My Summer TBR List

I’m one of those people who feed off of sunshine, so spring and summer are my favorite seasons. I especially love to read in the summer. Back when I was in school summer was pretty much the only time I could read for fun, and now the longer days make me more productive so I have more time to read. So since yesterday was the first official day of summer I thought I’d share what’s on my Summer To Be Read (TBR) List.

  • The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
    I read the first book of this series, Among the Hidden, in May for my Favorite Book Feature, so of course I now have to go read the whole series again. These books were some of my favorites back in middle school/early high school. Haddix was my favorite author at the time, and her books made me want to write too.

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  • The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
    I also read the first book of this series, Everlost, for a Favorite Book Feature, and I now want to read the other two books as well. Shusterman is one of my current favorite authors because of his incredible writing style. His voice is so distinct, and he is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Look for my post on Everlost next Friday for June’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Legend by Marie Lu
    I was hooked on this series as soon as I read the book jacket and saw that it is a dystopia inspired by Les Misérables. I’ll be writing about this amazing book for July’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
    August’s Favorite Book Feature is going to be this eerie dystopia about a water shortage.

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  • The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
    I’ve been meaning to get to this on for a while. Set in future Manhattan in a skyscraper that’s a thousand stories tall, this book sounds so glamorous and thrilling.
  • The Reader by Traci Chee
    This book is about a world without reading, which I find really interesting. It’s a fantasy, which I don’t tend to enjoy very often, so I’m not sure I’ll like it. But I think it will help inspire me and my current project.
  • Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
    I won the audiobook version of Metaltown a while back from a giveaway by the author, and I’m finally getting around to listening to it. This one is another dystopia inspired by Les Misérables, so I was hooked as soon as I heard Simmons describe it at a signing I went to.

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  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
    I think this will be the forth time I’ve read the original trilogy, but I like these books more each time I read them. I want to go through them again to help me as I work on a similar book.

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  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    While these are some of my favorite movies, I haven’t actually read the books except for the first one when it was a new book nine years ago. I also think this series will help me with my current project, so I finally want to read them.

Of course, all but two of these books I already own, so my library stack that’s already as tall as me isn’t getting any shorter any time soon. But I still can’t wait to get to read all of these stories this summer.

Favorite Book Feature: Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Last weekend I got to return to the town where I lived when I was in middle and high school for a family friend’s graduation party, and I was feeling nostalgic as my husband and I drove around the town where I grew up. So when I was looking through my favorite book shelf for May’s featured book, I picked Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I first read this novel when I was in eighth grade after Haddix came to speak at my school, and Haddix was my favorite author at the time.

Among the Hidden is about Luke, a twelve year old boy who has never left his family’s property, never gone to school, never met another person outside his family, and spends his days reading in his attic bedroom because he is an illegal third child in hiding from the Population Police. When the government buys the land behind his family’s farm and builds a new housing development, he’s no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then Luke sees a child’s face in the window of one of the new houses where he knows two other children already live, and he finally meets a fellow shadow child. But Jen has a dangerous plan to be able to come out of hiding, and wants Luke to join her. Among the Hidden is the first of the seven-book Shadow Children series.

Among the Hidden was the first dystopian book I’ve ever read, though I didn’t have the name for it at the time. It was still a while before young adult dystopian novels gained their popularity that they still have today. But even ten years ago I knew that I was holding something special when I read the Shadow Children books.

Haddix is so skilled at making her books suspenseful, quick reads that are appealing to all ages. I like her books now just as much as I did when I was in middle school. As I’ve talked about here, Haddix made me want to be a writer.

I love Among the Hidden because the book immediately grabs you with its premise. You’re instantly invested in Luke’s story when you learn he can no longer go outside because he’s an illegal third child. Haddix does an amazing job of showing his parents’ worry and, sometimes, overprotection. And then when Luke meets Jen, his world is shaken at its foundation, and you get to watch Luke’s journey as he goes from wondering what he should fill his day with to wondering whether he should risk his life to help shadow children like himself. This book is compelling and thrilling, and is an impressive start to the series.

