June Reading Wrap-Up

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

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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’re 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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KISSING MAX HOLDEN Preorder Incentive

Friends, preordering a book is an AWESOME thing to do.

First, preordering almost always ensures that you’ll pay the lowest price; many online retailers have a preorder price guarantee, meaning even if you order the book now at its full price, you’ll end up paying the lowest price that book might fall to. Win!

Second, preordering means you’ll have a brand new book delivered to your doorstep, very often on its release day. So, you don’t have to get dressed, or forgo your hot cup of coffee, or battle traffic to get that new book you’ve had your eye on. Again, win!

Third, preordering helps authors; when booksellers see preorder interest in forthcoming releases, they often purchase and shelve more copies of those releases, giving them more exposure and, hopefully, greater sales. And again, WIN!

Fourth, sometimes (THIS TIME!) there are incentives associated with preordering…

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If you have preordered or plan to preorder a copy of Kissing Max Holden, you’re eligible to receive the preorder incentives detailed below! 

Tier One
A gift for all who enter, while supplies last. Includes one signed Kissing Max Holden bookmark, one card featuring the secret recipe for Jilly’s *Best* Chocolate Chip Cookies, and one exclusive bookplate, personalized and signed, just for you! International.

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Tier Two
Three winners will be chosen at random to receive the gifts in Tier One, plus a cupcake notebook, nail polish in “Dream On”, a Lindt Caramel Brownie treat, and a Swoon Reads coloring book. U.S. only.

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Tier Three
One winner will be chosen at random to receive the gifts from Tiers One and Two, as well as a kissy lips cookie cutter, an arrow-heart spatula, a hardcover edition of the Cookie Love cookbook, and a “Happily Ever After” candle. U.S only.

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Here’s How To Enter

  1. Preorder a hardcover (ISBN 9781250111166) or eBook (ISBN 9781250111159) of Kissing Max Holden {UK edition hardcover (ISBN-10: 1250111161) or eBook (ISBN-13: 978-1250111166} from your favorite bookseller. For convenience, here are some quick links: AmazonIndie BoundBarnes & NobleBAM!TargetPowell’sOne More Page BooksAmazon UK, Chapters Indigo.
  2. Photograph or screenshot your proof of purchase.
  3. Fill out this KISSING MAX HOLDEN Preorder Incentive form, including your name, email address, mailing address, and preferred bookplate personalization.
  4. Email your proof of purchase to UppermanPreorders@gmail.com.

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Fine Print

Entries must be submitted via the linked form by July 31st at 11:59 PM. First Tier gifts are available to all entrants. Second and Third Tier gifts are available only to entrants with U.S. mailing addresses. Proof of purchase must be submitted for eligibility. Preorder incentive is open as long as supplies last. Gifts will be mailed on a first-come, first-serve basis, beginning in August.

Questions? Please email them to UppermanPreorders@gmail.com.

As always, thank you so much for your support! 😘

Announcing the *Kissing Summer Goodbye* Tour!

Guys! I’m taking Kissing Max Holden on the road!
This August, I’ll be setting out on a five city book tour with my good friend and fellow debut author Christina June (It Started With Goodbye)!

We’re making a loop through the southeast, with stops in Richmond VA, Charlotte NC, Asheville NC, Decatur GA, and Greenville SC. I’m so looking forward to visiting some amazing independent bookstores and meeting up with some special guest authors, including Gwen Cole (Cold Summer), Shaila Patel (Soulmated), Joanne O’Sullivan (Between Two Skies), and Lauren Karcz (The Gallery of Unfinished Girls). I can’t wait to talk writing, sign books, meet likeminded YA lovers, and eat greasy roadside food with Christina!

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Hope to see you along the way! 💕

8 Lessons Learned From Subbing to Swoon Reads

 This is a reposting of an article I wrote for the YA Buccaneers, a blog run by a group of wonderful YA authors — one that has since dropped anchor because those authors have become all sorts of busy with authorly things. Since the Buccaneers are no more, I wanted to save this material and keep it available, as I think it’s helpful to those who are considering submitting their manuscripts to Swoon Reads (my publisher). I’m reposting as is, with only a few supplemental additions, which I’ve marked with asterisks.

First, some background information on Swoon Reads, borrowed from the Swoon Reads “FAQ” page:

“Swoon Reads publishes young adult and new adult romance novels. Writers can submit their original, unpublished manuscript to the Swoon Reads website, and readers who sign up can rate and comment on manuscripts to help us [editors] choose which titles we want to publish. Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan publishing under Feiwel & Friends and was founded by Jean Feiwel.”

I submitted my contemporary YA romance, Kissing Max Holden, to Swoon Reads in early October (*2015). Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. Submit for the right reasons.

I spent months exploring Swoon Reads and thinking about whether I wanted to upload my swooniest manuscript, Kissing Max Holden, to the site. Factors that led me to believe Swoon Reads is an opportunity worth pursuing:

  • The untraditional path to publication Swoon Reads offers is very cool. They get readers involved and consider their opinions when deciding whether to acquire stories. (*Though, Swoon Reads is not a popularity contest. The Swoon Team is looking for quality manuscripts that fit in among their list. While ratings and comments are important, they aren’t all that matters.)
  • Swoon Reads members leave reflective comments on submitted manuscripts, Swoon Reads authors, editors, and publicists blog about the writing and publication processes, and readers share the stories they love via social media. All of this fosters a community that is helpful, warm, and enthusiastic. (*I continue to experience this sense of encouraging community, more than eighteen months after selling Kissing Max Holden!)
  • I’ve read a few Swoon Reads stories and they’re wonderful. Unique concepts, lovely prose, compelling relationships, and characters who leap off the page. The quality is extraordinary.
  • I truly believe my story is a great fit for Swoon Reads. I’m a romance girl through and through (Kissing Max Holden is proof!), and I’m all for an imprint that celebrates swoon.

2. Submitting to Swoon Reads is fairly simple.

You’ll need an original YA or NA manuscript of at least 45,000 words, formatted to the Swoon Reads specifications. Swoon Reads focuses on romance of all sorts, so bring on the swoon no matter what genre you write. (*Now, Swoon Reads focuses on all YA, whether it includes romance or not! If you write fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc, keep Swoon Reads in mind.)

3. Entice Swoon Reads members/potential readers with an appealing cover.

It’s okay to use the default cover provided by Swoon Reads, but I recommend creating a cover image that captures the tone of your story. I made Kissing Max Holden’s cover using a free stock image and the photo editing site Pic Monkey.

Cover(*This homemade cover will always hold a special place in my heart, but I love the final cover designed by Swoon Reads so much more!)

4. It’s important to nail down your manuscript’s genre.

Swoon Reads categorizes stories so it’s easy for readers to find what they’re interested in. Once you’ve chosen a genre (contemporary, adventure, historical, paranormal, etc.) you can get even more specific. For example, under the “Contemporary” heading, you’ll find these subtopics: Beach/Summer, Holiday, School, Family, Issue, Friendship, Mystery.

5. Snag readers with irresistible story descriptions.

If you submit to Swoon Reads, you’ll need a short pitch, as well as longer query-like summary. For me, this was the hardest part of the submission process! I tend to be wordy, and it was a challenge to pare my pitch and summary down while ensuring they grabbed the attention of potential readers.

6. Promote, promote, promote.

Swoon Reads is all about reader feedback, which means you’ve got to attract, you know, readers. After I submitted Kissing Max Holden, I had to get brave and spread the word. (Why is it SO scary to share our work with the world?!) Here’s what’s worked for me in the way of promotion:

  • I’ve posted my story’s cover on all of my social media platforms, and I’ve shared about how Swoon Reads works, which has people excited. Even those who don’t normally read YA romance seem to be eager to be part of the publishing process; lots of my family members and friends have created Swoon Reads accounts because they want to help give writers a shot at a book deal.
  • I’ve created graphics with Kissing Max Holden teasers to post on Instagram and Twitter and, since my story’s main character is an aspiring pastry chef, I’ve shared photos of my own baked goods along with the story’s link.
  • I’ve talked about the Swoon Reads process on my blog, and I’ve shared the story’s first chapter with an accompanying link, so those who’d like to read more can.
  • For me, the biggest help in spreading the word about Kissing Max Holden has been the people who’ve read and enjoyed the story. I feel so lucky to have had readers and fellow writers recommend Kissing Max Holden to their friends and followers via social media.

7. Engaging with readers can be fun.

I think we’ve all heard some version of this very important publishing advice: Don’t respond to reviews! Except at Swoon Reads, writers are encouraged to reply to the comments left on their stories. This, at first, made me very nervous. (What if someone hated my story and listed all the reasons why they thought it was terrible? I’d have to come up with a gracious response while simultaneously sobbing and eating a gallon of ice cream.) But here’s the thing: Swoon Reads members are awesome, and they love stories, and they want to help writers improve. Have all the comments my story’s received been glowing accolades? Not exactly. But every single one has been thoughtful and kind and enthusiastic, and it’s a pleasure to respond with my heartfelt thanks.

8. Enjoy the process.

There’s no guarantee that any one book submitted to Swoon Reads will be published by the imprint. Kissing Max Holden might catch the team’s collective eye, or it could be passed over. No matter the outcome, I’m so glad I posted my story on the site. I’ve fallen in love with its characters all over again, I’ve interacted with some incredible readers, and I’ve learned so much. So far, the experience has been amazing. (*My experience continues to be amazing. I’m so proud to be a Swoon Reads author!)

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Preorder Kissing Max Holden from…

Amazon

Indie Bound
Barnes & Noble
BAM!
Target
Powell’s


Kissing Max Holden on Goodreads
Kissing Max Holden at Swoon Reads

Two…

May Reading Wrap-Up

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. ❤️ 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!

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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.

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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. 😘

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

Go read DANGEROUS PLAY!

Guys, my longtime critique partner and friend, Alison Miller, uploaded her story, Dangerous Play, to Swoon Reads

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Here’s the official summary…

Best friends and soccer all-stars Jesse, Ashton, and JD are on opposite sides of a prank text that leaves Jesse girlfriend-less and spirals into a vicious social war. Their friendship teeters on a misunderstanding and secrets they’ve been downplaying—Jesse’s temptation to cheat for a classmate, JD’s sexual identity, and Ashton’s harbored feelings for Jesse’s girl—look to blow wide open. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

And my thoughts…

I love this book so much! Its concept is unique, its characters are complex and unforgettable, and its voice is spot-on YA — funny, insightful, and vibrant. Jesse, JD, and Ashton are such an awesome group of friends — it’s fascinating to witness their close bond, and heartbreaking to watch the unveiling of secrets that threaten to rip their friendship apart. I love Mags, too; she’s relatable and fresh and fun, and she brings out the best in each of the boys (though she’s also a catalyst for big upheavals). The prank war is equal parts hilarious and cringeworthy, and all of the different problems that arise for each character are so compelling. I’d buy this book in a heartbeat!

Read Dangerous Play now, free, on Swoon Reads!

(And don’t forget to rate and comment. One of the most amazing things about Swoon Reads is that YOU can help this extraordinary book get noticed by the Swoon Team, giving it a shot at possible publication!)