Tuesday, October 29, 2019

One Week To Go!

Yes, it's true. In just one week, THE HOW & THE WHY will be out in the world! As usual, I am filled with excitement and nervousness, especially because this book is so deeply personal to me.

If you'd like to receive a signed copy of this book, along with some free stuff like bookmarks, quote cards, and stickers, order it HERE.

If you've already pre-ordered the book and are now kicking yourself because now you won't get the free stuff, STOP KICKING YOURSELF. Just send me an email at writercynthiahand@gmail with your proof of purchase (like a screenshot) and I will send you a signed and personalized bookplate and all the free stuff, free of charge. *U.S. only. Also: THANK YOU. If I could hug you right now and you liked hugs and were okay with it, I totally would. Thank you so much for reading.

If you want to help me out this week, please share about the book. Check the book page for the very kind reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, etc, and the links to how to buy it from pretty much everywhere.

And if you happen to live in Idaho, check the events page. I am going to be doing events and school visits like crazy over the next couple months. Including a BOOK LAUNCH at Rediscovered Books in Boise, on November 6 from 7-8:30. So stop by!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Cover reveal for THE HOW AND THE WHY

This post has been a LONG time coming. The folks over at HarperTeen have been working on the cover of my newest book, THE HOW AND THE WHY (out in November 2019) for over a year, people. And now it is finally ready to show to the world.

But first, the description:

A poignant exploration of family and the ties that bind from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand.

Dear X,


Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies. I can't imagine you as an actual baby, let alone an eighteen-year-old person reading this letter. I'm not even eighteen yet myself.

-S.
Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

Alternating between Cass’s search for answers and letters from the pregnant teen who gave her up for adoption, this voice-driven narrative is the perfect read for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson.


And now (drum roll, please!)

THE COVER



I am so in love with this cover. I cried the first time I saw it. It is extra personal for me, as the building shown here is the real Booth Memorial Home For Unwed Mothers (what is now Marian Prichett High School for pregnant teens and new mothers). On the left is S, who write a series to her unborn baby, and on the right, Cass, the headstrong girl that baby would grow up to be, gazing at each other across time. (Can you tell that it's summer on the left side, and autumn on the other? SOOOOOOOO COOL!)

Here's where you can find the book:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

BooksAMillion

HarperCollins


So what do you think?




Monday, December 31, 2018

Books I Read In 2018

I haven't read as many books as I would have liked to this year, but there have been some truly excellent reads of 2018. Some I read for my book club, which is entirely wonderful to be a part of, and some I read to my kids, but most I read entirely for pleasure. And what a pleasurable year of reading it was!

So here's the list:

Books I read in 2018


Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.

Description: 

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of Gods in Alabama presents a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality - the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are. 

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs' weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman. 
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She's having a baby boy - an unexpected but not unhappy development in the 38-year-old's life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional Southern family, her stepsister Rachel's marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved 90-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she's been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood. 
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother's affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she's pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she's got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie's been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family's freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

My thoughts: I read this with my book club, and I liked it, although almost a year later it hasn’t really stayed with me. I do remember that there was an element of comic-book writing in it that I really liked and reminded me a bit of Station Eleven.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.

Description: 

This is the way the world ends...for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy. 

My thoughts: THIS BOOK. I have not enjoyed an adult fantasy so much in years. This was easily one of my favorite books ever, not just of the year. The characters were so well drawn. The world was so cool and so tough and so beautiful done.  It was also one of the best uses of second person in a novel that I’ve ever seen. SOOOOOOO good.


The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer. 

Description:

She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn't even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning. 

Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They've killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon. 

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it's her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous. 

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of. 

My thoughts: A book club read. Again, I liked it, although my favorite SM is still far and away The Host. I liked the dogs, the lethal heroine, and the solid lack of a love triangle.


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemison.
Sequel to The Fifth Season, and I liked it maybe even better than the first book. 


Fawkes by Nadine Brandes.

Description:

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.
Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th-century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.
But what if death finds him first?
Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.
The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.
The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.
No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.
My thoughts: I loved this one so much I ended up blurbing it. It had history, romance and magic in perfect proportion.


Far From the Free by Robin Benway.

Description:

Perfect for fans of NBC's "This Is Us," Robin Benway’s beautiful interweaving story of three very different teenagers connected by blood explores the meaning of family in all its forms—how to find it, how to keep it, and how to love it.
Being the middle child has its ups and downs.
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.
And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.
Don't miss this moving novel that addresses such important topics as adoption, teen pregnancy, and foster care.

My thoughts: Robin talked to me about this book when she came to speak to my novel writing class one semester a few years ago, and I’d been excited to read it ever since. It’s a book about adoption, and since I am adopted, I was bracing myself to feel very emotional and to connect deeply with this novel . . . but I just didn’t. I don’t know why. I don’t know if there was a part of my brain that was more critical than I would usually be, because I have my own about-adoption novel coming out next fall, or if this adoption experience is simply so far outside of my own experience that it didn’t resonate with me, but I didn’t love this one the way I expected to. Still, it’s an excellent book. The point of view and the writing are beautifully done. I loved the use of the name “Peach,” for instance. A very good read.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin.
This was the finale to the series. She just keeps raising the stakes and finding new cool things to throw at us. I will be reading all of her other work now.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (reread).

Description:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. 
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

My thoughts: This was my pick for book club. I listened to the audio this time, and was struck once again by how lyrical and moving and well plotted this book is, with this large cast of interwoven characters all dealing with the end of the world. What I love about this book is that, even though it’s a post apocalyptic novel, it ends with hope.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. 

Description:

Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. 
There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe. 
A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

My thoughts: I have loved Erdrich since college (which was a long time ago!) and I will read anything she puts out into the world, but this book was so special and of course gorgeous in the writing, and it felt so relevant to the world we’re living in now. 



Description:

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. 

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fineis the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . 
 
The only way to survive is to open your heart. 

My thoughts: Another book club read that I liked. I thought Elinor was heartfelt and entertaining to hang out with.


Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (non-fiction).

Description:

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances. 

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

My thoughts: This book was appalling, fascinating, and eye-opening, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes non-fiction.


Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. 

Description:

Laced with humor, rich historical detail from Charles Dickens’ life, and clever winks to his work, Samantha Silva's Mr. Dickens and His Carol is an irresistible new take on a cherished classic. 
Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in. 
Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.

My thoughts: I did an event with Samantha last year called “What the Dickens?” (snerk) where she did the most amazing reading (with the accent and everything) from this book. It took me a while to finish because I got busy at the beginning of the year, but I thought it was very well done and the Dickens-lover in me was thrilled at the way CD and his family can to life in this novel. Of course I loved it.


My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara.

Description:

When Tom's big brother decides to become an Evil Scientist, his first experiment involves dunking Frankie the goldfish into toxic green gunk. Tom knows that there is only one thing to do: Zap the fish with a battery and bring him back to life! But there's something weird about the new Frankie. He's now a BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH with hypnotic powers . . . and he's out for revenge!

My thoughts: I listened to the audio of this on a drive with my kids, and I thought it was super clever and funny and my kids have never been so quiet and enthralled during a drive.




Little House in The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Description:

Based on the real-life adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the award-winning Little House series, which has captivated generations of readers. This edition features the classic black-and-white artwork from Garth Williams.
Little House in the Big Woods takes place in 1871 and introduces us to four-year-old Laura, who lives in a log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. She shares the cabin with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their lovable dog, Jack.
Pioneer life isn’t easy for the Ingalls family, since they must grow or catch all their own food as they get ready for the cold winter. But they make the best of every tough situation. They celebrate Christmas with homemade toys and treats, do their spring planting, bring in the harvest in the fall, and make their first trip into town. And every night, safe and warm in their little house, the sound of Pa’s fiddle lulls Laura and her sisters into sleep.
The nine books in the timeless Little House series tell the story of Laura’s real childhood as an American pioneer, and are cherished by readers of all generations. They offer a unique glimpse into life on the American frontier, and tell the heartwarming, unforgettable story of a loving family.

My thoughts: I also listened to this one in the car with the kids, which I came to regret, as it has not aged well in terms of its political correctness. The narrator from Cherry Jones was amazing, but I had to stop and discuss racism with the kids at more than one occasion. I read these books as a child, and I hadn’t remembered that so much of them is Wilder chronicling how to do the things they did back then: this is how you make maple syrup. This is how you smoke meat. It was really interesting, but again, something that I would have liked to edit a bit.


See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng.

Description:

A space-obsessed boy and his dog, Carl Sagan, take a journey toward family, love, hope, and awe in this funny and moving novel for fans of Counting by 7sWalk Two Moons, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
 
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

My thoughts: My kids and I loved this one—it was perfect as an audio book, as it is supposed to be a series of recordings from this kid who is trying to enter a rocket competition. The kid who did the narration did a fantastic job. I felt really great about my kids hearing this one, too--it had a lot of good life lessons and examples of empathy.


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (reread).

Description:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo
 is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My thoughts: This is one you’ll either love or hate. I love it, but I already loved George Saunders. This was just such a cool, interested, creative, and fun way to write a historical novel: one part collection of writings and letters about the subject, some of them contradictory, one part fantastical, funny, and inventive ghost story, and one part heart wrenching drama about what it is like to lose a child. I laughed a lot. I cried several times, especially at the end. I also want to add that I think this may be the best audio book ever produced. It has a cast of over a hundred writers and actors reading the parts, and it is such a beautiful thing to listen to.


A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer.

Description:

Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

My thoughts: I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this one, and I really liked it. I am a big fan of Brigid, and I love Beauty and the Beast retellings, so this was a no-brainer thumbs up for me. I liked how the “Beauty” was disabled but it was handled so well. I liked the world building, and the “beast” at the end. Pretty cool.


The Outsider by Stephen King.

Description:

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

My thoughts: This one went along pretty slowly at first. So much time was spent setting up the situation, which could have been set up much more quickly. I was getting frustrated and starting to feel like we were just rotating over and over the same events . . . and then I got to a scene that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I had to close to the book and do something else for a while, because I obviously couldn’t go right to sleep. Stephen King is the master. The rest of the book was a wild and terrifying ride.


Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham.

Description:

A compelling dual-narrated tale from Jennifer Latham that questions how far we've come with race relations.

Some bodies won't stay buried.
Some stories need to be told. 


When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family's property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the present and the past.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what's right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham's lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important questions about the complex state of US race relations--both yesterday and today.

My thoughts: This may have been my favorite YA this year. I loved the historical aspect of it. I loved the mystery, and the way the layers of the mystery were slowly unwrapped. I cared so much about the characters and was so worried for them. I was also genuinely surprised at the end. A great book.


The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.

Description:

In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

My thoughts: My book club chose this one because it was written by the same woman who wrote The Room, which they loved. But this book feels like the debut literary novel that Donoghue wrote before she wrote The Room. It is way more character than plot driven. My book club was not crazy about this one—it probably got the most tepid response of the year, but I loved it. I thought the main character so flawed and interesting, and the choices she has to make by the end felt so high-stake and heart-wrenching and true.


A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi.

Description:

From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shatter Me series comes a powerful, heartrending contemporary novel about fear, first love, and the devastating impact of prejudice.
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

My thoughts: I take it back: this was my fave YA of the year. It was such a heart book—I could feel the author’s heart coming through on almost every page. It felt like such a relevant, important book about love and anger and the way hate affects you. I loved it, loved it, loved it.


The Power by Naomi Alderman.

Description:

What would happen if women suddenly possessed a fierce new power?

In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power--they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, THE POWER is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.

My thoughts: I expected to really like this one, as I thought the premise was so cool: young women suddenly discover that they have the power to use electricity out of their hands, and can now inflict pain and assert this power over the men in their lives. It was a cool story, but I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, so for me if felt like a head book—a story that works on an intellectual level but never really involves the gut. So it was a like, not a love, for me with this one.


Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows.

Description:

From the New York Times bestselling co-author of My Plain Jane comes a smoldering new fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Kristin Cashore about a girl condemned for defending dragons and the inner fire that may be her only chance of escape. 
Mira has always been a symbol of hope for the Fallen Isles, perfect and beautiful—or at least that’s how she’s forced to appear. But when she uncovers a dangerous secret, Mira is betrayed by those closest to her and sentenced to the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. 
Except Mira is over being a pawn. Fighting to survive against outer threats and inner demons of mental illness, Mira must find her inner fire and the scorching truth about her own endangered magic—before her very world collapses.

And that’s all before she ignites. 

My thoughts: I will sheepishly admit that I was late reading this, as Jodi is one of my best friends and this book came out over a year ago, but I finally read it, and I loved it! I am so jealous of the way Jodi was able to pull off this narrative that moves back and forth from present to past. So good! And even if I didn't know Jodi, I'd want to own this book based on the sheer beauty of the cover alone!


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

Description:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
   
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 
 
In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

My thoughts: I am a big John Green fan, so I was excited for this one. I liked it—solidly liked it—but The Fault In Our Starsremains my favorite of his work, followed by Looking For Alaska. I think I liked this one a little bit less for two reasons: it felt like a head book, a story that was intellectually great but didn’t ever really grab me by the heart strings, even though I felt intensely bad for the main character at times. It also didn’t feel necessary for this character to be a girl—I think I would have preferred that the main character was male, actually, because that would have felt more authentic. I don’t want to blunder into saying that all female characters should feel a certain way, but this one just didn’t feel female. The romance didn’t connect for me, either. Boo. I will try to backpeddle by saying that this book is John Green at his witty best, though. The lines and the dialogue were so sharp and honest and funny, which is why I heart John Green.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Description:

A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.

My thoughts: Oh my gosh, THIS BOOK I LOVED. I missed book club when we discussed this and I am still so bummed about it because I had so many thoughts and feelings about this novel. Every now and then I stumble across what feels like a perfect novel, where the characters and plot and language are all aligned just perfectly, and this novel was that way for me. The language was gorgeous but never purple or overwrought. The plot used the reader’s knowledge of the old story of Achilles so masterfully to set up a tense expectation of what was going to happen, and then turn that on its head in the best possible way. The romance felt absolutely spot on painful and wonderful and intense. I was filled with writerly jealousy reading this marvelous book.


Pax by Sarah Pennypacker.

Description:

From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes a beautifully wrought, utterly compelling novel about the powerful relationship between a boy and his fox. Pax is destined to become a classic, beloved for generations to come.
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter's dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.
At his grandfather's house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn't where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.
Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .

My thoughts: This was a children’s book (or middle grade) that we listened to in the car, and it was my favorite children’s book this year. It was, first of all, such a heart book—I wanted to cry at the end of the first chapter. The movement between the kid and the fox point of view was expertly done, each shift adding to the tension of the overall story. There were so many great side characters and relationships. There was a puppet show that took my breath away. Such an amazing, wonderful book that I would recommend for all ages.


Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (reread).

Description:

Nobody outfoxes Fantastic Mr. Fox!

Someone's been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it's Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don't know is that they're not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.

My thoughts: Another audio with the kids, a story I’ve read to them several times, but this time we listened to Chris O’Dowd’s narration, which was hilarious and awesome, although my kids did have a hard time understanding the accents, at times. This also had narration from Quentin Blake, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I mean, awesome, right?


Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver.

Description:

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places. An E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, it’s perfect for fans of the author’s other middle grade novels: The Spindlersand the Curiosity House series. 
Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost named Po appears from the darkness.
That same evening, an alchemist's apprentice named Will makes an innocent mistake that has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

My thoughts: This was my daughter’s bedtime story for a number of weeks, and she loved it. I thought it was such a creative, heartfelt book about loss and friendship, although it was a bit dark at times and did creep out my seven-year-old a bit.


Scythe by Neil Shusterman.

Description:

Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

My thoughts: This one was my eleven-year-old son’s bedtime story this year, and he LOVED it. It is definitely dark, but in spite of its serious subject matter it is never gratuitous or gory. I was super into it too, and we are currently in the middle of the second book. Which I am told is going to scar us both for life.



Description:

In his much-anticipated debut novel, Hank Greencocreator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShowspins a sweeping, cinematic tale about a young woman who becomes an overnight celebrity before realizing she's part of something bigger, and stranger, than anyone could have possibly imagined.
The Carls just appeared.
 
Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor—April and her friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
 
Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
 
Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring for the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye. The beginning of an exciting fiction career, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a bold and insightful novel of now.

My thoughts: I have been watching the vlogbrothers for years, and love Hank, so I was excited when his book came out. I really, really liked it. It felt fresh and relevant and original in a way I hadn’t seen before. I loved the concept. I really liked the narration.

However, it was still a 4 and not 5 star for me, weirdly for the same reasons I didn’t five star John Green’s latest book: 1) because I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters even though I liked all of them, and 2) because it felt super unnecessary for April to be female. Outside of some mention of crying and some makeup and clothing decisions, she did not strike me as particularly female in nature. That is, again, not to say that all women have to feel “feminine,” but there is a way that women experience the world that I didn’t sense in April. It would have felt just as good to me (and probably better) if April had just been a male equivalent. But I feel like writers are encouraged to tell stories from a female point of view because more readers are women, so it widens the readership. Anyway, it was still a remarkable book, and I look forward to what HG will give us in the future.


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Description:

My name is Kvothe.
 
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
 
You may have heard of me.
 
So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.  

My thoughts: I’ve been hearing about this book for years, more recently from my husband, who has read it twice and loved it both times. This is definitely the case where the hype diminished the experience for me a little. When you read blurbs from Hank Green and Lin Manual Miranda and George R. Freaking Martin about how amazing this book is and how your life is not really complete unless you’ve read it, you expect it to blow your socks off.

My socks are still on. Boo.

I did enjoy the book. I thought the main character was very interesting, and the world building was quite good, and I ate the story up like candy. (It was more than 700 pages, and I read it in a day.) I like those epic fantasies where we get so much of the character’s life, a sense of their full arc, their childhoods, their history, their driving force. 

But I also felt like the story ended just when it was actually starting to move forward. I was like, YAY, finally, FINALLY, we’re going to get some real answers! Finally we’re going to see how—
The End.

I haven’t felt this abruptly dropped by the ending of a book since Robin McKinley’s Pegasus, which I have still not recovered from.

I need to read the second book. I have a feeling that will make it all better. I hope.


Ever The Hunted by Erin Summerill. 

Description:

Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, a legendary bounty hunter—that is, until her father is murdered. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen Mackay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. 

She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a force to be reckoned with. 

My thoughts: This lovely debut rocked me out of the malaise I felt after reading The Name of the Wind. It was such a good little fantasy: solid world building, a heartful, brave main character with such cool powers, and a sweet romance. It also had a satisfying ending, which I was craving. I will be reading the next one.


Circe by Madeline Miller.

Description:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

My thoughts: It's not a surprise that I loved this book, as I really loved The Song of Achilles. I thought this one was a little less compelling for me, probably because it lacked that central tension that came from knowing what would happen in the story of Achilles, while I could remember very little about Circe. But it was still such an amazing book, and had one of the most perfect, fitting endings of any book I've read in a long time. I will carrying this character around with me for a long time.


So that's it, 2018 in books. What books should I read for next year? What should I listen to on audio, instead? What books would be great to read to my seven-year old daughter and eleven-year-old son?