When We Collided

collidedby Emery Lord
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I had a 5-star read! I loved this book from page 1 (but I waited til chapter 3 to commit) and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. I’ve long admired the author from afar, on Twitter (I think that’s literally the only time this has happened to me) and I finally got around to reading this book that I bought weeks ago. So glad my best friend referred me to her a year ago! (I told you, reading more recs from friends was a goal this year–because yes, I have this kind of painfully slow track record).

The story itself? A teenage summer love story set in a tiny Californian beach town called Verona Cove. Vivi and her artist mother are there for the summer, and Vivi quickly meets Jonah (a townie) and decides he’s cute enough for a summer date. Ordinarily, this would bother me, BUT. I think this is realistic for some teens (and adults). Also both of them are clearly looking for a distraction and a summer fling will work just fine for that.

Vivi is hiding her bipolar disorder from everyone because she is determined to be better now. Jonah is surviving by a thread in the wake of his father’s death after months of taking care of his 3 younger siblings and his depressed mother. Naturally, their relationship is a mix of light fun and bitter arguments. And the best part is–they are both right, and they are both wrong. They are both broken in different ways, and their relationship isn’t going to fix that.

So much to love here: 2 distinct POV voices, present parents, sibling relationships, issues not related to the romantic relationship like money and the Future, mental health and illness, and a definite streak of feminism (which is why I love Emery Lord of course). Also you can’t help but love the symbolism behind the names–Vivi is vivacious and lively, Jonah is drowning in an ocean of pain and responsibility he doesn’t want (similar to the biblical prophet in the whale).

I love that this story includes the silly and the sucky moments of family life. Some days you’re laughing outside with the sprinkler on, sometimes you’re screaming because you can’t stand them another minute. I love that the parents have their own problems (whether it’s depression or the struggle of when to trust your kid-who-is-almost-18-but-they’ll-always-be-your-kid).

This story made me laugh and tear up and it’s just the right length. No, these characters aren’t always “likeable” (I saw that mentioned in a lot of reviews) and that is the point. They are just regular people trying their best. It would be better if we could see everyone with mental health problems that way.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When We Collided is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – Maguire is bad luck–terrible things happen to people when she’s around. Her new therapist suggests some challenges that will help her overcome her “curse” with cognitive behavioral therapy, but Maguire isn’t convinced it will work. Her biggest challenge becomes a fellow tennis player who has a crush on her. Will she be able to take back the life the Universe stole from her?
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Cath and Wren are twin sisters who have done everything together-including obsess over the Simon Snow series and its fanfiction. But then Wren drops the bombshell that she’s not rooming with Cath for their first year of college, and she doesn’t care about Simon Snow anymore either. Cath isn’t sure how to cope, especially when her roommate’s cute friend keeps hanging around her dorm room trying to talk to her.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not thrilled with her stepdad’s new family or their new home. When she learns her mother is ill, she takes a secret road trip hundreds of miles back to see her, and maybe learn about herself along the way. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie make a pact to be the thinnest girls in school. But when Cassie dies from bulimia, Lia feels haunted by her best friend’s spirit and the conviction that if she can just be thin enough, she and all her problems can disappear for good. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Charlie is starting high school with no friends and no clue how to survive. When two seniors adopt him into their group, he has a lot to learn about life and how to deal with the secrets of his past. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – Cassie leaves the psychiatric hospital her mother forced her into two years previously, determined to start college and put the past of their toxic relationship behind her. But then her mother shows up promising all the love and attention Cassie always wanted, and she wonders if they can start over. See my review here.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – This is a relatively short novel about Pat and his quest to become the perfect man so that God will restore his estranged wife Nikki to him. His neighbor Tiffany has her own issues, but it takes him awhile to realize they might be good friends. The writing is great, both book and movie are excellent.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Although not the most accurate in terms of symptoms / diagnosis, this is such a good story I couldn’t resist including it. Alex suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is never sure what’s real and what isn’t. When a cute boy takes an interest in her, she begins to wonder whether he’s real, or if she made him up. See my review here.
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What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Girl at Midnight

This book is so much fun! It’s like a lighter version of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. There are hilarious friendships, tenuous alliances, and dangerous quests as Echo hunts down the Firebird–the one power that might stop a centuries-old war between the Avicen (bird) and Drakharin (dragon) people.  I really connected with these characters–the best part being that the side characters were cardboard holding up the plot. Normally debut novels are a bit rocky for me, especially in terms of character development, but that wasn’t the case this time. (See my review here). Definitely a fun read that kept my attention–I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next book for what feels like forever! Read this before the sequel comes out next month!

