August is Read a Romance Month! What’s that? Simple–a month to celebrate readers, writers, and lovers of romance! If you’re already a romance reader, be sure to check the link above to see 93 great authors sharing guest posts on the Celebrate Romance blog. If you’re new to the genre, maybe you’re looking for a place to start.
Maybe you’re not the kind of person who ever pictured him or herself reading a romance novel with “one of those” covers. But if you’re also the kind of person who’s ever enjoyed a tear-jerker romantic movie, or can’t resist watching a romantic comedy every time it’s on, you might be surprised by how much you can enjoy a romance novel.
Not surprisingly, I tend to look at romance through the Young Adult (and now New Adult) lens, so I wanted to share a few recommendations with you.
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I’ve read some spectacular books this year. So spectacular in fact, that I couldn’t resist giving out a few awards in some categories of my very own creating.
There are five books in each category, and I swear to you, they could really go in any order, and their ranking here does not reflect anything but the order I found them on my reading list. Looking at them now, I’m pleased to see what a diverse list this is. My taste usually runs to the Contemporary side, but it just goes to show you never know what’s going to rock your world.
So without further ado, I give you…
Johnson hit this one out of the park. (You can see my full review on Goodreads) I was a little nervous how it would play, since she’s one of my favorite contemporary writers. But I am here to tell you, this is now my gold standard for what paranormal must be. The characters still had all the layers and humanity of a contemporary, and their experience with the ghost world fit right in. Fast-paced and compelling. I can’t wait for the next one!
The moment I finished this book, I ran to my mom’s house and told her she had to put down whatever else she was reading and start it. She finished the next day. This book is straight up addicting from the get-go. It’s intense, fascinating, and so unexpected. Everything you think you know about dystopian will be turned on its head. Is INSURGENT out yet?!
I read this book only after reading Mandy Hubbard’s blog post about what editors were looking for. When asked, more editors said they wished they’d edited CHIME than any other book. For that reason, and in spite of the cover and the jacket flap, I read it. Oh. My. God. It was NOTHING like I expected. It was brilliant and painful and so different from anything else I’ve read. I couldn’t put it down. If you don’t believe me about any other book, please go get CHIME as soon as you possibly can.
My friend Johnny recommended this book to me. It’s older–written in the 1940s, and first published in 1949. Strangely enough, the author is also the author of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIONS. This book is pure magic. Bizarre, and hilarious, and romantic, and wonderful. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Another one I forced my mother to read as soon as I finished.
I was excited about this book based solely on the title. Violi delivered an amazingly layered story that pulled me in from the start and made me want to stay longer in her world. It was quirky, and unexpected, and tapped themes I haven’t seen handled so delicately in YA. Intricate as lace. You should definitely put it on your to-read list.
Billingsley’s story is a master class in world building. The language, the voice, the characters, the setting, the structural devices…there was nothing here that didn’t work for me. It was like being miniaturized and settled comfortably in an old-fashioned music box, watching wide-eyed while the mechanisms did their magic. I could die happy if I ever wrote something half this good.
Holy action movie on paper, Batman! This one left me breathless. It was particularly harrowing to read for me since it was set so close to where I live. Bick even referred to local restaurants by name. I loved the realism, and the believability of this awful future. She even gave explanations for her character’s survival skills that rang so true I didn’t question her for a moment. Amazing.
Bjorkman’s use of language left my mind spinning. This book was actually challenging to read at times because of the stream-of-consciousness style (though that’s not even really the right description). I felt like I was never given a full hand in a high-stakes poker game. I’m not sure I loved this book, but it certainly gave me a lot to think about. YA is NOT dumbed down, and this book is proof.
I have rarely loved to hate a character as much as I hated Ruby in IMAGINARY GIRLS. Suma created a David Lynch-like atmosphere in this book where I never felt like I had both feet on solid ground. This was another one of those books where I was never sure if I was enjoying it or not, but I couldn’t help admiring Suma’s skill. Characters, voice, setting…everything wove together. And I love that some mysteries were never fully explained. (But I still hate Ruby.)
