January Reading Wrap-Up

So many amazing reads in January…

40599855Stealing Home by Becky Wallace (July, 2019)
This YA romance encompasses everything I love about the genre — savvy heroine, dreamy love interest, snappy dialogue, butterfly-inducing chemistry — while feeling unexpected and fresh. I was rooting for Ryan and Sawyer (and the Buckley Beavers!) from the first pitch. If you’re into contemporary YA, or baseball, or characters you’ll wish you could befriend, check this delightful story out when it releases this summer. It’ll make a fantastic beach/pool/park read. ☀️

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
I’ve read a lot of true crime, and this is one of the best. It’s an armchair detective’s chronicle of her hunt for one of California’s most notorious serial rapists/murderers, and it is riveting. This book’s strongest attribute is that it never feels as though it’s taking advantage of the Golden State Killer’s victims, even while it reads like page-turning fiction. Its pace is quick, its “characters” are gripping, and it’s so full of atmosphere and tension, I had a hard time stepping away. I recommend it if you’re a true crime fan.

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Somehow I never read a Tahereh Mafi novel before this one? But now I’m all about burning through her catalogue, because A Very Large Expanse of Sea is beautiful. It’s about Shirin, a Muslim girl living in the US after 9/11. She faces horrifying micro-aggressions, as well as a lot of overt racism. In the midst of all this, though, she learns to breakdance, and she falls in love with the sweetest boy, Ocean. This book is important and topical and gorgeously written, but its romance was (of course) my favorite part. Shirin and Ocean are perfection. 💗

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The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh
Guys, this is the sex-positive, music-infused, friendship-focused, gloriously feminist debut you’ve been waiting for. It’s so wonderfully frank in its discussion of sexual health and consent, yet it never feels heavy handed. Main character Lacey and her group of friends (and her mom!) are all layered, supportive, engaging, and awesome. Another bonus — the central romance in this book surprised me in the best way. It’s clandestine and swoony, full of chemistry and sweetness. Big, big recommend!

15781725The House Girl by Tara Conklin
The House Girl did not disappoint. I found Lina (present day lawyer) and Josephine (1800s slave) fascinating in their own right, though had this book been written exclusively from Josephine’s POV, I think I would have liked it even more. Her plight as a “house girl”, runaway, and artist was so compelling. There are some subplots in this one that aren’t as interesting as Josephine’s story, but in the end, everything came together in a satisfying way. Additionally, the prose was descriptive and lovely. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you’ll likely enjoy The House Girl.

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

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November/December Reading Wrap-Up

Here’s what I read in November and December… 😘

36379949That Night by Amy Giles
I loved this story about two teens, Jess and Lucas, who’ve each lost a brother in a local mass shooting, and the different paths they take through their grief. I appreciate that the novel doesn’t sensationalize the shooting or the shooter; rather, it focused on the families that were impacted. It features a really lovely romance that reads as realistic and healthy, despite the baggage that Jess and Lucas both carry. Pick this one up if you’re into contemporary young adult romances — it’s truly wonderful.

12611073The Harbringer by Jonathan Cahn
Weird but fascinating, this one’s about the theory that the the events of 9/11 were predicted by the Bible. If you like conspiracy theories or religious rumination or history, you might enjoy The Harbringer. There are some sections that, in my opinion, feel a little long and a little dry, but there were definitely moments that made me wonder… maybe? I listened to the audiobook and found it well done.

34993791Match Me If You Can by Tiana Smith (January 9, 2019)
This debut is an adorable romantic comedy, fluffy and fun in all the right ways. I adored Mia and found her super relatable, and the chemistry between her and Logan was delightful. I love when two people who are clearly perfect together start the story acting as though they can’t stand each other–makes for such a great payoff at the end! Tiana Smith’s writing style is fresh and flowing, and she does humor so well. If you like cute contemporary YAs, pick up Match Me If You Can when it release January 9, 2019.

42156Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Something Borrowed is a cheating book, so if those make you mad, maybe skip it? I don’t so much mind reading about cheating and I thought Emily Giffin handled the sticky subject matter gracefully. While Darcy grated my nerves, I genuinely liked Rachel and Dex and many of the supporting characters. The writing was fantastic; I flew through the story. My one hang up was the conclusion. Without spoiling anything, I wanted a different ending for Rachel. Still, I’m looking forward to reading Something Blue.