Favorite Book Feature: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. April’s featured book is Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

This is a hard book to read. It’s about a young girl, Hannah, who committed suicide. But before she died, she recorded thirteen cassette tapes, one for each of the reasons she killed herself. Each of these tapes features a person who affected her life and what they did to make her want to kill herself. Hannah blames these thirteen people for her suicide—for what they did, and didn’t, do to make her want to kill herself. And we get to hear these tapes through the perspective of Clay, a boy who really liked Hannah and thought he was always nice to her, but who is one of the thirteen reasons. We hear Clay’s commentary throughout the book as he listens through all thirteen tapes in one night.

As Hannah tells her story, she shows how the things that happened to her had a snowball effect, getting bigger and bigger, and that once the ball got rolling it was almost impossible to stop. She recounts multiple instances of rumors being spread about her and also tells about unwanted advances from boys that were results of those rumors. She talks about how every time she tried to get close to someone she ended up hurt. All of these smaller instances add up quickly until everything becomes unbearable for Hannah.

This is not a happy book. We know from the start that Hannah killed herself, which makes this story rather depressing. Though at the end we do get to see that Clay has changed for the better after listening to Hannah’s tapes.

This book is amazing for so may reasons. First of all, the structure of the book is just incredible. I love Asher’s idea of having Hannah tell her story with cassette tapes. It is so unique, and it’s really interesting getting to watch as Clay listens to the tapes—how her voice affects him and the fact that it’s audio rather than something written making it feel “live.” I love that we get to follow good-guy Clay, knowing that somehow he’s one of Hannah’s reasons but also knowing he’s a pretty good person because of what we learn through his narration. The way Asher sets this up leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering how Clay fits in to the story. The book is written like a suspense novel, which keeps you turning pages. And it takes place over one night, which keeps the book tight and fast-paced.

It’s also fantastic that Asher chose to tackle such a tough topic in Thirteen Reasons Why. Teen suicide is a really important and big issue, and this book does the perfect job of showing how seemingly small incidents can lead someone to want to kill themselves. Hannah shows how one thing leads to another, and how when they just keep adding up it becomes almost impossible to keep your head up and keep going. Starting a rumor about someone, taking away encouraging notes, not staying and talking to someone who needs you—all of these things add up quickly. Asher does a great job showing why Hannah wants to kill herself, allowing the reader to really understand why someone would want to commit suicide, and also showing the missteps Hannah took in trying to find help and stop herself.

I highly recommend this book because it opens up a dialog about a topic that people don’t want to talk about. In the interview printed at the end of my copy of the book, Asher says that he wrote the book as a suspense novel in order to get people thinking about the characters rather than the issues themselves to make it easier for people to read the book. Suicide is hard to talk about, and it’s especially hard for the people who are considering it to talk about. Books like Thirteen Reasons Why are wonderful and necessary because they provide a way for people to see outside there own situations and open up about difficult topics.

I chose to read Thirteen Reasons Why this month because I am working on a new book that is also about teen suicide. I read this book again to remind myself of the skill Asher used in writing about this topic, and to get ideas on how I can write about it myself. I hope that my book can also help open up a dialog about this difficult topic.

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Favorite Book Feature: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. March’s featured book is The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes.

I’m a huge fan of Kathryn Holmes. Her second novel, How It Feels to Fly, solidified her spot on my favorite author list alongside Kiera Cass, Neal Shusterman, and Laurie Halse Anderson. When I first read Holmes’s debut novel, The Distance Between Lost and Found, it blew me away with how good it was.

This book is about a a young girl named Hallelujah who has been silent ever since the night of some incident with the preacher’s son, Luke. We don’t know what exactly this incident was, just that Hallelujah couldn’t get herself to tell anyone what really happened and that Luke has been making fun of her ever since. Hallelujah has lost all of her friends and the respect of her parents.

Six months later, Hallelujah is on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains. Luke is still making fun of her and everyone is still ignoring her, except for new girl Rachel. But Hallelujah can’t let anyone in, and ends up pushing her away too.

But then Hallelujah, Rachel, and Hallelujah’s former friend Jonah get separated form the group and quickly end up lost in the mountains. Faced with many difficult obstacles, the three try to find safety and get back home. While looking for rescue, they question God and each other, and try to find a way to open up about what they’ve gone through.

