Category Archives: Swoon Reads

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!  ❤

Cover voting is live!

One of my favorite things about the Swoon Reads experience is the amount of involvement members of the site get to have. From rating and commenting on submitted stories to voting on cover directions for selected manuscripts, Swoon Readers get a big say in many aspects of the books published by Swoon Reads.

Now’s one of those times when Swoon Reads needs your help — let’s select the cover direction for my debut, Kissing Max Holden!

Guys, I can’t tell you how long I’ve anticipated seeing my name on an actual book cover, and now it’s on FOUR. Four lovely covers that all capture different aspects of Jill and Max’s story in really beautiful ways…

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Above, you’ll find a piece of each of the four options. Remember — these are cover directions, not necessarily final products. The winner will likely undergo adjustments and fine-tunings, but it’ll be the cover you help select!

Head over to the Swoon Blog to see the full cover concept images and vote for your very favorite(s). Can’t wait to see which you choose…

The winner will be announced soon!

July Reading Wrap-Up

July reviews are short and sweet, friends. In case you missed it, I’ve got an adorable foster kiddo in my care, plus I’m drafting a new novel and working on edits for two others. Frankly, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do any reading at all, but I did, and I’m eager to chat about these fantastic books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston – This novel about a girl who is raped at cheer camp is smart and nuanced and, in a way, refreshing. 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, too, and that comes in large part from her caring parents and supportive friends. Of course Hermione struggles through the aftermath of her attack, but she never lets what happened at camp bury her, and I love that. I also 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, big recommend.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley – Long story short: Cancer was killing teen Travis’s body, so he had his head removed and frozen until doctors could attach it to a healthy donor body, allowing Travis to live on, only five years in the future. Of course everything’s changed and Travis is having a hard time letting go of the life he knew, particularly his then-girlfriend Cate, who’s now an engaged adult. While the premise of this novel is bizarre, it allows for some interesting dialogue regarding who we are and who we can choose to be, as well as the ethical and moral quandaries that might stem from a procedure like the one Travis receives. More than that, though, this novel is deeply entertaining and a lot of fun. Travis’s voice rocks, and his friendships are awesome. Loved it!

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf – The setting of South of Sunshine made it for me. Main character Kaycee and her friends live in Sunshine, TN, and Dana Elmendorf does an amazing job portraying not only the rich landscape and small-town energy, but the mostly close-minded population, too. I enjoyed Kaycee and love interest Bren, but it’s Van who I adored most. He supports Kaycee, while at the same time challenging her and giving her room to grow. I also love how Dana Elmendorf conveys emotion. Kaycee’s kind of all over the place — grappling with her conservative upbringing and oft judgmental classmates while learning to accept her sexuality and herself, as well as navigate her new relationship with Bren. Pick this one up if you’re into contemporary YA romance, particularly LGBT romance.

Escaping Perfect by Emma Harrison – While I liked this contemporary YA’s setting and supporting characters, I had a hard time relating to MC Cecelia/Lia. The situation she finds herself in is serious (she’s run away from her high-profile family to hide out in a small Tennessee town), and while she does find a job and try to make a life for herself, she’s mostly just focused on wooing a guy who I didn’t find charming. Like, at all. I didn’t love this book’s ending, either. It’s going to have a sequel so I suspect we’ll get some closure eventually, but the major cliffhanger didn’t feel like enough of a payoff for me. Still, check it out if you like small town dynamics and contemps with a heavy focus on romance.

No Love Allowed by Kate Evangelista – The perfect poolside read! This YA romance’s plot and mood reminded me of Gossip Girl which, hello — yes please! Despite their dramatic circumstances, Caleb, a rich boy who needs a fake girlfriend, and Didi, a girl with mental health challenges who needs cash, feel very real. So does their chemistry; Kate Evangelista writes some steamy kisses, and some fantastic banter, too. She handles Didi’s health issues in a way that reads as authentic, giving her traits and interests that go beyond the “girl with mental illness” we sometimes see in fiction. And Caleb, who could’ve very easily come off as a privileged and entitled jerk, was really quite adorable. So looking forward to seeing what Kate Evangelista writes next!

What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass – I loved this story so much. Author Alexis Bass writes some of the most realistic high school experiences in YA, and I think her books deserve far more hype than they appear to get — they’re so good. MC Amanda, while closed off and full of grief, is incredibly relatable. Her big brother, Jonathan, has just finished a year-long prison sentence after killing his friend and seriously injuring his girlfriend while driving drunk. Jonathan is very complex, as is his relationship with Amanda. Every time they shared the page, I could feel myself literally tensing up. Amanda’s (non?) relationship with one-time flame Henry is equally complicated. This whole book, guys… The character arcs are so steep and the writing is so affecting. My heart hurt through the better part of it, but at the same time, there’s a thread of hopefulness running through its pages. Definitely give What’s Broken Between Us a read, and check out Alexis Bass’s debut, Love and Other Theories, too!

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

May Reading Wrap-Up

Seven books read in May. Thirty-two books read in 2016.
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

How to Say I love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo – I was charmed by this story of family and first love and fitting in. Main character Jordyn is so complex. Her home life is tricky because her younger brother, Phillip, falls at the severe end of the Autism spectrum, and her parents spend most of their time and energy accommodating him. Jordyn often feels left out and overlooked, and as a result, she’s not Phillip’s biggest fan. At times, Jordyn’s hard to like, but that’s because she’s real. She’s not always kind to her brother, and she experiences moments of selfishness and resentment, but don’t worry — her arc is steep. I love that Jordyn has to learn how to say eff it, and I love that she discovers ways to appreciate her brother for who he is, and I especially love the way her romance with adorable and altruistic Alex pans out. Karole Cozzo’s prose is simultaneously concise and emotive, and she writes amazing kissing scenes. I recommend How to Say I Love You Out Loud for fans of family-focused and romantic contemporary YA.