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We Are the Ghosts by Vicky Skinner (August 13, 2019)
This is totally a Katy Book, and I can’t wait for the world to read it next summer — so, so good! It’s a road trip and a mystery and a romance and a sibling story, as well as a really complex exploration of grief and loss. I found the story’s protagonist, Ellie, to be incredibly relatable, and undeniably likable in her many imperfections. She feels so real. Also, Cade. <333 If you enjoyed Vicky’s debut, How to Breathe Underwater, I think you’ll love We Are the Ghosts. Copies are available for preorder now!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

July/August Reading Wrap-Up

I wanted to read more this summer, but time got away from me.
Still, six novels in two months… Not terrible, right? 

32470593Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally
1. Swim life. I was on my high school’s swim team so I’m easily annoyed by inaccuracies in what it’s like to be a competitive swimmer. Miranda Kenneally gets it right; it’s clear she did tons of research to portray the challenges and rewards of the sport.
2. Sex positive. I mean, this is a Miranda Kenneally book, so obviously. I’m always impressed by how her characters are frank about what they want and how they feel. And, the fact that these conversations and experiences are often awkward and fumbling make them even more authentic.
3. Best friends become sweethearts… maybe. Maggie and Levi are lifelong besties with swimming their common bond. They end up in something of a contractual relationship because Maggie doesn’t want to go away to college inexperienced in the way of intimacy. Emotions become heightened, of course, and all sorts of complications arise. I loved this book A LOT; I might go so far as to say it’s my favorite of Miranda’s Hundred Oaks series!

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To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin (August 21, 2018)
1. Family first. While I love romances most, stories about families and their complex dynamics are a close runner-up. Maggie Ann Martin paints such a realistic picture of Savannah’s prickly relationship with her mom (who’s recently lost a lot of weight and has become fixated on dieting and exercise), and her suddenly growing-pained relationship with her older sister, Ashley.
2. Body positive (this cover, though!). Savannah is fat and cool with it, and wow — how refreshing. As someone who’s struggled with body image over the years, I found myself constantly wanting to break into applause for Savannah because even while she struggles with insecurities in realistic and relatable ways, she truly loves herself.
3. Voice. To Be Honest tackles some serious topics (diet culture, fat-phobia, divorce, anxiety) but thanks to Maggie’s effervescent narrative voice, the story never feels bogged down or like it’s forcing A Message on readers. It’s sometimes funny, often moving, and always heartfelt.

29236380Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
1. Survival story. Perhaps not in the traditional sense — main character Charlie isn’t, like, stranded in the woods, but she’s certainly lost, and she’s definitely alone. She spends the better part of the story learning how to sustain herself in a new city, while battling a lot of personal demons.
2. Intense subject matter. I’m not sure this book is for everyone, but I loved it. It’s raw and gritty and troubling, tackling issues like self harm, substance abuse, and assault in a way that holds nothing back. It’s an unflinching story about a courageous girl.
3. Gorgeous prose. Kathleen Glasgow write about ugly experiences in a beautiful way. I found myself rereading so many of her phrases, in awe of the way she made me feel so much with a few carefully chosen words.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
1. Book love. This is a story about books and book lovers and the impact books can have on our lives. So, firmly in my wheelhouse.
2. Charming and complex characters. Even the most flawed people in A.J. Fikery (including A.J. himself) have moments of humanity that make them feel known. I felt this most notable with Daniel, who’s a self-indulgent, womanizing jerk and yet… I didn’t hate him.
3. Lovely setting. Alice Island comes to life within the pages of this novel, particularly its indie bookstore, Island Books. It sounds like the loveliest vacation destination.

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Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It by Kerry Winfrey
1. Authentically teen. This book, more than any other I’ve read lately, felt like high school. Maybe that’s because I related deeply to MC Jolie and her desire to avoid taking up space. Or, maybe author Kerry Winfrey’s just exceptionally talented when it comes to capturing the voice and spirit of teenagers. Either way, I can’t wait to read more of her work.
2. Cuuuuute romance. Without giving too much away, the turn this book took romance-wise was delightful. It turned out to be a really sweet take on one of my favorite tropes {highlight for spoiler: best friends become sweethearts}, and totally gave me all the first-love butterflies. In addition to the romance, Jolie’s relationships with her two best friends, Evelyn and Derek, are perfectly imperfect.
3. Sisters forever. Much like To Be Honest, Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It has a complex and interesting sister relationship. I loved how it developed over the course of the book, particularly as Abbi’s pregnancy progressed. Jolie’s entire family, in fact, is pretty fantastic.