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Love & Gelato

25756328by Jenna Evans Welch
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: May 3, 2016

The cute cover art caught my eye and I added this to my list because it sounded like a fun rom-com of a book. I was right! Nothing out of the ordinary with this story—the twists are pretty clear from the get-go and the characters are simply drawn—but the descriptions are good and it leaves you with the fuzzy feeling I’ve come to associate with a Julia Roberts / Audrey Hepburn / star-of-the-moment romantic comedy.

When pancreatic cancer takes Lina’s mother and destroys her world, not even a summer in Italy sounds enjoyable—especially since it means staying with the father she found out about just weeks ago. Howard lives in a cemetery and hopes she’ll decide to stay with him permanently, but Lina barely agreed to a few months as a trial period. It’s not long before she meets Howard’s coworker Sonia, who gives Lina one of her mother’s old journals about the time she spent in Italy as a college student. “I made the wrong choice” is scrawled on the first page, and Lina is determined to learn what her mother meant, even if reading about her old memories is painful. Soon Lina and nearby neighbor Ren are drawn into a quest to find out who Lina’s mother loved before Howard and what made her leave Italy behind forever.

As I said, the plot is a bit contrived and obvious at times, but it moves along at a good pace and Lina and Ren’s friendship is charming and believable. Lina is experiencing a lot of feelings—she’s grieving for her mother; she’s trying to be responsible by getting to know her newfound father, but that isn’t easy; she’s swept away by the romantic atmosphere of Florence (in more than one sense) which resurrects her mother’s past and promises a bright future if she can be brave enough to go after it—I really enjoyed her emotional journey. It’s easy to let a character succumb to grief so much that the reader drowns, or to box up those reactions so that the character ends up coming across as stiff or insensitive. Grief is a strange beast; it can sink down so far you think you’ve recovered, and then it devours you in a heartbeat because you saw something that reminds you of what you lost. Welch allows Lina to ride all the waves of her emotions and it made Lina feel so real to me!

Florence is a grand backdrop for this story and the descriptions are done well. Italy adds to the story instead of bogging it down. The author spent time there and it’s so clear that much of this is drawn from personal experience, which is always good. What I liked is that the descriptions are broad strokes—we don’t spend pages describing a building or a piece of art, and we don’t spend a chapter on Florence’s (extensive) history. We have just enough to get a sense of the surroundings and the mood of the street and then the focus is back to Lina.

This is a good summer read that feels like a small vacation. Be warned: gelato cravings ahead!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Love & Gelato is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – Lara Jean is second of three sisters and she recently found out all of her secret past love letters made it into the hands of the boys she wrote about. Now she’s trying to have a real relationship with Peter and that brings its own challenges. Lara Jean longs for advice from her mother and older sister as she tries to navigate the cruel rumors and pressures of high school and love, but her mother is dead and Margot is absent. This is a cute high school love story that is better than the first book (and really you don’t have to read the first book). See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Twin sisters Cath and Wren are off to their first year of college. Cath is blind-sided when Wren declares they aren’t rooming together and it’s time to be more independent. Cath’s social anxiety already has her living an isolated life with only her sister and bi-polar father for company. (Oh, and her thousands of fanfiction followers). When Wren reveals she is over Simon Snow fanfic and is reconnecting with their estranged mother, Cath isn’t sure how to keep her sister close without stirring up the painful past. Also, a cute boy is determined to date Cath if she could summon the courage to open her dorm-room door and talk to him. This is a moving coming-of-age story with a charming sense of humor.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim moves hundreds of miles away from her mother when her father remarries and gets a replacement family. Mim is not happy about this at all—so when she finds out her mother is sick, she gets a bus ticket and travels back alone to see her. See my review here.
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – I think I wasn’t entirely in the right mood for this story when I first read it, SO, I am recommending it now. Hadley has a flight to London for her father’s remarriage and is not looking forward to it at all. But when she spends the overnight flight talking to charming British boy Oliver, everything changes.