Wow, this book gripped me from the first page. It was like reading a book set in a Tim Burton movie. Like others on this list, I never felt completely at home in this world, but it was so rich and believable I couldn’t help turning pages. Only the ending let me down in any way. I’d still highly recommend it.
I really don’t know how to put words to my adoration for Cassandra. She’s totally of her own time, yet delightfully madcap and modern. I could easily imagine a teenager from today having the same kind of adventures Cassandra and her family went through. She’s a complete delight, and you will never regret reading her story.
Ruby has been one of my favorites since I read the first installment in her series a couple years ago. She’s funny, and smart, and self-centered, and confused, and good-hearted, and quirky without wearing it like a badge of honor, and her footnotes just make me want to be her best friend. Sometimes, I wanted to strangle Ruby for being so stupid, but all her decisions were so human and relatable, in the end I still wanted to hug her.
Clio is everything I love about Maureen Johnson’s writing. She’s smart, unsure of herself, wise beyond her years, but somehow naive. Best of all, she was dropped into the middle of a story that screams out to be made into an action/comedy, like, now. Are you listening, Hollywood? Clio’s observations of her world, and the other characters were laugh-out-loud funny. Yay for girls in action roles!
And oh look, another Maureen Johnson character! Feel free to take the reasons above and apply them to Rory. Her near-death experience by humiliating choking episode, love of processed cheese-food-product, and willingness to use her paranormal abilities to get her homework done make Rory a character you can absolutely get behind. Trust me, you’ll love her.
Donna is definitely the quiet one on this list. I loved her introspection, and the way she dedicated herself to her interests, whatever they were and however outside the norm. She made me root for her so hard, right from the beginning. She reminds me of a friend of mine, so of course I want to climb inside the pages and squeeze her to bits.
Roger is fun, and self-assured, but totally broken at the same time. I loved the way he didn’t question Amy’s fear of driving, and went along with every strange twist in their journey. I also loved the restraint he showed, and of course, his awesome taste in music (By the way, if you search some of the songs on his playlist on YouTube, you’ll find a ton of the others suggested in the side bar. How cool is that?).
Eldric was like a small sun dragged down to earth. I could just picture him vibrating with energy and bubbling with laughter. I loved his bad boy side, and his humor, and the way he “played” with Briony when she needed him to. Such an amazing, rich character.
Cricket was unique and weird, and adorable. I am a sucker for a smart boy, and Cricket fit that bill to a T. I loved the way he dove into anything that came up, from pie-making, to pizza box sliding. A great, romantic lead that would have any girl with a thing for nerdboys swooning. Loved him.
Tobin is everything I like about John Green’s writing. Funny and sarcastic without delving into snarky, full of joy at the wonderment of life, and not even completely embarrassed about it. Totally willing to dive straight into a bad plan and ride it out, no matter what. Green writes about the kind of kids I knew in high school, and Tobin was no exception. A lovable delight.
Rarely have I read a character who could pull off self-pity as successfully as Shakespeare. He made me care about what happened to him, even though he saw himself as a victim of circumstance. Hilariously honest and self-depricating to a fault. I loved his relationship with his parents, and the way he was so utterly inept with the girls in his life. Hilarious and adorable. Hidorable.
Oh, the understated sexual tension! Oh, the forbidden aspect of the student-teacher attraction! Oh, I am so going to kick Veronica Roth’s ass if anything bad happens to Four, I swear to God!
Mmmmm, animal magnetism in a repressive historical time period! Eldric and Briony simmer together and you just want them to finally let it happen! So good. Romantic without being sappy, obstacles you can actually believe, only a little bit wanting to clock one of them over the head with something heavy and scream, “Can’t you see he/she loves you?! AG!!” So so so so good.
This book is everything sweet and wonderful about that first real love. All that wrapped up in a spectacular oceanside setting that made me want to move to Georgia. And if you know me at all, that is REALLY saying something. Love how this one ended. And I won’t spoil it for you, so there.
Adam and Mia have made my heart ache since IF I STAY. I was going buggy for most of this book, so desperate was I to know everything would work out okay. Amazing character development from the first book, and I bought every word of it. It will fill you with longing and ennui, but in a good way.
Okay, who doesn’t love Stephanie Perkins? If you haven’t read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS you have obviously got to get your priorities straightened out. I didn’t love Lola as much as I loved Anna (the characters, not the book), but still the romance was so honest and realistic I couldn’t help putting this book on my list. Plus…Cricket. I mean, yum, right? As much as I wanted to thump Lola over her head with a book a few times, I suppose it would have been dishonest of her to see the light too soon, right? Even when that light is Cricket. If you love romance, this is the one for you, trust me.
So, there you have it! For more Year-End goodness, may I recommend checking out YAHighway?
Leave your favorites in the comments! My To-Read list can never be long enough.
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From page one, I climbed into Donna’s back pocket and was totally wrapped up in her journey though this book. I haven’t rooted so hard for a character in a long time. I just wanted everything to be all right for her. She makes some great decisions, some terrible ones, but they all seemed really necessary at the time.
There were so many delightful things about this book, I could wax poetic for pages. But I’d rather you just read the book and experience it for yourself. You won’t regret it.
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BUMPED by Megan McCafferty
Summary: (from the publisher)
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
The jacket flap does not do this book justice. Since I read it, I’ve tried to describe it to a number of people. Over and over I come back to this: It’s like a really disturbing sci-fi, maybe The Matrix, but narrated by Cher from Clueless. I know…but trust me.
The pregnancy-dominated slang was hard to take at first, kind of hard to understand, but once I decided to just let it in and wait for answers later, I really started to enjoy it. I couldn’t believe how many slang terms McCafferty could come up with! The language did so much for the world-building, I can’t imagine the book without it.
While the plot should have been far-fetched to the point of intolerance–I mean, identical twins separated at birth? Come on–but McCafferty made it work. It all made sense in the weird world of Melody and Harmony. The characters at first read more like caricatures than real people, but ultimately that felt like the point.
The whole purpose of the novel, I believe, was to hold a mirror up to the extremes of our culture and add a whopping dose of Miracle Grow and about 25 years to mature them. Harmony represents the extreme of religious devotion, with an obsession for purity, salvation and conversion. Melody represents the extreme of consumerism, with an obsession for status, micro-celebrity and commodity. The duel pictures McCafferty creates are not so extreme they seem impossible, or even so very distant.
Give the world a progressive virus that causes infertility, and I could easily see this happening. Way too easily. And that discomfort is exactly the point. Making pregnancy trendy? Um, we’re already halfway there. But as another reviewer pointed out, McCafferty managed to deliver (ha ha, pardon the pun) this biting warning against such a society without being completely anti-sex. You’d think the two would go hand-in-hand, but instead she managed to send a lot of positive messages about sexuality, and especially being in charge of your own.
Can’t complain about that! At least, I can’t.
I’m not too surprised this book isn’t getting the credit it deserves. It’s more satire than entertainment. But if you are someone who reads for more than just escapism, I think you’ll find something to like in here.
Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? If not, maybe check that out. If you like it, you’ll like BUMPED. Also, the movie Heathers. I apologize for all the movie references, but sometimes they’re just easier.
Has anyone else read this yet?
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WRAPPED by Jennifer Bradbury
Summary (from the publisher):
Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.
I got this book from GalleyGrab, and I didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, the cover art did not give me much hope. While it is beautiful as a piece of art, it really seemed more in line with the kind of covers I’m seeing on Middle Grade books right now. More graphic novel than traditional fiction. I thought the voice would be younger than it turned out to be.
Really, on all front, this book surprised me! After reading the jacket flap, I was expected paranormal. Instead, it was a delightful historical mystery and I completely enjoyed it. Agnes is an infectious main character–exactly what you want from a Victorian heroine: a little too smart for her own good, totally constrained by her society, and willing to tiptoe outside those social norms when adventure is at stake. The pace was just right, and kept me turning pages. I felt really immersed in Agnes’s world, without too much explanation that would ruin the voice.
Bradbury struck just the right balance between historical accuracy and creative license. I wanted to believe everything she told me, and her storytelling made that possible.
I won’t ruin this for you all with spoilers, but if you have ever loved the Victorian era, you need to read this book. The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking of Anne Perry’s Pitt series, which I devoured in younger days. Agnes brought me back there, with a nice sprucing up for today’s reader in the YA genre.
There had better be more where this came from, Jennifer Bradbury! More Agnes!
Anyone who likes Historical Mysteries, especially Victorians. Anyone who ever wanted to be Indiana Jones (like me!). Anyone who liked Amy Adams’s character in Sherlock Homes.
Let me know if you like it!
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STAY by Deb Caletti
Summary: (from the publisher)
I had the privilege of reviewing a galley of this book, and I could not have been luckier. This book is amazing. A bit slow to start but after ten pages or so I was in so deep I didn’t want to put it down.
The story reads as if it is really Clara telling her story. Her voice is impeccable, and smart, even when she’s making decisions that drive you crazy. I liked the very adult language and the relatable imagery. I’m not normally one for a lot of poetic language, but Caletti’s imagery and introspection were so real, so…right, I found myself wishing she’d explain the world to me.
Clara and Christian’s relationship is all too recognizable, and such an important and underexplored area in Young Adult literature. Despite the poisonous nature of the relationship, I found myself 100% in Clara’s corner. I could understand every step she took deeper into the dangerous waters of Christian.
The subplot between Clara and her father, while not inconsequential by any means, didn’t distract from the main story. I wanted to know how both threads wove together in the end.
An atmospheric story of love, loss, coping, growing up and forgiveness. Read it in the rain, and probably not by yourself. There are moment of genuine creep-out intertwined with moments of genuine joy. One of the best contemporary YA novels I’ve ever read. I’ll be catching up on Caletti’s back catalogue post-haste.
Anyone who loves contemporary YA. Anyone who has been in, or been friends with someone who has been in one of those poisonous relationships.
If you read and enjoyed, Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, Sarah Ockler’s TWENTY BOY SUMMER, Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY, or Kirsten Smith’s THE GEOGRAPHY OF GIRLHOOD, you will devour this book.
Come back and tell me what you think when you’re done, okay?
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THE LAST LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPE by Maureen Johnson
Summary: (from the publisher)
UPDATE: Right now, you can preorder (in Kindle format) the first book in Ginny’s story, THIRTEEN LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES for FREE. That’s right–FREE. Maureen Johnson is giving it away from April 12-26, 2011. Other formats will be available starting the 12th of April. Don’t miss out–FREE BOOK, PEOPLE!!
It was pure pleasure to go back to Ginny’s world, and the ride was just as dizzying and wonderful this time. I really enjoyed the character development in Ginny. She greeted this journey with so much more confidence. She was really the kind of girl you wish you could be in high school. It was also interesting to the see the changes in Keith. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll leave it at this: English boys are still sexy.
If anything, the descriptions were even better this time around. As rich as Ginny’s experience was the first time she traveled through Europe, this one made me feel like I was really there with her. And I want to go to the Coo Coo Clock. Like now.
At the end of the book, all I wanted to do was be fifteen years younger, with a disposable income and a zany treasure hunt of my own. Definitely the kind of book that reminds me why I read and write YA.
Anyone who likes contemporary YA, but you absolutely must read the first book first. You’ll want to know all of Ginny’s story before you dive into this one, and the wait will be totally worth it.
If you haven’t read any of Maureen Johnson’s books, you’re definitely missing out. Don’t let her girly covers deceive you. She has all the depth and honesty you could want from a YA writer, and then for added lovability, she’s the best Twitter personality I know. Go follow her. No, seriously. Go.
So, how’d I do for my VERY FIRST BOOK REVIEW (on my blog)?