34499240Love Scene, Take Two by Alex Evansley
1. Wish fulfillment — for me, anyway. 🙂 When I was eighteen, I would’ve traded a limb to be a NYT bestselling author with a movie deal and a cute lead actor who adores me — just like this debut’s MC, Bennett.
2. Complex (and super likable) characters. Bennett and her love interest Teddy are, of course, charming and winsome, but the story’s supporting characters are layered and well-drawn, too. Beautiful leading lady Olivia was my favorite; she wasn’t at all what I first assumed. Sometimes it’s really cool when a character turns out to be the opposite of what’s expected!
3. All the humor. I’m not usually drawn to rom-coms, but Love Scene, Take Two makes me want to read a whole lot more in this genre. While the story has its serious moments, it also made me LOL repeatedly. Alex Evansley has this (seemingly) effortless knack for writing both dialogue and inner monologues that are genuinely hilarious. Definitely snag this book if you’re needing a pick-me-up!

Tell me: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

June Reading Wrap-Up

So, June was an excellent reading month. I highly recommend all five of these, though you’ll have to wait on a couple. It’ll be worth it. 🙂 

23310763The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett
1. Quirky characters — in the best possible way. Bex and Jack are vibrant and fun and artistic and compassionate; they jump off the page as dynamic, realistically flawed teenagers. And the chemistry they share? Whoa. I love them!
2. Sex positive. Author Jenn Bennett has this natural and authentic way of dealing with sexuality; this book boasts one of the most candid, awkward, and wonderful conversations about sex by two fictional teens that I’ve ever read.
3. Mental illness. Without giving too much away, there’s a character in The Anatomical Shape of a Heart who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. I was moved by the way this character was portrayed — as a person, not an affliction– and with the utmost sensitivity and regard. Jenn Bennett is a new favorite author of mine, and this is a remarkable book.

36146624You’d Be Mine by Erin Han (April 2, 2019)
1. Country music! It’s no secret that I’m a huge country music fan, and the way my favorite genre was incorporated into this debut is glorious. While the novel is about two fictional singers, real life greats are sprinkled throughout, making the story feel rich and authentic.
2. All the angst. If you’re looking for an intense push-and-pull romance that’ll give you all the feels without reading as contrived or manipulative, watch for You’d Be Mine next spring. Annie and Clay have to slay a million demons to be together, and I rooted for them so hard.
3. Atmosphere. Erin Hahn has a gift for dropping the reader right into a scene — whether it be a family moment at Annie’s grandparents’ farm, Clay’s quiet show in a local dive bar, or an extravagant performance in a packed arena under the heat of the setting sun. I finished this novel wanting to live in its pages.

36199084The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
1. Hot, hot, hot. Friends,  this is not YA. There’s a lot of steaminess — like, a lot, and it’s explicitly described — but the intimate scenes MCs Stella and Michael share aren’t gratuitous; they drive the plot. Plus, they’re beautifully written and packed with emotion and, wow, I really love this book.
2. Neurodiversity. Stella is on the spectrum, and she believes she’s bad at relationships as a result. Her challenges with connections and social situations are a big part of the story, but they’re not the biggest part of Stella. She’s incredibly smart, thoughtful, generous, and funny. One of the most deftly drawn protagonists I’ve read in a long time.
3. A+ love interest. Michael has the sort of complicated backstory that gives him that damaged romantic hero vibe, but he also has a warm family and a sweetly protective nature, and he’s altruistic to a fault. He’s seriously the best.

28587957Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
1. Timely and important. I had misgivings going into Small Great Things; I didn’t want to read a white woman’s take on what it’s like to be a black woman, nor did I want to be preached to. Fortunately, I found this novel to be a thoughtful, nuanced look at what it means to be an ally; it’s a necessary and powerful read considering current events.
2. Unflinching. Honestly, I had a hard time reading white supremacist Turk’s point-of-view chapters. His language and ideologies literally made me cringe, but at the same time, his character arc captivated me. What does it take to produce a person like him? Is someone with such deeply engrained racism capable of change? Of redemption?
3. Unputdownable. This one’s definitely a page-turner, and there are some twists that shocked me. Additionally, the character development is masterful, as has been the case with all of the Jodi Picoult books I’ve read.

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No Place Like Here by Christina June (May 21, 2019)
1. Steep character arc. In the opening of this novel, MC Ashlyn reminded me of myself as a teenager: quiet, resigned, and stuck in my head. As the story progresses, though, she becomes a strong, take-charge girl who makes big decisions and takes risks. Teen readers will be able to relate to her, and I think they’ll love cheering her on.
2. Unique setting. Ashlyn’s summer job at a retreat center is really cool — it’s like camp, but for adults. There’s swimming and a dining hall and a ropes course, which leads to the cutest, most awkward zip-line rescue you ever did read.
3. Friendship focused. I like my YA romance centered, but I found No Place Like Here refreshing in its emphasis on friendship. I loved watching Ash’s relationship with her cousin, Hannah, blossom, and it was fun to see her get to know Baxter, master of the ropes course, in a deep but platonic way. My almost-eleven-year-old is a Christina June fan, and she’s already asking for this book.