This book is fast-paced and exciting. It takes place over only a week, but you finish the book feeling like you’ve known Hallelujah, Jonah, and Rachel forever. I love all of the survival elements. Being lost in the mountains is scary and dangerous, and it is really interesting watching these characters find ways to survive.

I love how this book weaves in the themes of silence and violence against women and finding ways to open up. We don’t know exactly what Luke did to Hallelujah at first, but we see how it affects her and we’re right alongside her, cheering her on and hoping she finds a way to open up and tell others what’s happened to her.

My favorite part about this book is how it also weaves in themes of faith and God’s role in their survival. Holmes does exactly what I hope to do in my writing—let God have a role but not make it a Christian fiction novel. With it being a youth group retreat, God naturally has a role in this book, and each day lost on the mountains brings Hallelujah and her friends either closer or farther from God. I will say that I don’t like the end of the book as much as I was hoping. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that I was expecting Hallelujah to turn out a little differently after their journey.

The Distance Between Lost and Found will always be one of my favorite books. I chose to feature it this month for two reasons. The first is that I’ll be going on vacation to the Smoky Mountains for the first time in about a month. I’m so excited for my first trip to the mountains, though I don’t plan on hiking off on my own like Hallelujah and her friends. The second reason is because when I read this book for the first time two years ago, it made me want to turn my favorite short story I’ve ever written into a novel. I tried back then, but it didn’t work for a lot of reasons. Now I know how to do it right and I’ve returned to that story. I read this book this month to help me prepare for this novel. And it’s going to be an amazing writing journey.

The Distance Between Lost and Found

Falling in Love with Audiobooks

Back in high school, I hated (almost) everything we were assigned to read. To me, they were all boring books that were written a hundred years ago that had nothing to do with my life. Though I was retaught some of them in college and actually like them now, like The Great Gatsby, I sadly still have little patience for anything written before my lifetime. However, I discovered in high school something that made reading all of those books bearable—audiobooks.

I would get the texts on CD from the library and listen as I drove to and from school. It was so easy to fly through the day’s reading assignment by doing this, and it made the books even kind of interesting. It was nice to have a story be read aloud to me, like a parent tucking you into bed.

I then went to college and, being an English major, lost all time to read what I actually wanted to read. My days were filled with the dozens of assigned texts I had to read for my classes. And being forced to read all of these books made me lose my love for reading.

When I graduated I rediscovered my love after realizing how much time I now had to read. It’s been almost two years since I’ve graduated, and I’ve read 102 novels. But I think that the number will be much higher for the coming years, as I have also rediscovered my love of audiobooks.

It started with a book that I found difficult to read in print but that I loved the concept of—Need, by Joelle Charbonneau. I enjoyed reading The Testing trilogy by Charbonneau, so when I saw her new book was about the dangers of social media, I had to pick it up. I gave up after about fifty pages though, as I felt it wasn’t smooth on the page. But then a few months later I found the audiobook version at my library, and I gave it another try. And I am so glad I did.

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Just like those books in high school, listening to the audiobook made the story so much more interesting and easy to get through. And this story was so worth it, because it ended up being an incredible book about how social media can make teenagers do things they would not do without the anonymity of the Internet and make them complete seemingly random and secretly dangerous tasks with the promise of a material reward.

After falling in love with audiobooks again, I discovered an app that my library lets you use for free—called Hoopla—that has tons of audiobooks on it. And the best part is that you can listen to them at varying speeds. I like to listen at 1.5x normal speed, so I can get through books quickly. And I love that it is on my Kindle and phone, so that I can listen as I get ready in the morning instead of having to use a CD player or just listen in the car.

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Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy on Hoopla’s App

So I encourage you, if you have trouble getting into books or even finding the time to read, try audiobooks. It is really interesting to have a novel read aloud to you, and doing so makes it so much easier to fit reading into your day.

Favorite Book Feature: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I’m going to be featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month this year, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. February’s featured book is If I Stay by Gayle Forman.