Event: The Boldly Bookish Tour

BoldlyBookishThis month I had the incredible opportunity to meet my feminist idol / spirit animal Emery Lord!

She decided to crash a few stops on the Boldly Bookish Tour and when I saw her announcement that in 2 days she’d be in Denver I. FLIPPED. OUT. I had David sell our Lumineers tickets for that night and I dropped everything and went!

Emery is just as lovely and hilarious in person as she is on Twitter, and as a bonus I got to see 3 other authors (Tara Altebrando, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Tiffany Schmidt) that I wouldn’t otherwise have met, including moderator Jessica Brody. There were far too many interesting things to cover in any sensible order here, but I’ll put in my highlights for you guys!

First, what they were promoting:

Tara Altebrando: The Leaving – A suspense story about a group of missing children that return to their hometown as teenagers-except for one-and have no memory of where they have been.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Long Game – Sequel to The Fixer, about teenager Tess who solves political scandals among the students at an elite school in Washington, D.C.
Emery Lord: When We Collided – A contemporary summer romance between Jonah, a guy trying to hold his family together after his father’s death, and Vivi, a bubbly, adventurous girl without a care in the world–or so she seems.
Tiffany Schmidt: Break Me Like a Promise – Book 2 in her Once Upon a Crime Family series, this is a retelling of The Frog Prince. Maggie ends up trapped in a bargain to provide a kidney in exchanging for saving her father’s business computer.

Some tips:
I’m always on the lookout for unusual writing tips (as in, ones I don’t hear all the time), and this one struck me:  Create vocabulary lists for your characters so they each have their own vernacular. -Emery Lord

Some inspiration:

If this is what you want to do, you’ll find a way. Find a job that gives you the schedule you need, find a writing group that gives you the support you need, but prioritize this dream or it will not happen. Things that may not make sense to other people – odd jobs instead of a career – are for you, not anybody else, because you know what you want to accomplish. -moderator Jessica Brody

People always tell us now “Oh, you all grew up into such fine young ladies!” – We were good before, but nobody noticed…People think teenage girls are just giggling in a corner being annoying, and there is some of that, but each of my friends was also an incredibly complex person at that age. -Emery Lord

Some laughs:

I asked Emery how she can be so smart and funny on Twitter, even when it involves social issues, and that led to this anecdote:

“Normally with my editor I agree with the notes, like yes, I’ll cut that paragraph or yes, that could be clarified. But the one note that just bothers me so much, is when a joke is underlined, and next to it is the comment,”Could this be funnier???” And I’m like what–no, it IS funny! I wasn’t saving my funny stuff for later, I brought my A game!”

Why YA:

I hear a lot of the same answers to this question, usually something like the writer still relates to teens, or you’re allowed to do more within these genres, but this answer, although common (haven’t we all heard how much potential we have when we’re young?) gives some specificity to it that I appreciate now that I’m older:

Teens have so much potential – your life can change more dramatically and more quickly than it does as an adult. You change schools, you get your drivers license, you join a club or a sports team–suddenly that affects your freedom, your entire social circle, your own public persona. -Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This is true–honestly when we moved to Colorado part of what freaked everybody out is that we were changing our city and our jobs at the same time, just because we wanted to. For some reason, once you’re out of college you stop doing things just because you want to try them. Trying things is what makes life interesting!

What does it mean to be bold:
  • Writing what scares you because you don’t know what you’ll find. An issue, a topic, a question that you may not even see when you first start drafting that slowly evolves as your book does. That could be anything: trafficking in human organs, writing about bipolar disorder – things you’re afraid to explore, especially knowing you’ll end up discussing it in public!
  • Writing a book without knowing the ending. For The Leaving, Altebrando didn’t know where the kids had been all those years – for 2.5 years that she worked on the book! “I would’ve gladly asked anyone I talked to, where do YOU think they were? I have no clue!”
  • “I don’t think of it as writing about characters with mental illness. I want to write love stories between people who happen to have some mental health issues.” -Emery Lord
  • “The best part of your story is the part you want to whisper. Force yourself to say it louder. Then force yourself to write it.” -Tiffany Schmidt

This was such a fun and inspiring event, and my only regret is not having the time to read ALL of these amazing, bold books!

Wild

wildby Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction
4 of 5 stars

I first read this a year or two ago, and although I enjoyed parts of it, it wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m so glad I decided to re-read this! I was a much more judgmental person then, and I couldn’t appreciate what Strayed wrote.

When I first picked it up, I thought her book was literally her adventures on the PCT, possibly even a humorous account  of it all. There is a lot more navel-gazing than hiking, and the humor was more groan-worthy than laugh-out-loud funny. Now that I knew what to expect, I actually enjoyed this a thousand times more the second time around!

Previously, I was so caught up in how different I was from the author that I could barely restrain myself from rolling my eyes every other chapter. I’m just not the type of person to embark on a journey that huge without A) more money saved up and B) actual back-packing experience. When Strayed described all the difficulties she encountered (most of them self-induced) I grew impatient. Her journey was lost on me because I was too busy congratulating myself on being smarter than her. <–Not my best self!

My mother died when I was 23–I felt I should have more in common with Strayed, since my family came apart at the seams after that event, too. But where Strayed went off the rails for 4 years trying everything from heroin to hitch-hiking, I did almost nothing. I gave up attempting to keep my family together, and I had a husband who restrained me from ill-fated tattoo / job-quitting / alchohol abusing behaviors. The only thing stronger than my grief was my determination not to become someone who would disappoint my mother.

Wild is basically the complete opposite of how I emerged from my grief, and I can appreciate it now for another approach to the same thing.

Yes, I still rolled my eyes when she described her trail trials, but I was able to see that she was doing the same thing as she wrote about it. More importantly, I allowed myself to see the strength of this woman who found it much harder than I did to put her life back together after her mother’s death–largely because her life was much harder than mine from the start. Growth is life, and I’m glad that I’m getting better at recognizing everyone’s life experiences as valid, no matter how disimilar they are to my own. I was such a judgy reader!

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in couch travel and personal journeys!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wild is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams – The humorous misadventure of one man trying to recreate the original journey that led to the discovery of the ancient ruins.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – A similar fish out of water story about a chef who lost everything and moved to Paris for a fresh start–without knowing much French or how to fit in as a resident of the world’s most glamorous city. Delicious recipes included!
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – A controversial account of a middle-aged guy’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. Personally, not really for me, but other people enjoy it, so read some reviews and decide for yourself!
  • The Unsavvy Traveler by Rosemary Caperton (editor) – A collection of short stories by various women about their hilarious memories and the things they learned while traveling. Highly recommend!

Fuel for the Cave

My deadline is just a few weeks away, so I am still in the revision cave! I revised chapters 5-7 and did a final read-through of the manuscript. Now it’s back to hammering out chapter 1 and constructing my pitch / query letter / synopsis. (EEK!)

Of course, my lovely CP’s have offered to help me with this so I can’t be *too* scared but it does remain my absolute least-favorite part of finishing a book.

My book-buying ban / reading restrictions (i.e. only lunch breaks, pretty much) have helped me stay on track with my revision goals, so as a reward I’m reading ALL the things beginning July 11th!

Finally, I’ll leave you with how I managed to keep motivated and happy during these revisions – my cave fuel:

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1) Amazing critique partners

Anytime I was stuck, discouraged, or needed feedback, my lovely cult of writing women was there for me! Commiseration, ideas, and all the wine–I don’t know how I managed to write for so many years without them but I do know I’ve never had revisions go so well for me. It’s thanks to them! Every book is a group effort!

2) Deadlines

With the goal of pitching at Leviosa Con, I had no choice but to have everything ready by a certain date. I’ve never had a firm deadline before, and it has been incredibly helpful to me! (And stressful, yes). I made weekly goals leading up to it (again, using this fun little app called Habitica) and by breaking it down into smaller pieces, I was able to keep the Revision Monster from terrifying me into paralysis. I was excited to see my progress each week!

3) Chocolate

I’ve consumed an ungodly amount of this over the last 3 months. Just sayin’. I regret nothing. If you want to be more official, chalk this up to “make your work space a pleasant place to be” or whatever.

4) Blogs/Podcasts/Social Media

How was this anything other than a distraction? Because I had specific reasons for utilizing them! Podcasts about writing (thank you Katy!) recharged my batteries while I was at work. Other blogs reminded me why I’m doing all this – for people who love to read, and to be a part of a community of people who love to write. Twitter is 50/50 distraction/informational for me. When I needed a break, I scoured Twitter for book news, author updates, agent posts–generally keeping myself informed and motivated to pitch soon!

5) I came up with something new

It may sound insane to think about a new story idea when you’re frantically trying to finish another one, but I actually found this incredibly refreshing!

We had a long road trip through Kansas in the middle of the night, and I was daydreaming (as usual) when a Shiny New Idea struck and refused to leave my mind. I was ecstatic! I wrote down so many notes for it and felt so recharged. I’m not sure how my book will be received when I pitch it–I’m not sure if it will do well enough to warrant querying many agents. I was terrified that after years of work I’d be back at square zero. Not square one, because that’s an idea, but square zero of an empty creative tank. I’ve been devoted to this single book for a loooooong time. I’ve never spent much time coming up with new ideas–what if I couldn’t?! What if I was a total fraud? A one not-even-hit wonder? I’m incredibly excited and relieved that this isn’t true. 🙂

Now, back to the cave for the home stretch!

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Dreams of Gods and Monsters

13618440by Laini Taylor
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The rare trilogy where each book expands and improves on the previous one! I finally read the first book over a year ago, and I LOVED IT. I loved it so much I put off reading the next one until the end of last year—and I LOVED IT TOO. This was unheard-of. Naturally, I didn’t get around to this book until now, because of “end-of-trilogy” anxiety. This ending was pretty much perfect (a bit long, I think, so sometimes the pacing felt off to me).

Karou, Akiva, and the side characters (of which there are too many to list) captured my heart from the get-go, and what was added to this cocktail of amazing adventures and character arcs? Incredible world-building—like, my brain felt like it was expanding world-building. The first rule of fantasy is that if it’s on Earth, it is Secret. Vampires, werewolves, faeries—they do NOT reveal themselves. Our main-character-human interacts with them and that’s it. Most of the plot involves keeping it all a secret. But from the first chapters of this book, seraphs go to the Vatican. WHAT. It’s broadcast on live TV—world leaders have to handle the appearance of real angels in their midst—Karou and company face the reality of “oh…so now chimaera will be the demons if they reveal themselves, that’s great…” and not only do we have to deal with Jael’s evil army in Eretz, we have to find a realistic way to deal with him on Earth, with Earth’s religions and myths getting all tangled together with aghast scientists.

I loved this! (Because it was done so, so well). This book felt like the introduction of bigger and bigger stakes and finding ingenious ways for the characters to handle them. There is nothing more enjoyable than reading a book that walks characters into situations that have you going “well, they won’t get out of THIS!” and then they do so using a tactic you didn’t consider.

This series gets major points for good characters (especially non-cardboard side characters, something I worried about in the first book), world-building and originality. Also beautiful descriptions. Highly recommend for any fantasy lover!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – Another beautiful fantasy trilogy with an incredibly satisfying third book! Kestrel and Arin were tied together by fate when Kestrel accidentally won Arin as a slave. Their two countries are at war, and their growing feelings for each other threatened to tear everything apart. Check out this series if you love clever characters and twist after twist. See my review here.
  • Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo – A trilogy with an amazing ending! Alina and Mal can’t have peace until the Darkling is vanquished, but Alina’s power as the Sun Summoner is gone, and without it they don’t have a chance. This did not go as I expected and I highly recommend it, even if you didn’t like the second installment in the series.
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin – Part one of a duology, in an alternate timeline where the Axis Powers won WWII and a group of rebels is trying to kill Hitler. Yael’s time as a Nazi captive had her undergoing terrible experiments which left her the ability to skinshift—change her appearance at will—and she is determined to avenge her loved ones by killing the Fuhrer herself. You’ll want to read this in one session! See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Echo is just a thief in NYC trying to survive, until she becomes involved in the war between Avicen (birds) and Drakharin (dragons) and their quest to find the Firebird: the one thing that could end the conflict. See my review here.
  • Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat – And finally, another trilogy with an amazing ending! (Very similar to The Winner’s Trilogy but for mature readers). Damen and Laurent have formed an uneasy alliance and are trying to keep their respective kingdoms from destroying each other. Neither of them can predict the lengths the Regent will go to in order to secure victory, and it will push both of them to their limits. Much strategizing and romancing ensues. See my review here.

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