Friday, December 28, 2018

Skating Parties & Scandals

Alright, y'all, I was able to squeeze in one last (I think?) quartet for 2018.

Fifth Grade: Here Comes Trouble by Colleen O'Shaughnessy McKenna was a recent thrifting throwback find. The best part of this one was that the plot revolved around an upcoming coed skating party for someone's birthday. Y'all, remember your first coed party? And also the pressure of the couples skate at a skating rink? Right?!?! RIGHT?!?! Is that a stress kids today still have? I don't even know. Honestly, this was a quick read more than anything. I loved the nostalgia it provided, but it wasn't much more than that to me.

Read this book if - You are a thirtysomething who wants a chance to remember the social dynamics of the skating party.

Our House by Louise Candlish is this month's book club selection. This book starts with Fiona getting home only to find out there are other people living in her home. All her stuff is gone, and these other people indicate they now own her house. Whoa, y'all. The book then treks through what might have happened in alternating narrations. For Fiona, this is as the subject of a true crime podcast. For her now MIA husband Bram, this is through a Word document he has composed. This book is really the ultimate case of an event spiraling out of control, and then spiraling some more, and then spiraling even more. This is one that kept me reading not so much from a "Now What" angle, but a "WAIT, WHAT?!" angle which is definitely a fine line for an author to tow in a story like this. The twists in this one were ones I didn't see coming, and overall, this was just the best kind of pageturning thriller.

Read this book if - You want a book that will get your book club talking. You want the ultimate look into a situation that spirals OUT. OF. CONTROL.

After reading The Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie? I decided to continue with the series. 

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline Coomey was just okay-ish. Honestly, it read like a novella more than a full story. In this one, Reeve (Janie's boyfriend/boy next door) is off to college. He's DJing at the campus radio station, and he's trying to find his voice. So, he starts telling Janie's story. LIsteners are captivated. As you can maybe see coming, Janie finds out. So, there's that. As a continuation of the series, I just wanted so much more than I got from this one.

Read this book if - You want to continue reading about Janie Johnson.

What Janie Found by Caroline Coomey is the fourth book in the Janie Johnson series. For me, this book seemed to really just be setting up the last book in the series. In this one, Janie's adoptive father has a stroke. Janie goes to help her mother. In looking through her dad's finances and papers, she realizes that her dad knows more about Hannah (his daughter/her kidnapper) than he was letting on. This development is really a set-up for the crux of the fifth book (which I am now reading). Much like the third book, this one wasn't as much depth as a full novel, but there was enough drama that I NEED to know what happens in the conclusion of this series.

Read this book if - You still want to continue reading about Janie Johnson.

See you in 2019!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Throwback to the Books: The Face on the Milk Carton and Sweet Valley Twins

For this round of reading, I decided to take on some of the throwback reads that I've picked up in the last few months.

First up, it was revisiting The Face on the Milk Carton. I can remember this book being one of those books that we ALL read in elementary school, so I was excited to revisit it and its sequel Whatever Happened to Janie.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney is a book that's fascinating to read as an adult. There were moments where I had to stop and think, "Wait, I read this as a kid?" I mean, I also watched a tremendous amount of Rescue 911, so this explains my fears of kidnappings and robberies. ANYWAY. If you're not familiar with this one, this is about Janie who sees a face on a milk carton (remember when that was a thing y'all?) and feels like it might be her. She starts doing some digging and asking some question finding out that her life is not at all what she thought it was. Also, I definitely didn't remember the cult connection in this one, and that was quite intense! Going back and revisiting this one, I loved it. It reads like a Lifetime movie (in fact it was a made for TV movie), and I was so here for that. This one just has a nostalgia and thrill that I love.

So, then it was onto the sequel!

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline Cooney wasn't as fresh in my mind. I'm sure I read it at some point obvs. In this one, Janie has returned to her biological parents. She's adjusting to her new normal. Except this is a lot more difficult than she realized. The Spring family had gotten used to life without her, and she is used to who she was. Again, for something I read as a kid, this was complicated emotions. However, I dug it. 

I also learned that there are three more of these books in the series, so definitely plan on checking out the others.

