Category Archives: What I'm Reading

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?

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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?

December/January Reading Wrap-Up

I only managed to read two books in December (chaotic month, I tell ya), so I decided to combine my December and January wrap-ups.
Can’t wait to share these excellent books with you!

32172614How to Breathe Underwater by Vicky Skinner (August 14, 2018)
1. Fully developed cast. While Kate is the protagonist of this debut, she’s not the only character with layers and flaws and problems. Her parents, sister, love interest, and friends all have challenges that play out alongside Kate’s. I appreciate when a story feels as complicated as real life, and How to Breathe Underwater definitely does.
2. Sweet, slow-burn romance. Love doesn’t come easy for Kate and her v. cute salsa dancing neighbor, Michael, which means that when they finally work things out, the payoff is so worth it.
3. Skillful prose. For a book with a lot of heavy themes, How to Breathe Underwater remains a smooth and endearing read. Vicky infuses the novel with thoughtful commentary and just the right amount of humor, making it read like a wonderful escape.

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The Game Can’t Love You Back by Karole Cozzo (May 15, 2018)
1. Badass female lead. Just wait until you meet Eve — she’s strong, smart, loyal, determined, and super athletic. She stares down sexism and attempted intimidation without flinching, and I kind of want to be her.
2. Dreamiest male lead. Jamie is a new favorite book boy; he has a reputation for being a player, but he’s actually got a heart of gold. He’s so sweet with Eve (eventually), and endlessly devoted to his family and his teammates. *swoon*
3. Enemies to lovers. One of my favorite tropes, and Karole pulls it off beautifully. Eve and Jamie begin the story as competing pitchers on the same baseball team and hate each other intensely. It’s not long, though, before they start to see the good in each other and, as their relationship develops, the chemistry between them skyrockets.

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Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
1. Voice, voice, voice. Bad Romance is a study in it. Protagonist Grace leaps of the page, and has this very unsettling way of making you feel exactly the way she’s feeling. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so utterly invested in her narrative.
2. Atmosphere. A strange thing to notice about about a contemporary novel, perhaps, but man did this story make me feel tied down — to Grace’s small town, to her dysfunctional family and, mostly, to Gavin, her manipulative and controlling boyfriend.
3. Complex characters. Bad Romance is one of those books populated by characters so layered and flawed, they feel absolutely real. Grace is easy to relate to, particularly when it comes to her intense feelings for Gavin. Her stepfather, who is almost entirely terrible, manages to show tiny glimpses of humanity. And Gavin isn’t just an Abusive Boyfriend; there are moments when he is so vulnerable and charming, it’s easy to see why Grace falls passionately in love with him. Bad Romance is not a feel-good novel, but it’s also one of the most powerful books I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

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West With the Night by Beryl Markham
1. For realz. This one was my book club’s January pick, and it’s not my usual fare. Still, I enjoyed it very much, especially the fact that it’s a memoir written by a strong, courageous woman who I previously knew nothing about.
2. Lovely prose. This one was originally published in 1942, so the language is slightly dated, but it reads as elegant and evocative. I found myself completely caught up in Beryl Markham’s fascinating memories.
3. Unique setting. A great deal of this story takes place in agricultural Kenya, a place I’ve read very little about. I loved learning about the terrain, the people, and the wildlife through Beryl’s engaging chronicle.

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Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
1. Enviable voice. I’ve read all three of Julie Murphy’s books, and she always awes me with how perfectly she nails her protagonists’ voices. They’ve all been distinct and wonderful, but I’ve got to name Ramona as my favorite; she’s funny and spirited and plucky — an unforgettable force.
2. A sister story. Ramona Blue boasts a large and lively cast and features a lovely romance (Freddie 💙), but at its core, it’s a book about two sisters — Ramona and Hattie — and how fiercely they love one another.
3. Diverse representation. It’s been a long time since I read a book that depicts such a varied, authentic cross-section of our population: different races, different sexualities, different socioeconomic situations, and so on. Incredibly refreshing.

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When Life Gives You Demons by Jennifer Honeybourn (July 17, 2018)
1. Fun, fun, fun. This book’s cover perfectly represents the story beneath it. Even though When Life Gives You Demons tackles some serious themes (good vs. evil, finding one’s place within family/community), it never takes itself too seriously. Protagonist Shelby is a Catholic school girl/exorcist in training, after all. 🙂
2. Mystery. Aside from Shelby’s various exorcisms and butterfly-inducing study dates with Spencer, she’s also trying to get to the bottom of her mother’s recent disappearance. Suffice to say, I was very surprised by Shelby’s eventual discovery!
3. All the Buffy vibes. If you’re a fan of show, I think you’ll love this novel. It’s the perfect blend of paranormal and humor, with a kickass heroine you’ll wish you could befriend.

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Surviving Adam Meade by Shannon Klare (August 14, 2018)
1. FNL feels. Are you obsessed with Friday Night Lights like I am? Then this is the book for you. It brought me right back to the weeks I spent binge watching that show a few years back, and gave me all of the same swoony feels. Friendship! Football! Kissing!
2. Claire + Adam = Sparks. I mean really — is there anything better than two characters yelling at each other because they *actually* want to kiss each other? Claire and Adam are evenly matched in the snark department, making their banter a thing of beauty, and when they finally make it to romance, it’s fantastic.
3. Senior year challenges. I’m a fan of how author Shannon Klare incorporated the challenges that come along with senior year into her debut. College visits, applications, deciding whether to attempt long distance relationships. It all feels very real and relevant set against the small town football backdrop. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters come August!

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Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
1. California. ☀️ I’m obsessed with coastal California towns, which is perfect because Alex, Approximately is set in (what I assume is) a fictionalized version of Santa Cruz. Better yet, it makes mention of some of my favorite real-life places, like Pacific Grove and Monterey. It’s all beachy and dreamy and inspired.
2. Flawless romance. The relationship main character Bailey builds with surfer boy Porter spoke to the heart-eyed idealist inside me. They’re so adorable together; they support each other, have a very interesting history, tons of chemistry, and they challenge one another in all the right ways. I’m smitten!
3. Delightful supporting characters. While Bailey + Porter have become a new favorite fictional couple, they don’t overshadow the awesomeness of the rest of the cast. I adore Bailey’s father, her new friend Grace, and the whole of Porter’s family. Honestly, for me, this book is perfect, perfect, perfect — everything I’d hoped it’d be. Can’t wait to get my hands on another Jenn Bennett novel!

What’s the best book you read recently?

2017 Standouts

I read some amazing books this year — including tons of debuts. 

I’d love to highlight the standouts here, with the hope that you’ll pick up a few recommendations for the New Year. The books I’m including weren’t necessarily published this year, but I discovered and devoured and loved each one during 2017. The novels below are ones that made me feel — made me laugh, made me long, made me wonder, or made me hurt. They’re the books I’m still thinking about, the books I want you to read, too, so we can chat about them later.

(Book titles link to my Goodreads comments.)

Let me know what your 2017 standouts are in the comments! 😘

Adult

Young Adult

Middle Grade

Coming in 2018

Tell me! 
What were your standout 2017 reads?

November Reading Wrap-Up

I read some of my favorite books of the year this month!
My “Three Things” thoughts coming right up…

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Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
1. Unique storylines. I have never read a YA novel with subject matter quite like this. I bet you haven’t either!
2. Unorthodox format. Five genres, and five different plots, all happening simultaneously. To say more would be a spoiler, but again: very unusual. 💁🏻
3. Incredible setting and interesting cast. The elaborate and mysterious island mansion Tu Reviens and the group of diverse and compelling supporting characters provide an ideal backdrop for this mystifying story.

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Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon (May 8, 2018)
1. Incredibly relatable MC. It’s been a long time since I’ve identified so completely with a protagonist. Rilla’s self-doubt and longing to be liked feel so raw and genuine; she made me remember, uncomfortably, what it was like to be a teenager. Also, her arc is A+.
2. All the wanderlust. I can’t recall the last book I read that had me so desperately wanting to travel. Lemon paints Yosemite in the most breathtaking light, and she made me — a person who’s terrified of heights — want to climb.
3. Fully formed supporting characters. Rilla’s sister, Thea, as well as love interest, Walker, and the gang she meets on Yosemite’s cliffs feel so real. They’re climbing superstars, but they’ve got riveting backstories and flaws, too.

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One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
1. Realistic portrayal of a foster family. As a foster mama, I can tell you that this book isn’t sugar-coated, but it’s full of hope, and I love that about it.
2. Layered and complex protagonist. I’m so glad that Carley, a middle schooler who has recently entered the foster care system, is a deftly drawn, multi-faceted girl. She’s not portrayed as a damaged youth, or as singularly bitter or violent. She’s sweet but sad, strong but needy, loving but cautious. My ten-year-old daughter and I adored her.
3. Bittersweet ending. I don’t want to give away too much, but I appreciated this novel’s conclusion. Seriously — there’s nothing easy about foster care, and I think it would have been disingenuous to wrap Carley’s story with a tidy bow.

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Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington (April 24, 2018)
1. Characters to cheer for. I’m a fan Vee and Cam — how passionate they are, how vulnerable they are, how screwed up they are, and how much they care for each other. From the beginning, all’s I wanted for them was a happily ever after.
2. CHEMISTRY. I could feel it from the first moment Vee and Cam interacted. I’m a sucker for a second chance romance; this debut pulls it off beautifully.
3. Before and after. The perfect format for this angsty romance. I loved seeing how Vee and Cam came to fall for each other, how they fell apart, and how they slowly worked their way back to a place of understanding. All the swoons for this upcoming debut!

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Top Ten by Katie Cotugno
1. Voice, voice, voice. Katie Cotugno always nails her characters’ voices in this enviably effortless way that makes me want study her books after my initial read.
2. Unidealized portrayal of friendship. Main characters Ryan and Gabby’s friendship is solid, but it’s far from perfect. I loved seeing the highs and lows, and how both characters grew and stretched with their relationship. (Their off-and-on romantic feelings for each other, too, are so well written.)
3. Positive representation. Gabby battles social anxiety, and she’s bisexual; I appreciate how rather than using these attributes to define her, Katie Cotugno weaves them into the fabric of Gabby’s character, allowing her to be a fully fleshed out person instead of a cardboard cut-out.

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
1. Poignant and romantic and beautifully written. <– My YA perfect storm.
2. Mysterious Loner Dude (phrase credit: Forever Young Adult). At first glance, delinquent Declan Murphy appears dangerous and broken and bitter. But there’s so much more to him.
3. You’ve Got Mail vibes. Declan and Juliet communicate through deep, soul-bearing, anonymous letters. At school, they love to hate each other. I couldn’t put this book down, I was so desperate for them to put two-and-two together!

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