The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin – Another contemporary YA with a main character who’s so authentic and so flawed, she often comes across as prickly. Throughout the course of this story, Harper makes some big mistakes, and I found myself cringing more than once. Author Emily Martin’s done an interesting thing here, gender swapping the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope. Harper drinks and hooks up and acts out when she’s feeling overwhelmed, while her first love and current ex, Declan (who I’m smitten with), is careful and considerate and responsible — until he’s not. I think this is a unique take on contemporary YA romance, and the flip definitely kept me engaged. My favorite thing about The Year We Fell Apart (aside from its incredible romantic tension) is Harper and Declan’s friend group, Cory in particular. He’s so constant and loyal — exactly the sort of buddy Harper needs to temper the upheaval in her life. I love, too, that climactic scene in the parking lot. My heart was literally pounding. Read this one if you’re into romances full of conflict and angst.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdeih – A reread, this time I listened to the (outstanding) audiobook. The glowing review I wrote last summer is HERE.

The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh – A satisfying end to an incredible duology. As much as I wanted to rush through this book so I could learn the fates of Shazi and Khalid and Tariq and Despina and all of the other characters I’ve come to love, I made myself savor each page because Renee Ahdieh pens some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Her descriptions are lush, and she has this way of relating her characters’ emotions that’s just so powerful. I’m a fan of this concluding book for a lot of reasons, most of which have to do with Shahrzad and how utterly badass she is. She never falters in her convictions, though she’s not opposed to experimenting with new tactics and accepting help from an eccentric bunch of secondary characters. While I loved every moment she spent with Khalid (that first scene they shared… <3), I was particularly fascinated by her evolving relationships with Tariq and her younger sister, Irsa (who’s a badass in her own quiet way). The Rose & the Dagger is full of fantasy (magic carpets, fire manipulators, magic spells, flying serpents) and some stunning twists, but it never gets lost in sensationalism. Its characters are layered and authentic, its relationships are real and often imperfect, and it’s grounded in feminism — a most excellent spin on The Arabian Nights: Tales From 1,001 Nights.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – Honest moment: If this book hadn’t been written by Judy Blume, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s historical fiction set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town where three planes crashed in the space of 58 days in late 1951 and early 1952 (that actually happened). Not subject matter that would normally pique my interest, but I’m so glad I gave this book a read — I thought it was wonderful. Its cast is huge, but a great deal of the story is told through fifteen-year-old Miri’s eyes, and she’s awesome — a lot like the winsome girls of Judy Blume’s earlier MG and YA novels. Miri comes of age during the winter of the plane crashes, partly because of the crashes, and partly because she’s dealing with all sorts of normal teenage issues: family strife, first love, and failing friendship. She responds to it all with such genuine sentiment; she feels absolutely real. I love how the fates of the fictional citizens of Elizabeth are woven together, and how each of their paths alters in the wake of the plane crashes. I also love how the early 1950s come to life within the pages of this novel. It’s all about the human experience, and it’s full of heart. I loved it.

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (January, 2017) – I went into this book expecting a fun spy story, but by the novel’s end I was tense and torn and totally heartbroken. Seventeen-year-old MC Reagan’s parents are Black Angels — super secret spies who go out on dangerous missions and change their identities at a moment’s notice. That means Reagan, too, has to pick up and move, often in the middle of the night, leaving her fledging friendships — not to mention a piece of herself– behind. Thanks to a childhood spent training in martial arts and weaponry and foreign languages, Reagan’s expected to become a Black Angel herself, but she’s questioning her presumed future thanks to her most recent group of friends — cute JROTC cadet Luke, in particular. But when Reagan gets tangled up in one of her parents’ missions and is forced to put her training to use, her life changes irrevocably. Author Kristen Orlando does such an amazing job capturing the many facets of Reagan’s life, including the sweet romance she and Luke are developing, the anxiety she experiences thanks to her intense lifestyle, her complicated relationship with her parents, and the tragic rescue-mission-gone-wrong in Columbia. Definitely pick You Don’t Know My Name up of you’re into unflinching novels that’ll set your heart racing.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar – THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! I mean, it’s written by an Aussie author so its quality comes as no surprise, but even so, Summer Skin far exceeded my sky-high expectations. It’s a college-set story about friendship and love, about learning and growing and changing for the better — even when that’s really, really hard. Jess is such an extraordinary MC. She’s driven and super smart, she’s all sorts of fun, and she takes zero shit. She’s comfortable in her skin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not sometimes awkward and uncertain, She makes mistakes just like the rest of us did in college, which is a big part of why she’s so relatable and endearing. Summer Skin is a sexy book in all the obvious ways, but it’s the chemistry between Jess and trying-to-reform womanizer Mitch that makes this story sizzle. Between the angst and the humor and the swoon, I found Summer Skin to be unputdownable. Just a note, it’s not available in the US, so if you’re interested in reading (and you should totally be interested in reading) find it at The Book Depository.

So… What’s the best book you read in May?

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

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

Reading

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

Watching

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

Listening To

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

Thinking About

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

Anticipating

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

Wishing

You’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”. Also! Last week I interviewed 2016 debut author Lucy Keating about her recently released YA speculative fiction/romance, Dreamology for The Swanky Seventeens. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. 😘

Making Me Happy

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

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit!