Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books That Lived up to the Hype

I’m psyched to take part in today’s Top Ten Tuesday, since it’s also Harry Potter’s birthday, which fits perfectly with this week’s theme of “ten books that lived up to the hype.” My most hype-able books (in no particular order):

  1. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
    Confession: I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the bookstore before it was a full-blown thing. I picked it up and it sounded interesting, but I only had enough money for one new book that day and had already decided to spend my money on something else. I didn’t read the series until my mom picked up a copy at the airport and binged the first three books over a weekend. She passed them onto me, I binged them over a weekend, and things have never been the same since. It’s certainly not a perfect series, but I love its approach to doing what’s right and how often the lines between right and wrong are blurred. If you’re still into the Harry Potter hype, make sure to check out Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me by friend and fellow Hufflepuff Jill Kolongowski and the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, which I’m currently listening to and loving.
  2. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
    For years, I wondered how Jellicoe Road won the Printz medal in such a strong year. It couldn’t be that good, could it? Um, guys–it’s EVEN BETTER. It’s possibly my favorite YA novel or novel in general. It’s a beautifully crafted book about family, loss, love, friendship, pain, stories, and more. It’s also got all the things I love–boarding schools, family secrets, enemies who become friends, deep trauma, ultimate hope. So. Friggin’. Good.
  3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
    Things I’m not great at reading–series and sci-fi. With series, I tend to read one and then not read the second until way later. Even if I loved the first, it generally takes me forever to circle back around. And my tastes run more toward contemp than sf/f, so the sci-fi books I read tend to be even further in between. I’d heard good things about The Lunar Chronicles, but figured they wouldn’t be quite my bag. I finally read Cinder and really dug it. By the time I read Scarlet, I was hooked. I immediately put in requests for the rest of the series from the library and tore through these fairy-tale-inspired space adventures. Super fun and super recommended.
  4. The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han
    Another example in which I read the first book and ended up devouring the whole series. I expected a fluffy but maybe not engaging book when I read the first one, but man, I just fell in love with Lara Jean and the supporting cast. The plot is fun and high-concept (Lara Jean’s secret love letters to boys she’s crushed on accidentally get sent), but what sticks with me is this very real world of people and their very real relationships. Lara Jean’s family live is just as engaging and present as her life at school and with her friends. I loved seeing Lara Jean come out of her shell, confront some fears, and ultimately make her way into the world. I would full-on read two whole series about Lara Jean’s sisters. Please make this happen, Jenny Han.
  5. Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
    Much like with Jellicoe Road, I put off reading Code Name Verity for a while because of the hype. I was worried that the high expectations would make me not as into the book, which generally seemed up my alley (literary historical YA fiction about two female friends). When I finally read it, I stayed up late to finish it and then, the next morning, demanded that my husband read it immediately or I’d have to tell him everything that happened because I had too many feelings. I followed up shortly after with Rose Under Fire, which is not exactly a sequel (it’s mostly about different characters) but in a related universe, and is just as powerful and well-written.
  6. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
    At least I read this one before it won the Printz, so maybe I’m getting better about actually reading books that have hype and that sounds like books I’ll really enjoy. This one was right up my alley–family secrets, first year of college, coming out, falling in love, found families–and it fully delivered. I finished it on an airplane and immediately wanted to make everyone else on the plane read it, too. Odd note: I bought this at the same time as I bought To All the Boys I Loved Before, after I got a flat tire and felt like I deserved a reward for not falling apart about it.
  7. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
    I read this before I saw the movie, which already looked awesome. Fortunately, the book is just as good if not better. I know. It’s a big claim, but guys this book is so good. Shetterly sheds light on a piece of lesser-known history and shares the stories of black women who made space travel possible. When I finished the book, I immediately went to Goodreads to look up everyone who (correctly) gave it five stars and then got irrationally mad at any review that was less than five stars. It’s the top nonfiction book I recommend to people, because it’s so powerful and uplifting and well-written, and it should be required reading for everyone in America.
  8. The Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett
    Remember when I said I don’t do a lot of series or sf/f? Double that for books by straight white guys. (I figure it’s more worth my time to read underrepresented voices in a literary sphere that is still very guy-heavy in a lot of ways.) I’d heard good things about Pratchett’s expansive Discworld series, but it felt too large to dive into, and besides, did I want to read another straight white dude’s fantasy series? But a trusted librarian friends insisted that the series was worthwhile, and that I should actually start in the ‘middle,’ with the Tiffany Aching books, which are about a young girl who becomes a witch. I ended up listening to all of the Tiffany audiobooks as I trained for my second marathon, and I legit looked forward to long runs so I could spend time in Tiffany’s world. Since then, I’ve started listening to some of the early Discworld books (specifically, the Witch ones), and still love them. Terry Pratchett, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
  9. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
    I’d heard Grace Lin speak years ago at an NESCBWI conference, where she was fantastic, and had friends refer to her books as the best ever, but it still took me a while to finally read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I don’t even have a reason for why it took me so long! But man, did I fall in love with this beautiful book about family and stories and sacrifice and courage and friendship. Grace Lin is one of the top middle grade and picture book authors working today, and this book knocks it out of the park.
  10. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
    Much like Code Name Verity, this was a historical YA novel that I expected would be up my alley, which made me worried that the reading experience wouldn’t hold up. Instead, I was struck by a powerful book that made me feel like my emotions had been dug out with an ice cream scoop–which to me means it’s a great book. Also like Wein’s books, this one is not an easy read, but it’s a stunning look at a little-known part of history with a cast of heartbreaking characters and a true gut-punch of an ending.

What are your favorite hype-able books? Share ’em in the comments, or share your own Top Ten Tuesday post! Top Ten Tuesday is now at That Artsy Reader Girl, so make sure to head over there to check out all of this week’s posts and future topics.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! It’s a beautiful Friday here in the Boston area, and I’m looking forward to a weekend of seeing friends, playing games, and walks with Bodo the dog. Let’s start the weekend off with a few micro-book reviews.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Sepetys knows how to craft a stunning gut-punch of a historical novel. Just my type!

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
I feel like a bad fantasy fan but…it was fine? The story/characters felt ‘meh.’

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Thoughtful look at police brutality. Loved Rashad, but wanted more from Quinn’s part.

Families Belong Together

If you’re like me, the news about immigrant families being separated and children being detained in horrifying conditions makes you ill to think about. This is a human rights violation happening on our watch. While I’m not an immigration lawyer or social worker, I can take a small part in this effort to reunify families and make sure these abuses never happen again.

Right now, in partnership with Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages, the children’s and YA lit community has come together in a giant auction of tons of literary items, all raising money for groups such as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and more. Auction items include:

I’m taking part in two raffles–one that includes a signed copy of The Chance You Won’t Return and one that includes a query critique by yours truly.

See Writers for Families Belong Together for more information on how to donate and bid/enter raffles, and to scope out all the amazing items. This is an enormous, deeply upsetting problem and one we all need to address. I’m so glad to be taking part in this auction, and hope you take a moment to review the items. (Or donate in general!)

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! It’s been brutally hot here, but I used the indoor time to finish a revision I’d been working on and am excited about starting a new draft. I’m also excited about seeing friends at a wedding this weekend, which feels like a summer activity. In the meantime, let’s get the weekend started with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking
I might secretly be Danish because I am fully into the hygge life.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
A great look at OCD/anxiety, but maybe my least favorite Green book.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Wasn’t quite as into the insta-love but fantastic look at immigration; loved the multi-POV.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I’m starting off the weekend with a sick day (ugh, feels so unfair to have a sore throat when it’s like 90 degrees out), but hopefully this will be a mostly restful and relaxing weekend. Let’s start things off with a few book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

Winter by Marissa Meyer
A satisfying end to the Lunar Chronicles, but not my favorite of the series.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
A great look at managing the difficult times, when don’t know what path we’re on.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Great contemp YA with strong voices and cultural background; wish they’d had more coding though!

Where the Books Are

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who had two kids who were both readers, but she wasn’t sure how to keep finding books they might like. “It’s hard to tell from an Amazon review,” she mentioned. Which got me thinking about the places I find books to add to my (never-ending) reading list. In no particular order:

Book blogs/social media
This is probably where I find the most books. I follow a lot of book/writing-related blogs, which often post reviews, lists of book recommendations on a particular theme or topic, or interviews with writers about their work. Some favorites include:

I follow these (and others) on Feedly and, when I see a good review or description that sounds interesting, add to to my list.

Browsing bookstores/libraries
This used to be the primary way I found books. From the time I was an early reader through high school, I’d go to the library or local bookstores and spend time scanning the shelves for titles that sounded interesting. I still love doing this, although most of my library browsing tends to be through their online catalog of available audiobooks to download.

Award lists
I don’t pay a ton of attention to year-end book lists (like “best of 2018”), but I do keep an eye out for which books win major awards. In the children’s literature/YA sphere, that includes ALA Youth Media Awards, the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. These might be more popular/well-known books that I already kind of have on my radar, but the awards make me feel like I should check them out to get a sense of what’s being recognized in the kid/YA lit sphere.

Professional publications
Getting a good review from professional review organizations like School Library Journal, Kirkus, or Publishers Weekly can be a big boost for books in the market. It’s also a place I tend to read book reviews. I don’t put a ton of weight into whether a book gets a great review or not, but if I like the sound of a book overall, I’ll check it out.

Recommendations from friends
This one is actually a little iffy, because lots of times I get weirdly defiant when people tell me I have to read a certain book. Even if it’s a book I know I’d enjoy, a lot of times I’ll stubbornly feel like You can’t make me! I also tend to pick books from my reading list based on feel (like “I want something fun and scifi next”) vs. recent recommendations, so I don’t usually circle back to friends’ recommendations until later. But there are a few people I 100% trust with book recommendations and am always happy to get their suggestions–even if I don’t always end up reading them right away.

Books by friends
This is total literary nepotism, but I’m way more likely to read a book if I know and like the person who wrote it. Again, it may not happen right away, but friends’ books are always on my list. I’m also way more likely to buy friends’ books, when I can afford it, vs. getting them from the library, which is how I read pretty much everything else.

Books similar to what I’m writingA lot of times, especially in the early phases of a project, I’ll search for books similar to what I’m

writing to get a sense of what’s already out there and what other authors have already done. Sometimes this is in tone (quirky, funny, sad, etc.) or topic (books about military families, books about teens in theatre, etc.) or just genre (sci-fi, fantasy, contemp, etc.). I know a lot of people don’t like to work this way, in case they get too bogged down in other people’s stories, but I find it immensely helpful and inspiring.

Where do you find your next read? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! No long no blog, but it’s officially summer, which means summer reading season is on. Which means I should probably catch up on my mini-book reviews. Let’s get the weekend (and summer) started with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

Cress by Marissa Meyer
Great continuation of the Lunar Chronicles and a fun adaptation of Rapunzel.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Loved getting to see early Granny Weatherwax. Eskarina is a proto-Hermione in the best way.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hell yes we should! Required reading for all genders.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! It’s been a while since my last Friday Fifteen, but I’ve been busy with the work life and the writing life, and the throwing the squeaky toy for Bodo the Dog life. Fortunately, this is the Friday before Marathon Monday, aka the best day of the year, so I’m super excited to head into the weekend. Let’s get things started with a few book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
A fantastic look at disability, friendly, struggle, and strength. As a runner, I’m a fan.

Summerlost by Ally Condie
A sweet and sad and real middle grade about loss and family. Loved the setting.

Paperweight by Meg Haston
A sensitive, real portrayal of a girl battling an eating disorder. Recovery is complex here.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I feel like every time I write one of these, I want to start with “it’s been a week” but that’s fully the truth. Good things from this week: getting a haircut, chocolate caramel oreo pie, Olympics figure skating, and nice weather for walks. Let’s get the weekend going with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer!

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Frank, funny, and touching discussion of sexuality, family history, and how we cope with illness.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro’s perfect combination of a restrained narrator and emotional anguish, set against post-WWII Japan.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
A great sequel to Cinder; Scarlet’s voice captured me and I fully ship Scarlet/Wolf.

Writer Life Update – Agent News!

Exciting writer news to share! Over the last few months, I’ve been querying agents and looking for new representation. As I’m sure a lot of you know, querying is…a lot. It’s a lot of time trying to find agents who you think might like your stuff; a lot of time crafting your submissions and pitches; a lot of time waiting; a lot of rejection.

But. I have good news to share!

I’m now represented by the wonderful Laura Crockett at Triada US!!!

I’m so excited to be working with Laura. She’s super enthusiastic about my projects, has such a thoughtful approach to manuscripts and the market in general, and from our first conversation I got such a great vibe from her.

I need to put together a big post about my querying process soon, but I’m so happy that this news is now official. I’m psyched to be part of #TeamTriada and kick of 2018 with lots of new writing energy!