Then, I decided to head back to Sweet Valley (Sweeeeet Valley, Sweeeet Valley Higggggh). When it comes to this series, I actually read way more of the Sweet Valley Twins books than Sweet Valley High. I really didn't remember much of this series other than that it involved the Wakefield twins. I quickly realized I was way more of a Elizabeth than a Jessica. 

The Christmas Ghost by Francine Pascal was your classic take on A Christmas Carol. It was a Super Chiller(!) which really just meant it was longer than some of the others. In this one, Jessica is jerk. Elizabeth somehow gets a famous actor to agree to come by her house to talk about the fundraising she's doing for a children's hospital. When he doesn't show up, Elizabeth is bummed. She leaves the house, and Jessica stays around. Well, turns out the dude had car trouble, so he shows up late. Jessica decides she won't tell Elizabeth and is going to meet him for dinner the next day. Jerk move, right? Well, she goes to bed, the ghosts of past/present/future meet her as they do, and I bet you can guess how it ends. Predictable? Yes, but I kind of liked that about it.

Holiday Mischief by Francine Pascal was a Super Edition which apparently just meant the girls went on a trick. Y'all, this one was just a little too outlandish - even understanding the audience. The girls' friend Anna wants to go on the choir trip, so she can go to DC and meet her long last sibling. Um, what? A foreign embassy is involved, the girls sneak out of the hotel (y'all, they're 12), and it was just a little much. Well-intentioned, but it was just too many "Wait, what?" moments for this me.

So, tell me, where these books you read as a kid? What do you remember? 

Best Reads of 2018 - YA, J Fiction & The Best of the Rest!

As promised, I'm here with even more books from 2018 that I loved.

First off, I maintain a love of YA. There were three books I read this year that I especially adored and would highly recommend to y'all.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was just a beautiful story of a relationship. It is so well-told, and to see how the connection between Aristotle and Dante evolved made this an incredible and wonderful read. 

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson is a book that will break your heart. Claudia's friend Monday is missing, and no one seems to care. This book explores how broken systems fail the people who need them. It is an emotional and necessary read on an important issue.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke is the story of Jane who is expelled from high school and finds her way into the cast of a reality television show being made by an aspiring filmmaker at her local community college. I LOVE reality television, so I was all about this one as Jane navigated her actual reality and the experience of the show.

A genre I read more of then ever before was juvenile (aka kid's) fiction. I found some chapter books that were absolutely incredible. It reminded me of where my love of reading began, and I found these books are still great for a thirtysomething bibliophile.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern is first of all my favorite cover of the year. The story inside is even better as I adored Maggie as a character. As she writes her memoir, she brings so much humor and heart even in difficult circumstances. This is just one that made me smile. Also, Maggie totally reminded me of, well, me.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson has so many feels. When Ms. Bixby becomes sick and unable to teach, three of her students set out to let her know how special she is to them. This was such a beautiful tribute to the power of people, especially incredible teachers who go above and beyond. I will say that this one was emotional, but it's such a meaningful and powerful read.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a unique story in that it's told by a gorilla in a mall zoo. In his voice, you learn about his world - his animal friends, his human connections, and how he sees the world. This book is incredible. It's an ambitious premise, and it is done so, so very well.

Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett is just a fun read. It's the (allegedly true) story of a kid spy in the eighties. It's a great throwback read for kids today. It also does a good job of popping in some history and facts for its readers. This was just a fun graphic novel that I ended up loving way more than I expected.

Finally, I obvs couldn't name all the books from 2018 as my favorites. I wanted to spotlight just a few more quickly that I thought needed a bit more of a signal boost/endorsement from me.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a beautifully told story of the tragedy of a dystopian future. It is mesmerizing which is a feat given its subject matter.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman is another masterwork by the author. This dude just knows how to write characters and stories that make you feel all the feels.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is plain and simple just a well-written novel. This recommendation came to me via a stranger, and I'm so grateful it did as it's such a compelling story.

Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins is a wonderfully told story about self-love. It explores how this self-love is impacted by others, as well as how this can impact relationships. 

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris is an exploration of the reasons we don't think we meditate or be mindful and how to overcome those barriers and excuses. It's a book that makes the practice more accessible and achievable.

Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern is just a wonderfully told story. It's all correspondence - letters, emails, and IMs, and it tells the story of Rosie and Alex through these mediums over the course of years. It's quirky, and I was so here for that.

