Category Archives: What I'm Reading

June Reading Wrap-Up

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

12982393
Dare Me by Megan Abbott – I picked this one up after it was discussed on Christa Desir & Carrie Mesrobian’s most excellent The Oral History Podcast. While this story’s about a group of high school cheerleaders, it’s definitely an adult novel, and it’s fantastic — a twisty, disturbing spin on competition and how far girls will go to get to the top (of the pyramid, literally), as well as a mystery and a study in decomposing friendships. Megan Abbott’s writing is seriously beautiful, but also like a sharp kick to the gut: Sometimes you stand under the hot gush for so long, looking at your body, counting every bruise. Touching every tender place. Watching the swirl at your feet, the glitter spinning. Like a mermaid shedding her scales. You‚Äôre really just trying to get your heart to slow down. You think, this is my body, and I can make it do things. I can make it spin, flip, fly. Big recommend if you’re looking for a book that will have you compulsively turning pages, and questioning everything you think you know about cheerleaders.

31145064
Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 18, 2017) – This forthcoming debut was everything I was hoping for in a summer read: voice-y, witty, and swoony, but with depth I always appreciate. Quinn’s summer is becoming quite a mess: her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, her father has gambling addiction that’s costing him a lot more than money, she’s lost her shot at a band trip to England, and her friend-turned-nemisis, Wesley James, is back in Seattle after years spent in Portland. Quinn makes it her mission to punish Wesley for a mistake he made years before, but along the way, she starts to realize that maybe she doesn’t hate him quite as much as she’d like. Quinn and Welsey have fantastic banter and flirty chemistry, but their relationship is deeper than that, too, and I loved watching it rekindle, and then develop into more. I also loved this story’s setting: Seattle and, more specifically, Quinn and Wesley’s workplace, Tudor Tymes, which is full of charm and ridiculousness. Pick this one up in a few weeks if you’re looking for a fun, smart, romantic poolside read.

6373717
Hold Still by Nina LaCour – I’m a Nina LaCour super fan, but somehow I’d neglected to read her debut before now, despite the fact that it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years (I bought it at Borders!). Hold Still is a beautiful book about loss and revival; if you read and enjoyed Nina LaCour’s latest, We Are Okay, I suspect you’ll adore this one as well. Caitlin’s struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her best friend, Ingrid, by attempting to reclaim their joint hobby of photography, gradually letting in a few new friends, and building a treehouse. Caitlin’s recovery is slow, particularly as she learns more about the depth of Ingrid’s depression through her journal entries, making for a largely sorrowful story. And yet, it’s a hopeful story, as well — one that shows the importance of family, and friendship, and the acceptance of our personal limitations when it comes to the mental health of those we love. Nina LaCour’s prose is just lovely — spare yet lyrical, and at all times affecting. Read Hold Still if you gravitate toward novels that are literary and moving, with a focus on friendship, and a hint of romance.

28585414
Speak of Me as I Am by Sonia Belasco – One of my favorite debuts of the year, and another novel that deals with suicide and grief and recovery. Speak of Me as I Am¬†is told from the points of view of Damon, whose best friend, Carlos, recently took his life, and Melanie, whose mother recently died of cancer. Both protagonists are wading through unimaginable sadness when they meet, and while they don’t miraculously fix each other, they do begin to heal through conversation about shared emotions and experiences. It’s really beautiful to witness, and set against a school production of Othello (Damon is the lead, and Melanie works on set design) the characters’ arcs feel particularly profound. Two other things I loved about Speak of Me as I Am: It’s set in D.C., a city I’m really growing to enjoy, and its secondary characters are as well developed and complex as its protagonists. Tristan and Carlos, especially, leap of the page. Speak of Me as I Am is gorgeously written and poignant, and I highly recommend it to all readers.

27161156
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – Not my usual fare, but this one’s a book club pick, and I’m glad I gave it a read. Hillbilly Elegy is a sociological study, definitely, but more often than not, it reads like a memoir. J.D. Vance’s family is historically white, working class (on the low end of working class, really), and descended from the Appalachian region. While detailing his family’s origins and his own upbringing in the Rust Belt, he muses on how and why “hillbillies lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.” An affecting and insightful read, especially considering the current social and political landscapes.


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

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

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

May Reading Wrap-Up

May has been a super varied month of reading,
and I’ve got lots of good stuff to recommend…

18581771
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.

22296822
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.

31145157
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.

29541797
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!

30312860
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. ‚̧ԳŹ 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!

28815474
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.

29523625
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. ūüėė

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

April Reading Wrap-Up

Two selections from my book club, and four remarkable YA novels.
Your TBR list is about to grow!

19161864Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer – This is a hard book to review. Had my local book club not selected it for March, I never would have picked it up. That said, I did enjoy¬†it, though it was hardly¬†the “global thriller” its¬†synopsis promised. Yes, there’s some spying, some advanced technology, some wild¬†political occurrences, and a mysterious uprising, but that all comes second to what is essentially a character study. Leo, Mark, and Leila are all fascinating leads, charming and flawed in their own distinct ways, but — whoa — this is a long book with a lot of backstory, a lot of character development, a lot secret plotting, and… not much else. Plus, that ending. ūü§Ē Have you read WTF? If so, let¬†me know what you thought in the comments — I’m curious!

28243032
We Are Okay by Nina Lacour – The Disenchantments is one of my favorite YAs (a road trip story about a girl band — yes, please!) so I had high expectations for this college-set story. The two books are quite¬†different, though they’re similar in their¬†subtleness and their sensitivity. We Are Okay¬†takes place over a few days, on an isolated and snowy New York¬†campus, though it flashes back to the previous year in California often enough, chronicling the friendship-romance-demise of Marin and Mabel, two girls who share a tangible bond. I loved every moment I spent with these characters, though my very favorite thing about this story¬†is the way it reflects life’s¬†bittersweetness — how¬†happiness can follow even the most tragic moments. Pick up¬†We Are Okay¬†if you enjoy enchanting prose¬†and quiet but emotional books.

290083791You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow (August 29, 2017) – I’m not even a little bit surprised by how much I enjoyed¬†this contemporary YA; its author is lovely¬†and wonderfully sharp, much¬†like her¬†debut. I really can’t pinpoint why, but it reminded me of my all-time favorite Judy Blume book, Just As Long As We’re Together¬†(though¬†You Don’t Know Me But I Know You¬†is firmly YA). It’s the story of Audrey, a girl who finds herself accidentally pregnant — even though she and her boyfriend, Julian, have been careful — and is forced to make some¬†seemingly impossible choices. It’s also about¬†stretching friendships, unique families, and love of all sorts. Audrey’s voice is stellar¬†— totally authentic, at times funny, and always forthright. I appreciated¬†this novel’s exploration of circumstance versus choice, and I think its message¬†is both courageous and important. Watch for it this August!

25893582
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – Well, this was adorable. If I can be frank for a moment, though — at first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this contemporary YA. Its beginning is full of California stereotypes, and main character Jessie is pretty resentful about her circumstances. Her widower father’s just remarried, forcing a move from Chicago to L.A., completely uprooting his daughter. Luckily, Jessie grew on me super quick (come to find out, her personality is really similar to Teen Katy’s) and those stereotypes? Thoughtfully dismantled. Tell Me Three Things boasts a delightful secret romance, which definitely kept me engaged, and Jessie’s sense of humor is spot-on. I LOLed more than once. Give this one a read if you like your contemps fresh, fun, sex-positive, and full of voice.

32713479Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson (May 16, 2017) – This YA debut is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and it’s wonderful. I’m a big fan of the “best friends turned sweethearts” trope, and author Kate Watson pulls it off¬†fantastically. Finley and Oliver so obviously belong together (their chemistry is equal parts sweet and swoony), yet the obstacles keeping them apart are real and¬†compelling. Seeking Mansfield isn’t all romance; there are some really interesting family dynamics at play, and when movie stars Emma and Harlan roll into town, there’s plenty of friendship angst, too. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this novel is the affinity that develops between Finley and Emma. If you’re an Austen enthusiast, a theater lover,¬†or a contemporary YA fan, grab a copy of Seeking Mansfield¬†in just a few weeks!

13581132
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – Another book club pick, and oh-my-gosh, I adored this novel. It was a difficult read, as it’s about foster care and motherhood¬†and loss and chosen family; perhaps that’s why it made me feel ALL the things. The Language of Flowers follows two significant times in main character Victoria’s life: her tenth¬†year, the one she spends with Elizabeth, the foster mother teaches her how to communicate with flowers, and her time as a young adult, emancipated, homeless, and alone. While all of this story’s characters are layered and complex, Victoria is deeply flawed, unable to bond, to love, to tolerate¬†being touched, and yet… I never stopped rooting for her. Her¬†story gave me literal chills more than once and, upon finishing, I immediately wanted to begin again at page one. Big recommend if you like literary novels that’ll make your heart hurt, but will also make you better for the experience.

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

March Reading Wrap-Up

I read so many great books this month, including a few extraordinary 2017 debuts. You can pick up Allegedly and The Hate U Give at your local bookseller now; make sure to add Gray Wolf Island and Kat Greene Comes Clean to your To-Read list!

28763485
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This story tackles weighty¬†issues like immigration, racism, familial expectations, and fate vs. free will, but it’s also a romance between two meant-to-be teens. Main characters Natasha and Daniel leap off the page, their¬†spark burning bright and hot. I love stories with unusual timelines and this one takes place in a day, but never fear — Natasha¬†and Daniel¬†aren’t¬†in instalove. What they experience is¬†an intense connection that builds minute by minute. Also! This novel features a scene that takes place at noraebang, which is the BEST. I¬†love, too, the way¬†The Sun Is Also a Star shows how¬†the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential interactions can have lasting impact on the lives we touch. Recommend!

33591686
One Summer With Autumn by Julie Reece – Sometimes I just really enjoy reading¬†angsty, impassioned romances full of flawed but lovable characters who do dumb things in the name of love — or, dumb things in the name of avoiding love. (I enjoy writing these sorts of romances, too. ūüôÉ)¬†One Summer With Autumn¬†gave me exactly what I’d hoped for, including steamy chemistry between plucky Autumn and complicated¬†Caden, its romantic leads, plus¬†compelling family and friendship dynamics. Check it out if you’re into more mature YA, especially stories set in that¬†strange in-between time that is¬†the summer after high school and before college.

29906023
Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott (October 10, 2017) – This book¬†is so mind-blowingly good it gave me chills, even on my second read. Author Tracey Neithercott’s prose is gorgeously lyrical, her plot (a treasure hunt involving an atmospheric island and a host of tragic secrets) is full of surprises, and her cast will burrow into your heart — particularly sad-but-strong Ruby, and enigmatic, sensitive Elliot. Gray Wolf Island is like a darker, swoonier version of The Goonies, and is absolutely one of my newest favorites. You’ll love it, too, if you enjoy books with unique¬†settings, evocative writing, and authentic friendships, as seen in books by Maggie Stiefvater and Nova Ren Sum and Laura Ruby.

27268328
Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske (August 22, 2017) – This middle grade novel is so cute. Kat’s grappling with her mom’s mental illness, changing friendships, and her rather underwhelming role in her school’s production of Harriet the Spy, yet she’s still utterly delightful. This debut’s got the same timeless feel as Judy Blume’s middle grade books, and it relays its themes in a similarly clever¬†and entertaining way. Along with its winsome voice, I most loved the way author Melissa Roske empowers Kat and, as a result, her tween readers. Can’t wait to pick up a copy of this book¬†for my daughter (and me!).

32075671
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I enjoyed everything about this #BlackLivesMatter-inspired novel, but especially main character Starr. She makes such thoughtful, poignant observations over the course of the story, while¬†her occasional naivety makes her easy to relate to. Her family, too, is layered — equal parts charming and flawed, making them feel real and vibrant. They lend Starr much needed support as she struggles¬†to come to terms with being the only witness present the night¬†her longtime friend, Khalid, is murdered by a police officer. While fictional, The Hate U Give¬†offers an important perspective on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I found it a timely, must-read novel¬†that has earned¬†the accolades it’s received.

29640815
Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – Allegedly is the story of Mary, a pregnant teen who’s¬†living in a group home after years spent in “baby jail” thanks to a murder conviction¬†at age nine. This book is gritty and unflinching, and I loved it. I had the pleasure of hearing author Tiffany Jackson talk about researching and writing Allegedly at recent book festival, and knowing now¬†that much¬†of this debut¬†is based on the accounts of real-life girls caught up in a system that’s constantly failing them made this read all the more riveting. Big recommend, especially if you favor books that’ll leave you feeling shredded, and changed.

29102879
Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage – This novel¬†is as strange and beautiful¬†as its cover. I’m going to go out on a limb and say¬†it’s perhaps not for everyone, but whoa. I found it fascinating. It’s the story of Ben, a sixteen year old boy who’s tracking down notes left for him by his now-dead ex-girlfriend, Mira, who fell (jumped?) into the local quarry with her sister. Beautiful Broken Girls¬†has strong religious themes, and it’s set in a small, close-knit community where most people are not who¬†they seem on the surface; I loved the mysterious, almost creepy vibe, as well as the novel’s creative¬†format. Plus, Kim Savage’s prose is stunningly emotive. Read this one¬†if you like your YA dark and literary.

Tell me!
What’s the best book you read in March?

February Reading Wrap-Up

Six fantastic novels for your To-Be-Read list…

26156987
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – What¬†a relevant, necessary, wonderful book. If I Was Your Girl is¬†thought-provoking, and¬†helps to give¬†a candid¬†and relatable face to the trans community. Its prose is¬†spare but emotive, and¬†it’s #OwnVoices — it reads as such. More than anything, though, this nuanced story of Amanda, who’s trying to make a place for herself at a new school, as well as navigate the relatively unfamiliar¬†experience of living life fully as the female she’s always known she is, is absorbing and¬†entertaining. I was rooting for Amanda from page one, and cheering on the friends she made and the new romance she pursued. And when things got tough, well, my heart broke right along with hers. An important and engaging novel.

29640839
Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (May 2, 2017) – This book is delightful — a¬†charming and romantic beach¬†read, but with depth. California girl Anise’s summer plans are turned upside down when she’s forced to make an extended¬†trip to Nebraska to help care for her young cousins. There, she meets dreamy¬†skateboarder, Lincoln, who challenges her in both silly and significant ways. She also begins to confront the baggage that’s come along with her mother’s abandonment. There’s even a mini road trip in this story, cementing its status as a Katy Book. Laura Silverman’s prose¬†is an unusual but appealing¬†blend of lyrical and gritty, dropping me right into Anise’s world. If you’re a fan of Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord, definitely pick up Girl Out of Water¬†in May.

25876985
Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock (August 1, 2017) – Tiffany and I share a publisher and a release date, which made me all the more excited to get my hands on an¬†ARC of her forthcoming debut. Just Friends is everything I wanted it to be: cute, angsty, and fun. Main characters Chance and Jenny become friends thanks to the ultimate meet-cute, and they share adorable chemistry. This one’s a romance so the conclusion is expected, but the path we get to travel toward Chance and Jenny’s happily ever after has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and it’s populated by an excellent supporting cast. I love how Chance and Jenny grow and change over the course of this story, all the while supporting and caring for each other. Snag Just Friends¬†this August if you love to read contemporary YA romance √† la Kasie West.

25883848
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If I can get behind a couple’s chemistry, I become blind to any and all flaws a book might otherwise have. Such is the case with The Hating Game. Is it a technically perfect novel? Who knows! I was so completely¬†mesmerized by the legitimately hilarious writing, the I-hate-you-wait-actually-I-might-love-you¬†nature of the plot, and the¬†heat¬†between main characters Josh and Lucy.¬†Their back-and-forth is utterly flawless, their characterizations are deep, and Lucy’s narration is so bright and sparkly and fun and funny, I literally could not put this book down. I know there’s all sorts of hype surrounding The Hating Game¬†which, for me, can be a turn off. But in this case? YES. BUY THE BOOK. #NewFavorite

22875507
Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard – This book is so lovely and melancholy. It’s a middle grade novel about Jory, a boy who lives a mostly secluded life with his stepfather, mother, sister (who has a fascinating backstory all her own), and baby brother. After a meteor shower, Jory’s stepfather, a war vet who’s always talking about “signs,”¬†insists the family descend into the nearby canyon every night to dig a hole in the dirt. As Jory begins to make new friends at school, he starts to question his stepfather’s edicts, and his family’s way of life.¬†Watch the Sky‘s themes–family and loyalty and secrets and fear–are profound, but the story is narrated in a way that feels both accessible and safe. My nine-year-old read this novel a month ago, then immediately put it into my hands. So, it’s earned both of our stamps of approval. Big recommend for middle grade fans.

22752127
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – A few things you should know about this debut novel… First, despite what I’d pegged as a fantastical cover, this is¬†a Tennessee-set contemporary about three very different teenagers with a host of diverse struggles. Second, it’s a tale of¬†friendship, and how friendship (and first love) can help a person¬†overcome what might otherwise be a tragic fate. Third, Jeff Zentner’s writing is extraordinary; I listened via audiobook, and the voices of Dill, Lydia, and Travis were so authentic and distinct and vivid, I was blown away. Fourth, I think Jeff Zentner must take a tiny bit of pleasure in shredding hearts, because by the end of this story, mine was in tatters. I see now, why The Serpent King won the Morris Award this year. It is an exemplary novel.

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

January Reading Wrap-Up

Seven excellent books in January, including a few exceptional debuts!

31305574
The Last Thing You Said by Sara Biren (April 4, 2017) – I talk often about “Katy Books” and Sara Biren’s forthcoming debut is definitely one — it’s as if she wrote this novel specifically with my tastes in mind. I adored this story of friendship, loss, and first love, set in a charming¬†Minnesota lake community. Main characters¬†Lucy and Ben are¬†both trying to cope with overwhelming grief after Trixie, Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister, dies suddenly. Trixie’s death leaves a gaping hole in both protagonists’ lives, and challenges their fledging romance in heartbreaking ways. The Last Thing You Said is one of those stories that’ll make you feel a million emotions: sadness, joy, angst, despair, and hope, among them. If you’re a lover of intense YA romances, especially those told in alternating POVs, check this beautiful book out when it releases in April.

28217802
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard – I loved this book. It’s the story of Pen, a girl who prefers all things boy, to the great dismay of her very conservative¬†Portuguese parents. Pen’s a gamer who dresses in a traditionally¬†masculine way. She’s crushing on Blake, this¬†gorgeous, confident¬†girl who’s also into gaming and who’s clearly perfect for Pen. Their emerging relationship turns out to be highlight of Pen’s narrative¬†as she grapples to find her place in a¬†world that raises its collective eyebrow at anyone who strays from binary and straight. My favorite parts of this story were the romance (duh), Pen’s voice (stellar), and her big brother, Johnny¬†(a¬†fantastic source of strength and support). I also loved how Pen learned to stand up to her supposed BFF who, in my opinion, is the literal worst. Girl Mans Up is a 2017 Morris Award finalist, and I can totally see why. Big recommend for this most excellent¬†story.

22846823
Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally – I love Miranda’s books because they read like a chat¬†with a friend. Their tone is conversational and sharp, and their protagonists always feel like real (awesome) girls. Defending Taylor is no different, though it does tackle issues more serious than many of Miranda’s other novels. Main character Taylor has been kicked out of her prestigious boarding school because she was caught with a backpack full of prescription drugs — drugs not prescribed to her. Turns out she¬†was covering for her boyfriend and in doing so, she’s sacrificed admission to the school she loves, her captainship of the soccer team, close proximity to her friends, her parents’ trust, and maybe her future. Defending Taylor wraps up in a way that’s unexpected but realistic, and its romance is fantastic–so steamy, though simultaneously¬†honest and authentic. Another must-read for contemporary YA fans.

1736739
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – This collection of linked short stories was January’s book club pick and, frankly, I expected it to be a drag. But, surprise — I really enjoyed it! The book¬†focuses (sometimes specifically, sometimes peripherally) on fictional Olive Kitteridge, a woman living in a small Maine town with¬†her husband and her (eventually estranged) son, alongside¬†a large cast of compelling characters. There’s something comforting about this book; its¬†prose is lovely yet accessible, and its characters are presented in ways that makes them immediately relatable. Olive Kitteridge¬†chronicles the lives of normal people facing¬†challenges both minor¬†and enormous, and it’s all about the human experience, how we perceive others and how we’re perceived. At times it made me squirm, vicariously embarrassed for these characters who become self-aware in eye-opening, often uncomfortable ways. And despite her prickliness, her quick anger, her occasionally immaturity, I genuinely liked Olive. Pick this one up if you’re into connected short stories with a literary slant.

18660447
The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West – A fast, fun¬†story about a relationship faked for the sake of saving face. The Fill-In Boyfriend is one to read between heavier, darker books, sort of a literary palate cleanser, if you will. While main characters Gia and Hayden have depth and definite chemistry, nothing about this plot is going to make you think too hard, or hurt too badly. My favorite aspect of the¬†story, besides the utter cuteness of Gia and Hayden’s banter, was Hayden’s sister, Bec, who means to be a badass but, in fact, has a heart of gold. I love, too, Kasie West’s clean writing and interesting friendship dynamics. Read¬†this one if you’re looking for a book¬†that’s quick, cute, and romantic.

32051724
The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson (June 6, 2017) – I had high expectations for this forthcoming debut, and the story far exceeded them. I mean, this book is strong. It’s high-concept and high-stakes (it plays out like a summer blockbuster), but the prose is just so gorgeous–almost poetic. I felt completely consumed by this¬†post-apocalyptic¬†world, where the “haves” have been dethroned, and the “have-nots” have seized¬†all power and privilege. Main character Eden is on a mission to find sanctuary on what might be a mythical island, with a rag-tag¬†crew thrown together by circumstance and desperation. Eden’s incredibly strong, but with vulnerabilities, and she has a way of drawing the reader in, until they feel as sweaty and breathless and scared and hopeless as she feels. While this novel is very much a somber¬†story about what could be, it boasts a romance, too, which was (of course) my favorite part. My least favorite part? Um, the fact that I have to wait until 2018 to find out what’s going to happen to Eden next!

22847526
After the Fall by Kate Hart – It’s been several days since I finished this much-anticipated debut novel, and I’m still thinking about it–its characters, its themes, and its plot. Author Kate Hart tackles heavy topics within the pages of this story that might, initially, seem¬†like the tale of two brothers who’ve fallen for the same girl. Instead, we join¬†main character Raychel as she struggles with¬†financial crises, sexual assault and recovery, stereotypes and double-standards, as well as¬†ever-evolving relationships. Through much of the story, she’s also cultivating a secret romance¬†with Andrew, the brother of her best friend (and unrequited¬†admirer), Matt. After the Fall is a complicated¬†book about flawed¬†people. The story feels simultaneously¬†full and complex and despairing and satisfying, and I love how its characters are never let off easy, allowing the author to convey¬†profound messages without coming off as disingenuous. After the Fall broke my heart, quite honestly; it’s not the sort of story that ties off with a neat bow, and that’s part of what makes it so¬†fulfilling. Big recommend for lovers of powerful, issue-driven contemporaries.

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

December Reading Wrap-Up

Five books in December!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – ¬†This is the first Kristin Hannah novel¬†I’ve read; it¬†was selected by the book club I recently joined. I like historical fiction, and I’m a huge fan of¬†books about strong women, so it’s no surprise I loved this one. It follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who are¬†struggling to survive in WWII occupied France. Their challenges constantly test their strength, their morals, and the bond they share. This is a well-researched, hard-hitting story that is at times difficult to stomach, but I loved that about it — its¬†unflinching portrayal of the toll war takes on unassuming towns and their citizens, particularly women. While reading, I frequently identified with different aspects of the sisters’ struggles, while at the same time feeling¬†both awed and envious of their resilience. Pick this one up if you love accessible historical fiction, particularly stories about World War II.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven – So. I’ve read many¬†reviews of this contemporary YA romance since finishing the book myself, and several of those reviews¬†call this story¬†troublesome for various reasons, but mostly because of its representation as far as¬†the two main characters: Libby, a girl who is overweight, and Jack,¬†a boy who has¬†a cognitive disorder. And, yes, I get it — I do. But, but, but this book is worth reading as a study in voice alone. Libby’s is excellent. Truly, truly excellent. In fact, I adored her all-around. Her spirit and her strength of character, her positivity, her humor, her bad-ass-ness (she legit socks¬†Jack in the mouth at one point, which he totally deserves). Libby. Is. Awesome. If you’re considering picking up Holding Up the Universe, I’d encourage you to do so solely because its female protagonist¬†is an utter delight, though please go in aware of potential¬†representation issues.

Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor (April 4, 2017) – I loved everything about this forthcoming¬†contemporary YA debut, but particularly main character Reggie. She’s so dry and funny and sharp (a defense mechanism, but still) and I couldn’t help but¬†be absorbed into her weird¬†and wonderful world. See, Reggie falls for a boy named Snake (yes), but Snake’s fathered¬†the town princess’s soon-to-arrive baby, so complications quickly arise. Whitney Taylor does a fantastic job of portraying Reggie’s strengths and soft spots, as well as¬†her ongoing battle¬†with mental illness. She also pens believably complex parental relationships. If you like slightly offbeat contemps with delightfully flawed MCs,¬†Definitions of Indefinable Things¬†is one to watch for this April.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – Such a gorgeous cover, right? It’s indicative of this fantastical 2016 debut’s¬†dreamy, atmospheric setting and elegant prose. The Star-Touched Queen¬†reminds me of¬†stories like Beauty & the Beast¬†and Hades and Persephone (girl kept by a possibly volatile dude¬†who may or may not have a heart of gold). From what I’ve read, this novel¬†is¬†based on Indian mythology, which¬†is absolutely apparent in its details. Cursed main character Maya finds herself unexpectedly married to enigmatic Amar,¬†ruler of Akaran, a world of secrets and mysteries and magic. While Amar lavishes Maya with love and affection, she’s not sure she can trust him or his motives, making their relationship fraught with tension and, sometimes, danger. Pick this one up if you like fantasy rich in setting and full of intense romance.

A¬†World Without You by Beth Revis – Guess what?¬†A World Without You is straight-up contemporary, which came as a big surprise to me (because Beth Revis). That said, lot of it reads more as spec-fic because Bo, the story’s¬†protagonist, suffers¬†from severe delusions. He believes he is a time-traveler attending a special school for teens with “powers.”¬†As the novel opens, his girlfriend, Sofia, has just died, though Bo is convinced that she’s actually in¬†1600s Salem, where he accidentally left her. He is desperate to save her, and for the better part of the story, believes he is very close. Because¬†A World Without You¬†is told mostly from Bo‚Äôs¬†1st person POV, it seems as if we really are manipulating time along with him, an unsettling experience because we also know that Bo is seriously ill. A harrowing, hard-to-put-down novel¬†that addresses mental disorders¬†in a manner unlike any I‚Äôve read before.

What’s the best book you read in December?