What’s the best book you read in June?

April Reading Wrap-Up

Four books in April. Aiming for five in May. 🙂

25062038Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
1. Diversity. As far as representation goes, I hope Little & Lion becomes the rule. Its characters are authentic and intersectional and exceptional, written with nuance and sensitivity. This book is a must-read for contemporary YA fans.
2. Suzette! She has moments of relatable doubt about who she is and who she wants to be, but mostly she’s strong and steadfast and awesome.
3. Focus on family. Suzette and Lionel have the best parents. They’re supportive and loving and appreciative of their kids’ unique qualities, but somehow, they never feel too perfect to be believable. Also, I adored Suzette and Lionel’s relationship. They’re not biologically related (they’re not even legally step-siblings) but there’s so much love and loyalty between them. I was constantly moved by the scenes they shared.

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Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
1. A+ protagonist. Janna, at fifteen, is a little younger than most of the YA protagonists I read, but she’s complex: smart and considerate and philanthropic. It was delightful to watch her grow and change over the course of her story.
2. Everyday portrayal. I read a few reviews of this debut that used the term “slice of life” and that’s exactly what I think it is — a first person glimpse into the joys and challenges and frustrations of being a teenage Muslim American photographer. The stakes aren’t sky-high, but the story is super engaging.
3. Friendships. Janna has unique and interesting relationships with all the various people in her life, but my favorite was her friendship with kind Mr. Ram.

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Meant To Be Broken by Brandy Woods Snow (July, 2018 – Cover to come!)
1. Sloooooow burn. There’s a love triangle in this romantic debut, and it’s really well done. Rayne’s dating golden boy Preston, who’s a genuinely good guy, but there’s so much heat between her and Preston’s brother, Gage. You’ll have to read to see how it all plays out, but I will say: #TeamGage.
2. Mystery. There’s a small town scandal brewing beneath all the romance, and I love the way characters who feel initially peripheral later come into play in major ways. I was totally surprised by this story’s twists and revelations.
3. Unputdownable. I stayed up way too late flipping pages, and was completely invested in Rayne, Gage, and Preston. Meant To Be Broken is full of authentic southern voice and tells a complete story in an intensely emotional way. Definitely a Katy Book!

23197837The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
1. Prose as beautiful as its cover. Dhonielle Clayton knows how to spin a lovely sentence, and she writes descriptions so sharp and rich and colorful, you can’t help but plant yourself in the fantastical world of Orléans.
2. Holy world building! It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel with such a thoughtfully and intentionally created universe — one that doesn’t just complement the story’s plot, but is instrumental to it. (Teacup animals?!)
3. Complex themes. I went into The Belles expecting beauty and pageantry and intrigue, and I got all of that, but beneath the splendor, Dhonielle Clayton works to unpack the dangerousness of a society’s fixation on beauty, as well as the hazards toxic femininity. This one’s a frothy page-turner, but it’ll also make you think.

What’s the best book you read in April?

March Reading Wrap-Up

I only read four books in March because Life, but they were fantastic.
Highly recommend adding each of these to your To-Read list…

33830437Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
1. Super emotional. I never cry while reading, but this National Book Award winner nearly got me. It gave me so many feelings — highs and lows and everything in between — but it never felt overwrought. Robin Benway is a genius when it comes to poignancy.
2. Sibling relationships. Far From the Tree explores adoption and foster care, giving readers a peek at several sibling dynamics (adopted, foster, biological), which are written so beautifully and with such authenticity. I’m very critical when it comes to books that depict foster care, but I thought this one’s portrayal read as incredibly realistic.
3. Gorgeous writing. We get three 3rd-person points of view in Far From the Tree and while they’re distinct, they’re equally funny and affecting and evocative.

31706530Grit by Gillian French
1. Unique. I feel like Grit might be a divisive novel among YA readers; it’s quite different from most of the books available in the category. That said, I loved it. It’s a slow burn mystery set alongside a raw (and really sad) coming of age story, and just as its title conveys, it is gritty.
2. All the atmosphere. Gillian French has a gift for setting scenes with very specific, vivid details. The summery rural Maine existence MC Darcy experiences is almost palpable.
3. Girl bonds. Darcy’s closest friends are her older sister, Mags, and her beautiful cousin, Nell, and I thought the depiction of the girls’ complex trio was very well done. They bicker, but they’re also fiercely loyal to one another. Darcy’s relationship with her mom is also notable; it was interesting to see how they related to one another in light of their similar personalities and flaws.