I'll be back at the end of the year with an all-out summary of each and every book I read this year (and I'll continue sharing quartets of reviews if I can squeeze in a few more), but for now, I hope you'll get to reading many of these incredible books. Enjoy y'all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Favorite Reads of 2018

It's been an awesome year for reading in my world. Sure, there's been a great quantity of reading happening, but moreso it's been about the quality of what I've read. While my year of reading isn't technically done yet, I did want to go ahead and offer up my end of year "Best Of" wrap-up post!

After some fancy spreadsheet work and internal debating, I've manage to select the twelve(ish) best books I read this year. I will now (re)share these great loves of my reading life with y'all. 

First off, let me give you my master list of selections.

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  • 1. The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
  • 2. The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
  • 3. The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
  • 4. How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
  • 5. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
  • 6. I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  • 7. How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
  • 8. Still Me by JoJo Moyes
  • 9. All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
  • 10. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
  • 11. Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
  • 12. The Circle by David Eggers
And now, more importantly, let me tell you why these books are THE books of my year.

The Dream Daughter is an absolutely beautiful and enchanting story of a mother and daughter. However, here's the thing - I can't fully tell you why. The emotion of the book is built on one significant reveal of what's going on. This book was so unique in the story it told, while also making this scenario totally believable. You have to trust me that you will be captivated by this one, and there's a secret and adventure that lies in in its pages making it the very best book of my year.

The Last Days of Night was absolutely captivating. If you would have said to me, "Andrea, you're going to have a book about the development of electricity and invention of the light bulb in your top books!" I obvs would have never believed you. However, that would be because I didn't know the story was so darn compelling. This is historical fiction that veers into intense thriller territory. I learned things about the battle between Einstein and Westinghouse (with additional involvement/intrigue from Tesla) that I didn't even know were things I would become so invested in through reading. This book came to me via a recommendation that I am so thankful for, and I cannot recommend this one to y'all enough.

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington isn't officially out until January 2019. That said, you're going to NEED to get your hands on this book at some point in 2019. This is a fascinating read y'all! It's a true story, but it reads like a thriller. The stuff that goes down in this one is nearly unbelievable until you remember this is what really happened! This is the second book I've read around George Washington (the first being George Washington's Secret Six), and to see all he overcame, navigated and built never ceases to be remarkable to me. 

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How To Break Up With Your Phone is the book I've recommended to others the most this year. I've had times (including right before I read this book) where my phone and I had an unhealthy relationship. This was such a valuable read. I loved that it wasn't judge-y, rather it focused on practical advice for use. The end goal wasn't returning to the flip phone, rather it was intentionality around the realities of technology today. I loved how this allowed me to become more mindful around my own phone use, and I continue to tell people this the book to (re)calibrate your own relationship with your phone.

The Girl He Used To Know is another book from the future as this one doesn't come out until April of 2019. This is the story of Annika and Jonathan. It is how they first come together, then fall apart, then come back together. I was absolutely captivated by Annika as a character. This was such a unique story, and it packs in so many different types of feels. While this is one of the best books of my 2018, add it to your 2019 plans.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer creeped me out in the best of ways. This is an incredibly researched account of a killer that terrorized for years. The level of detail the author went to find the killer's identity is mesmerizing. Even more incredible, of course, is that this was the year they finally found this terrible dude. If you love true crime or a scare, you have to read this as it's unlike anything else in the genre.

How To Walk Away is another book that's been one of my go-to recommendations for the year. In a split second, Margaret's life changes course. Her new normal is drastically different from where she thought everything was going to go. This was a wonderful story of resilience, overcoming challenge, and finding happiness after all seems lost. This is a book that you'll easily devour in a sitting or two.

Still Me is the third book about Louisa Clark. After reading Me Before You, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep with this series. I'm so glad I did. I adored After You, and this one was even better. I love how Louisa continues to find love and herself in these stories. I don't want to tell you too many things in case you're not this far in the series, but again you just have to trust me that this is worth the read.

All We Ever Wanted was very different than what I've come to expect from Emily Giffin. This one explored so many issues that stem from a picture taken at a high school party. At its core, this one is about privilege, and it is a compelling story told from multiple perspectives that will really make you think about the topics presented. If you're looking for your next book club read, this would be one I'd highly encourage you to consider. I"m excited my own online book club will be taking this one on in 2019.

