Amazon! Also, you can mark it To Read on Goodreads.

Head over to Swoon Reads to learn more about the process of designing and executing Kissing Max Holden‘s cover — so much fun!

And the winning cover direction is…

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I’m so excited to share the winning cover direction for Kissing Max Holden!

This fence concept stood out to me from the very beginning. There’s something about its tones, its symbolism, and its couple—their position and their clear affection for one another other—that, for me, truly captures the feeling of Kissing Max Holden. I’m so glad it’s the cover direction that scored the most votes!

To read more about my thoughts on the cover direction selection process, head over to Swoon Reads to check out my most recent post.

Thanks so much to all who voted!  ❤