27833670Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
1. Thought provoking. Honestly, Dark Matter made my brain hurt. It asks a lot of deep philosophical questions that I still don’t have firm answers for. It made me think in circles, which was fitting, considering MC Jason’s character arch.
2. Twists and turns. I listened to the audio version of this book club selection, and I was grumpy every time I had to turn it off — the plot is gripping, and full of surprises. I don’t want to say too much because I think this one’s more enjoyable when experienced without background knowledge or expectations.
3. Mash-up. To me, Dark Matter read as a little bit contemporary, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit dystopian, and a lot thriller. I think that’s what made it so compelling; a lot of the time, I wasn’t even sure what was going on, but I was definitely committed to finding out.

29736467The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
1. Total Katy Book! My favorite sort of fiction is melancholy, and intense, and romantic, and The Beauty That Remains is all of those things. It’s a book about grief, but more than that, it’s a book about love in its many forms.
2. Lovely prose. Ashley Woodfolk has a way of writing about sadness that’s visceral without feeling melodramatic. I felt Logan, Shay, and Autumn’s sorrow deeply, and I never stopped rooting for them to come out on the other side.
3. Amazing supporting characters. Not one of the characters in this debut falls flat. Even the most peripheral personalities jump off the page, making The Beauty That Remains feel like a complete, expertly drawn world.

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

February Reading Wrap-Up

Four excellent romance-y novels in February…

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Roomies by Christina Lauren
1. Manhattan. I love to read books set in NYC, and Roomies paints such a vivid picture of what it’s like to live and love in the city. Additionally, there’s special attention paid to working in arts and entertainment; protagonist Holland and her uncle are in the theater industry, and Calvin’s a struggling classically trained guitarist, all of which influence the plot, and bring the story to life.
2. The Fake Relationship. I’m such a sucker for this trope! Due to a series of unfortunate (or fortunate?) events, Holland finds herself married to Calvin, the Irish musician she’s been lusting after from afar. Of course, it’s not long before real sparks begin to fly, but the stakes are high, and complications are aplenty.
3. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Holland and Calvin are both just so likable — it’s easy to understand why they fall hard and fast. But their romance has depth, too, which had me rooting for them even from the story’s earliest pages.

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The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (May, 2018)
1. The Unlikeable Female Protagonist. Or, my favorite sort of protagonist. The thing with MC Clara, though, is that while she’s brash and self-centered, she’s also funny and extremely vulnerable. I love her! (And look at her on that gorgeous cover — so perfect.)
2. A+ friendships. Clara and Rose are opposites and, thanks to preconceived notions, begin the story hating each other. Their flaws and their character arcs make the friendship that slowly develops between them feel so authentic. And Hamlet, Clara’s sign flipping love interest, is pretty great, too.
3. A summer story. This one’s set in Los Angeles and is full of sunshine, Southern California references, and delectable descriptions of the Korean/Brazilian cuisine Clara and Rose serve at Clara’s dad’s food truck, the KoBra. I look forward to rereading this adorable contemp poolside in a few months!

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
1. All the humor. Guys, Misa Sugiura does comedy right. Her protagonist, Sana, is full of wit, and she makes these observations about her family and friends and the world at large that are infinitely amusing, yet contemplative and never mean-spirited. This story made me LOL more than once.
2. Japanese culture. I haven’t read many books with characters who have (or whose parents have) roots in Japan; it was so interesting to see the differences in family, expectations, and perspectives. It was fascinating, too, to watch Sana struggle with, but eventually come to embrace, her place in the world.
3. Diversity. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret is a new favorite as far as its portrayal of the the complexities of friendship in high school. After moving to California, Sana finds herself the new kid, and she’s slotted into several different groups (the “Asian kids”, the cross-country runners, her crush, Jamie’s, Latinx friends, Caleb’s emo friends) and must navigate discrimination and stereotypes within those groups, as well as when the groups intersect. I think Misa Sugiura handles the topics of prejudice and racism with thoughtfulness and grace.

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
1. Italian setting — need I say more? I loved this book’s atmosphere; the descriptions of architecture, food, and art made me want to hop a plane to Florence for a big scoop of gelato.
2. Feel-good. I usually like my contemps with a little more edge, but Love & Gelato was the perfect mix of sweet and substance, with a bygone mystery that was a delight to unravel. This book left me just… happy.
3. A protagonist to root for. Lina’s experienced a recent tragedy in the loss of her mother, but she doesn’t spend the story drowning in grief. She’s a courageous go-getter with a sense of adventure, and I loved watching her make new friends, forge a relationship with Howard (who’s awesome in his own right), and explore Tuscany.

What’s the best book you read in February?