Only Child is heartbreaking and sad, but also powerful. It is the aftermath of a school shooting told entirely from the perspective of a six year old boy. The emotion in this one is so raw, particularly given Zach (the narrator) loses his older brother in the shooting. However, there is beauty in the storytelling of the pain and emotion of what happens to those who are connected and involved in the shooting.

Who Do You Love was just a well-told love story. I read a lot of thrillers this year, as well as some intense feels, and this was just what I wanted it to be. I knew how it would end, but I read on anyway. I always have a soft spot for love, and this was the best one in this genre of my year.

The Circle was a dystopian thriller that was terrifying in its realness. In fact, this isn't too far off on what reality could become. That realness is what made this one such a good read. I was so drawn into this work and freaked the heck out. I loved the way it posed dilemmas, and it probably blew my mind more than anything else I read this year.

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So, tell me, what were the best books of YOUR year?

P.S. Stay tuned for my best children's fiction reads, YA reads, AND other honorable mention reads from my year in books!

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Books on the Complexities of Family

In a totally unplanned move (as is usually the case, let's be honest), all four of these books look at complicated relationships in families. That said, they're also four very different books. Here's what I thought.

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes was another J read I absolutely adored. June loves reading, but she finds to has to keep some of her latest reads recommended to her by the school librarian hidden. When her parents find she's reading The Makings of a Witch, they find this to be extremely inappropriate. They're concerned to the point that they go to school setting in motion a book ban process. June is frustrated, and she believes she should have freedom to read what she wants and explore through books. She decides she's going to fight the system by starting her own locker library. From there, June becomes the underground "rebel librarian" for her classmates. I loved that this was book banning explored from June's perspective. Her frustrations and emotions were so real, and I loved her determination to keep her classmates reading. Book banning is problematic, and I dig that there's a children's book that can help them (and adults, too) understand the issues, as well as the power of knowledge and reading. Even as an adult reader, I left this one inspired by June's willingness to fight the system and save the library!

Read this book if - You want a book that covers book banning from a different lens. You want to look at censorship and activism through the eyes of a kid.

Have Mother, Will Travel by Mia and Claire Fontaine was this month's selection for my online book club. Without that, I'm not sure I would have found my way to this one. The interesting thing is while travel is in the title, that was my least favorite part of the book. I could honestly have not cared less about where Mia and Claire went. What I did really love was the exploration and evolution of their relationship. Mia is a recovering addict, and there were many, many years her relationship with her mother was strained. (Note: This duo has written another book, and it's about that aspect of their relationship.) They decide some international travel together will be another way to build their mother-daughter connection. Again, the travel wasn't for me, but there was a lot of really great realizations about life in this one. This line especially made me feel some feels, "Why do so many of us choose to be good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire?" Right?! RIGHT?!?! Anyway, the growth of the two women is what I enjoyed about this book which is what the second half really focuses on, so it took me awhile to get into this one. Once I did, I love the authenticity and truth of it all. 

Read this book if - You want a book that explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. You want a book that reflects on how women navigate the world - literally and figurately.

The Suspect by Fiona Barton was one heckuva thriller. Kate Walters is a journalist who is covering the story of two girls from the UK who've gone missing in Thailand. She takes the time to connect with these families to tell their story and get the word out about their missing daughters. Kate is also navigating her own loss. She hasn't heard from her own son in two years as he left home to travel. This one was a page-turner that kept me reading. Kate soon finds she has more vested in the story of the missing girls than she ever could have known, and WHOA y'all. You just wait until the twists start coming. I appreciated how the truth and suspense in this one was pieced together through narration from Kate's perspective, the mother of one of the girls, a detective, and the story of the girls before they went missing. This one comes out in January (thanks Shelf Awareness/Berkley for the ARC), and I anticipate this is one that will definitely get people talking as they breeze through these pages because they need to know what happen. My only critique is that the last few pages were confusing. I was into it until that point, then I felt like I needed even MORE pages to explain what I just read, but they weren't there. That very small mess aside, if you're a thriller fan, this should go on your list.