If I Stay is about a young musician, Mia, who has a great family and a close friend and a good boyfriend. Her life was not perfect though, and she struggled with deciding whether or not to go to Julliard and leave behind her family and boyfriend, Adam. This caused a lot of tension with Adam, though her family of fellow musicians were very supportive of her.

However, when her family is in a car crash and Mia is left an orphan, she has an even more important decision to make. Mia has an out-of-body experience which allows her to watch the aftermath of the crash and go to the hospital to watch doctors try to save her life. Things don’t look good for Mia, and she is still unconscious after surgery, but she hears a nurse tell her grandparents that it’s not up to what the doctors do—she’s the one calling the shots. Mia is the one who decides if she stays or if she goes. And this decision terrifies Mia. Should she go with her dead parents, or should she stay with the rest of her family and friends?

I love If I Stay for so many reasons. The first reason is that I love books on a short timeline, particularly ones that span a single day like this book. A tight timeline makes books so fast-paced and impossible to put down. Both times I’ve read this book I’ve read it in only a couple sittings. I love how Forman splits the chapters into what’s going on at that present time and then a vivid memory where we get to see Mia’s past.

I also love this book because it really pulls at your emotions. This book is written in plain and simple language. I think that is so effective because Forman puts the raw emotions on the page and lets the readers feel them fully. The characters are all real and memorable. And the book is full of touching moments in Mia’s relationships with everyone, whether it’s her dad giving her a pep talk before her first cello recital, having meaningful discussions with her mom while doing dishes, or the words her grandfather speaks to her by her hospital bed. This book will make you cry. Probably multiple times.

The main reason that If I Stay is one of my favorite books is because it reminds me of something really important. In the book, Mia feels like she doesn’t have a reason to stay, to live anymore now that her parents are gone. She thinks life is too hard and she doesn’t want to go on without her family. But what the people who visit Mia in the hospital try to remind her is that they’re all still there. She still has a family. She still has so many reasons to live. She is an amazing cellist. She’s probably going to be accepted to Julliard. She has Adam, and her friend Kim. She has her grandparents and aunts and uncles who are all there with her in the hospital. This book reminds me that no matter how bad things get and no matter how hard things look, there are still so many wonderful reasons to keep going. Read the book to find out if all of these reasons are enough for Mia to stay.

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Favorite Book Feature: A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

The last Friday of every month this year I’m going to be featuring one of my favorite books. I’ll give a review and say why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list here. First up is A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher.

As I wrote about here, Les Misérables is my favorite story ever and never fails to inspire me. Les Mis is full of amazing characters, hope, redemption, and fighting for a better tomorrow. I love everything about this story, especially the character Éponine. And Fletcher’s novel A Little in Love beautifully illustrates Éponine’s heartbreaking story.

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I may be a little obsessed with Les Mis. The t-shirt on the left is printed with the text of the book from Litographs. And that’s my front row ticket for the Broadway revival.

Éponine has a very hard life. Her parents were cruel and made her steal. She was forced to be cruel as well to a young girl who came to stay with them, and she has always regretted it. She tries at times to turn her life around—such as committing to doing good deeds when she does bad ones—and she tries hard to change when she falls in love with a boy named Marius. But his love is not returned, and Éponine learns that he has instead fallen in love with the same girl from her childhood, Cosette. Despite everything she has gone through, however, Éponine is granted forgiveness and redeems herself in the end.

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More Les Mis stuff. Playbills, DVDs, and a book about the 2012 film adaptation.

I love this book because it takes one of the lesser-developed characters in the story of Les Mis and digs deep into who she is. Fletcher gives us Éponine’s entire history and shows us the reasons she behaves as she does. I enjoy having this chance to understand how Éponine could love someone so much that she would choose his happiness over her own. And I love this beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption. Éponine committed bad deeds in her life, but she chose to change her life and she did.

I also really enjoy this book because I too like to change up well-known stories. Fletcher is an inspiration to me because of how well she accomplishes this. In college I enjoyed rewriting fairy tales into my own versions of them, and I first got started in writing by doing Harry Potter fan fiction. Rewriting your own versions of fairy tales or classic stories like Les Mis can be a great way to get started in writing. It’s fun to take characters and stories you know and make them your own.

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