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?

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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?

I ❤️ the Holidays YA Giveaway!

 

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ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE!

(U.S. only. Ends Friday, December 15th at 11:59 PM.)

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?

Upcoming Events…

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(Photo by Brigitte Tohm)

So looking forward to these December events;
if you’re in the Virginia/D.C./Maryland area, come see us!

Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers
Lit Night
Contemporary YA Panel
w/ Christina June & Brigid Kremmerer
Bethesda Popup Museum
Bethesda, MD
December 8, 2017 6 PM – 7 PM

YA Author Game Night
w/ Leah HendersonChristina June, & Lisa Maxwell
Scrawl Books
Reston, VA
December 15, 2017 6 PM – 8 PM

Hope to see you!

October Reading Wrap-Up

Happy Halloween! 🎃
I read an odd assortment of books this month, and found some gems.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these! 

30199656What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
1. David Drucker. Best book boy I’ve read in a looooong time. Unique and brilliant and complicated and sweet and just so, so wonderful. I absolutely adored everything about his perspective. (Kit’s pretty great, too!)
2. Complex narrative. This isn’t a fun, sweet romance — though there are fun, sweet, romantic moments in the story. What to Say Next deals with heavy themes, and they’re handled with sensitivity and nuance.
3. Twisty-turns. This contemporary YA surprised me repeatedly, and I loved that about it. Never once does the story fall flat or feel predictable. And I thought its ending was perfect.

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Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren
1. LOL. Guys, books rarely make me crack a smile, but this one had me giggling more than once. Both MCs are funny, but Evie is particularly hilarious.
2. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Even when Carter and Evie are actively hating each other, it’s so obvious they’re in l.o.v.e. And those moments when they’re — ahem — not hating each other? Whoa.
3. Hollywood. I found the talent agent aspect of this novel surprisingly interesting. Carter and Evie aren’t just hot for each other; they’re passionate about their careers, too, and it shows in various ways throughout the story.

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The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young (Fall, 2018)
1. Full of hope. It’s no secret that I like my YAs sad and Sasha Cade is a tearjerker, but ultimately it’s a hopeful story that made my heart so full.
2. A+ protagonist. Raquel Clearwater is freaking fantastic. I love a protagonist who’s loyal and strong and determined, and Raquel is all those things, and more.
3. Elijah. All my ideal book boy traits, rolled into one: mysterious, flawed, selfless, sweet, driven, and dreamy. You will love him.

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The Long Walk by Stephen King
1. Super character driven. Unlike many of King’s other stories, this one feels fairly restrained. There are no monsters, and there’s not much in the way of atmosphere. It’s all about the internal and external struggles of the boys.
2. Fascinating commentary on competition and military enlistment. Like, is the glory ever worth the pain/solitude/sacrifice?
3. Visceral writing. There were so many moments in this story that made me hurt, made me queasy, made me sad, made me furious. It’s an important, thought-provoking read.

25613996At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer
1. Teen YouTube beauty guru! I’m a junkie when it comes to watching makeup reviews and tutorials on YouTube, so I fell easily and happily into Lacey’s world.
2. Relatable self discovery. I love that Lacey has an abundance of challenges to deal with, and that they all help her learn and grow in different ways. Even though I’ve (sadly) never interned at a magazine, I still connected with Lacey on various levels, and I wish we could be real life besties.
3. Cutest romance. ❤ Guys, Lacey and Tyler are freaking adorable, and they’re relationship plays out so satisfyingly. All the swoons!

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My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
1. Quality middle grade audiobook. We listened to this one during a road trip; the whole family was entertained, and we all learned something.
2. Weighty themes. This middle grade novel is about the Revolutionary War, and it asks important questions about the potential futility of war, while reminding readers that there are two sides to every conflict.
3. Steep character arc. Protagonist Tim begins the story as a naive, whiny boy, and ends it as a mature young adult who’s endured too much loss. While this novel is historical fiction and moves rather slowly, it feels very relevant.

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The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Change
1. Road trip! I’m a sucker for books that revolve around a journey, and the cross-country trip the Wangs embark on definitely delivers.
2. Dry humor. Some of the comedy in this book (like Andrew’s stand-up routines) fell flat, but there were several scenes that had me snickering. A fun shift from the books I typically read (especially for book club).
3. Familial relationships. The Wangs are all flawed, but I found the ways they leaned on each other and loved each other heartwarming. Their relationships felt authentic and dynamic and so, even though each of the family members exhibited moments of selfishness and insensitivity, it was easy to root for them.

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

October Events

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with Meg Eden, Lisa Rosinsky, and Misa Sugiura
East City Bookshop
October 13, 2017 6:30 PM
“Come hear debut YA authors Misa Sugiura (IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET), Katy Upperman (KISSING MAX HOLDEN), Lisa Rosinsky (INEVITABLE AND ONLY), and Meg Eden (POST HIGH-SCHOOL REALITY QUEST) read from their works and talk about the writing and publishing process. Then, stick around for the first meeting of W(h)ine & Angst, a YA book club for readers 21+, discussing AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES by Leah Bobet.”

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Fall For the Book Festival
In the Mood for Love Panel
with Ada Calhoun & Lindsay Detwiler
Merten Hall, Room 1203, George Mason University
October 14, 2017 2:30
“Ada Calhoun, Lindsay Detwiler and Katy Upperman chat about the art of writing about L-O-V-E across genres. In WEDDING TOASTS I’LL NEVER GIVE author Ada Calhoun is revered for her honesty, poignancy, and sense of humor in her memoir about the complexity of marriage. Calhoun is a contributor to the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column. Romance novelist Lindsay Detwiler shares the gripping tale of a married couple, fighting for their lives and their love in the novel REMEMBER WHEN. Katy Upperman continues the discussion with her debut YA novel KISSING MAX HOLDEN about a forbidden teenage romance with the boy next door.”

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Roundtable: A Conversation with Authors of Teen Fiction
Catonsville Library
Sunday, October 22, 2017 2:00
“Join 6 writers of fiction for teens (Faith Boughan, Meg Eden, Christina June, Kathy MacMillan, Sharon Huss Roat, and Katy Upperman) for a lively, interactive panel discussion about their inspirations, writing process, and the value of stories in the modern world. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the program.  This panel is co-sponsored by Baltimore County Public Library and the MD/DE/WV Region of the Society for Book Writers and Illustrators.”

Hope to see you! ❤