Read this book if - You want to check out a really captivating pageturner of a thriller. You want a thriller that has a bit of a Defending Jacob vibe. Sorry, I hate comparing books to other books, but that's what came to mind at times as I read.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was an interesting coming of age story. Eilis lives in Ireland. A priest offers to sponsor her to go to Brooklyn. This means she must leave her mother and sister behind. However, they all see the opportunity she could have there, so she sails across the ocean. In America, she begins to build her new life and relationships. Sometimes you just find books that are enjoyable to read. They're just well-written characters that you want to know more about as you follow their story. This one despite being shorter (262 pages for my copy) packed a lot of emotion. It was heartbreaking at times in unexpected ways. Overall, I just really dug Eilis' story.

Read this book if - You just want a good book that tells a story about a woman.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Books That Are All "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?"

As I do, I'm back with another quartet of reads. This round was books that were good enough, but they weren't that overwhelming "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS RIGHT NOW" feel. That said, you might find something that wasn't totally my jam could be yours. 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was a book that ultimately was a little flat for me. All the ingredients for a great thriller were there, and I just felt like there was so much potential unrealized. That said, this book focuses on a plane crash. A rich and prominent family, the flight crew, and a "down on his luck" painter (that's from the description of the book, not me) are on a small plane that crashes. The only survivors are the painter and one of the family's young children. Then, the questions begin. Why was the painter there? What happened? Is there more to this story? The book explores the story of each of the people of the plane focusing on before and up to the last moments of the plane. It also follows the investigation as evidence is discovered. It was interesting at times, but ultimately, this just didn't have enough twists and turns of drama (especially in the ending) for me.

Read this book if - You want a book that explores the mystery of a plane crash and the stories of its passengers.

If, Then by Kate Hope Day was an intriguing premise. In an Oregon town, four residents have visions of an alternate reality. There's the visions of someone else in a bed, a deceased relative back to life, a baby that doesn't exist, and tragedy. From there, each of these residents reacts differently to that vision. The visions are too real to ignore, and they continue, so residents must do something with what has been presented to them. This book was well-written and interesting enough. I'll own that once they got more and more into the parallel reality stuff, it wasn't totally my jam. That's more my personal struggles with understanding physics-y stuff than the content of the book, so keep that in mind. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me get a sneak peek of this March 2019 release. I think it'll be one that will get people talking as they consider what you would do with a vision of what isn't, but could be?

Read this book if - You want a drama that explores the idea of "What if?" through the lens of a parallel reality concept.

Pretending To Dance by Diane Chamberlain was just what I needed it to be. Diane (we're on a first name basis at this point) is my that author who provides my comfort reads. When I need that book that provides just the right mix of drama, character development, and a twist, Diane is who I turn to. This book was about Molly who is trying to adopt a baby with her husband in San Diego. As they go through the process, it is revealed that Molly hasn't shared the full truth of where she came from. In chapters alternating between the present process and the past, the truth of Molly's past is revealed. This includes a very complicated relationship with her birth mother, as well as unresolved emotions around her father's death. I appreciated that it was clear there was some kind of secret, but I couldn't quite figure out what that secret was. The storytelling kept me reading and wondering as a great Diane Chamberlain always does. Also, this one gets bonus points for the mentions of New Kids on the Block and Judy Blume. 

Read this book if - You are a big fan of Diane Chamberlain - as I am. You like a fiction read that uses the past and present to tell its story. You like a story with some secrets that are revealed as it goes.

Little Lovely Things by Maureen Joyce Connolly was one emotional read. When Claire has an allergic reaction while driving with her two girls, she's forced to stop at a gas station bathroom. She leaves her two young girls unattended. The reaction is so severe she passes out in the bathroom. Upon waking up, the girls are gone, and she has no idea what has happened. The book then focuses on figuring out where her girls have gone and/or if they're even alive. This is explored through a variety of characters, including Claire, her girls, and those with other connections to the disappearance. This book explores an incredible tragedy for a family, and it does it so well which means this is a mostly sad book. The unique part of this story is the character connections, and that is what kept me reading. The emotions were so raw as they should be, but there was also the push throughout of hope in getting answers around Lily and Andrea's disappearance. This was another NetGalley sneak peek for a release, and I anticipate when this one comes out in April 2019 that this is one that will get people up in their feels and needing to talk.

Read this book if - You have the emotional capacity to take on a sad book. You want an emotional read that explores the progression of a tragedy through interconnected characters.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Books with a Diverse Cast of Characters

Y'all, it took me until the last months of the year, but I'm finally reading quartets in themes! For this one, it was total happenstance, and I'm glad it was a thing. I was at the main branch of our library, and I wanted to check out a few books from my to read list. I was able to find four books. As I looked at what I'd chosen, they were all YA reads featuring main characters of color. I'm so glad that's how this worked out, not so much because of the thematic reading, but because this quartet featured some of the best stories I've read all year.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was a uniquely told, captivating story. Will's brother has been killed by gun violence, and he's off to get revenge for this death. After all, that's what the "rules" say that he should do. Will boards the elevator to do this. On each floor, he is joined by someone - the only thing is, these people are dead. Each is someone who has a connection to the gun and his brother's story. This book is told in verse - It is a quick read, and the true beauty of it is that the small amount of words convey so much emotion. Will's elevator ride is sixty seconds, but in that time, there is so much about relationships, about community dynamics, and and about difficult decisions. This story was told in such a unique way that was perfect to convey the tragedy and emotion of Will's dilemma. Given the format I breezed through this read, but the topic of the tale stayed with me so much longer. Read this one y'all.

Read this book if - You want a quick, uniquely written read that will make you think. You want to read about emotion and tragedy in a unique storytelling format.

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson was absolutely heartbreaking. There's no other way to explain this tale. That said, it's such a necessary read as it focuses on the disappearance of young girls of color. Claudia's best friend Monday is missing. The adults around her don't share her concern, so she takes it upon herself to find her friend. Her investigation proves to be emotional, frustrating and confusing. How can someone just vanish? And how can there be such little attention paid? As I said, this read was so heartbreaking as it showcases the flaws in the system. Through Claudia and Monday's friendship, this book provides an unfortunate tale of how this happened. Also, this book has a twist that took my literal breath away as it only further dug into the emotion of this story. Of the books I've read this year, this is one of the most painful, but it is essential. This is a book that will stay with me as it helped me understand an issue in a way that I didn't before. It was absolutely captivating, and this is a book that shouldn't be on a "want to read" shelf, but a "NEED to read" shelf.

Read this book if - You are seeking to understand how a broken system impacts an issue. You want an emotional, beautiful read that helps you understand a crisis.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith was a book I was intrigued by given it was set in Lawrence, Kansas. This book focused on Louise, a native teen navigating high school. I will say that for me, I wanted more depth for Louise. I wanted the story to focus even more on her. I just didn't get the true focus on Louise which is what drew me to the book. The other storyline of the book was that the theater teacher has decided to have a more inclusive casting of the school's production of The Wizard of Oz. This outrages parents and students, and there are incidents of vandalism and violence towards Louise's family and others as a result of this. I loved the centering of a native character in this one. As I was reading, I reflected on how few contemporary native main characters I've read (and I definitely want to read more), but again, I also wanted so much more from Louise than I was given. Ultimately, I didn't get that emotional connection that I craved going into this one.

Read this book if - You are looking to read a story that centers a Native teen.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz was an incredibly beautiful story of friendship. It explores the complexities of a friendship in a way that was just incredible. Aristotle and Dante are loners who find their way to each other. They are both in search of a friend, so it just makes sense that they connect. From there, there is a rollercoaster of a friendship. Each boy is navigating his own stuff - For Aristotle, there's anger, primarily with his family. His brother has been in jail, and he struggles with how his family has chosen to handle this reality. For Dante, it's figuring out who he is. He has a carefree spirit, but also he is working through trying to really understand his identities. I loved these characters and the depth with which they were written. I was able to really feel the ups and downs of this relationship, and it just captivated me. This was my first read from this author, and I now want to read all the things if they are going to involved incredible characters like this one.

Read this book if - You are looking for a YA book that explores the true beauty and complexity of friendship. You want to feel all the feels through a relationship.

Y'all this is a wonderful quartet of reads, and I hope you'll find your way to one (or more) of these. I'd also love to read more in this vein, so if you've got ideas, you know where to find me.