About Me, Recommendations

For My Sister On Her Birthday

Many of you might not know this, but I have a gorgeous, positive, amazing, strong, big-hearted, kick-ass, younger sister named Amanda.

We are so similar in so many ways, and then in others…we are just the opposite. For instance: I love scary movies year-round, and Amanda loves Hallmark movies year-round. But we do both love to read.

Amanda once asked me if I could send her a list of book recommendations. She said she was looking for something heartwarming, emotional, feel-good, fun, light, and/or romantic. Manda- I never got around to it, but here it is now.

All the books in this list are at least two of those things, sometimes all six. There are books from adult and young adult age groups and genres ranging from romance to non-fiction to fantasy (yep). These books have made me laugh and cry and/or want to hug everybody nearby and I’m so happy to share them with you. I hope one of them ends up being your next great read. I love you so much.

Happy Birthday, Little!


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

What’s it about?

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • When I asked my bookclub to recommend me the most “sweet, heartwarming, romantic” book they could think of, this book was recommended so many times.
  • I hate to admit it, but I hadn’t read it before this week! After it was so highly recommended and I wanted to include it for you, I went out and picked up a copy and I can safely say that this book was so. darn. sweet.
  • The Rosie Project is all about how we can find love no matter how odd we are. And we are! We’re all a little odd, which is part of why I enjoyed this so much.
  • This book is weird and funny, sweet and silly, but mostly just a fun and heartwarming story about the power of love.

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

What’s it about?

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World… whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)

Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)

Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)

Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there’s Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her…

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • First of all, I have really enjoyed Tessa Bailey in the past. She’s an author I immediately thought of for this list for you. Her books are light, fun, sweet, and emotionally honest. I like the way she writes characters and I think you will too.
  • I also LOVED her sequel to this book called Love Her or Lose Her, which comes out in January. I definitely recommend that too.
  • Fixing up houses always makes me think of you & Matt! (And Chip & Joanna Gaines, but you guys first.)

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

What’s it about?

Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.

Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • This book has so much heart. From the characters to the way the author talks about emotions and being human to the twists in the story, it was full of authenticity and humor and heart. It made me so emotional, in the best of ways.
  • The main character has to be so resourceful with these children and it’s impressive to watch her figure out solution after solution throughout the story. It made me think of you as a teacher, good at thinking on your feet with the weird problems kids always have orbiting them. I hope you get a kick out of that.
  • The main character is also funny and weird and not exactly normal but kind of in the best way. She reminded me of myself a little, but also of the way that you and Mom and I think. I can’t wait to hear if you agree.
  • This book was funnnnnyyyyyy. Did it also make me cry a little? Yeah. But only because I was happy and my heart felt full. So yeah, have tissues, but also expect to smile a lot.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

What’s it about?

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • I loved this book so much for a lot of reasons that were personal to me and that I feel might also be personally interesting to you. I would love to cozy up and compare notes on this particular romance with you.
  • The characters are earnest, sweet, good-hearted, and real. The way she writes people (in both of her books) makes me think a little of Jane the Virgin. (Which, for the rest of you, is a show that my sister and I loved.)
  • It was also, honestly just…so much fun to read, more than anything else. I enjoyed the hell out of it and so did a lot of other people, so I hope you will too.
  • This author is one of my ultimate new favorites, hands-down. Her books all connect through the same family and the love and care she puts into her characters is remarkable. I think you’d love all of her books. This one, the sequel (The Bride Test, which I loved) and her other upcoming sequel (The Heart Principle).

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

What’s it about?

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.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • This book tugged on every one of my heartstrings and made me feel so so many things. I read it in a day and actually happy-cried a little. It was a great read.
  • This book is all about families and our ties to each other and it is really a beautiful story about love. It’s heartwarming and deep and full of compassion.
  • Robin Benway is a great writer. This book is fun and easy to read, on top of being an emotional story. So many people I know recommended this book for this list!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

What’s it about?

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • This writer often makes me think of you. It’s hard to describe why though, because it’s not always the characters or the story, but instead it’s– the vibe and the tone that he creates in each of his books. He’s a deep thinker, doesn’t rush, and creates characters with such tenderness. I don’t know why but I just have a hunch you might like him.
  • This book is arguably his most popular, so I thought it’d be a good place to start.
  • Also, this book is wonderful and heartwarming and all about love. It sucks you in and watching the character grow and learn is beautiful. I hope you like it.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

What’s it about?

Here is a truth that can’t be escaped: for Mia “Rabbit” Hayes, life is coming to an end …

Mia-“Rabbit”-Hayes knows that life is hard for everyone. And she knows that she’s one of the lucky ones. She loves her life, ordinary as it is. And she loves the extraordinary people in it: her spirited daughter, Juliet; her colorful, unruly family; the only man in her big heart, Johnny Faye. Rabbit has big ideas, full of music and love and so much life. She has plans for the world. But the world, it turns out, has other plans for Rabbit: a devastating diagnosis.

Rabbit is feisty. And with every ounce of love and strength in her, she promises that she will overcome. She will fight fight fight. She will be with those who love her for as long as she can, and she will live as long as she can with music and love and so much life. And as her friends and family rally round to celebrate Rabbit’s last days, they look to her for strength, support, and her unyielding zest for life. Because she is Rabbit Hayes and she will live until she dies.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • I almost didn’t include this on your list because you said you didn’t want sad books. And this book will make you cry, for sure. BUT. I included it anyway because it isn’t really sad. It’s really a story of living our lives to their fullest and appreciating the love and beauty all around us, reminders that often make me think of you.
  • We’re emotional people and sometimes sobbing along to a beautiful story can be fun haha. So- have tissues, but I promise you’ll also enjoy yourself. Rabbit is such a fun companion.
  • This book will make you look at everyone you love with just a little more appreciation, compassion, and patience. It brings out the best in its readers.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

What’s it about?

Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place-he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their timely ghostly teachings-like the ability to Fade. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are things like ghouls that aren’t really one thing or the other.

This chilling tale is Neil Gaiman’s first full-length novel for middle-grade readers since the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Coraline. Like Coraline, this book is sure to enchant and surprise young readers as well as Neil Gaiman’s legion of adult fans.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • So this one you might have to trust me on. It’s a little bit out of your normal reading zones, but I had to sneak one fantasy novel onto this list and this is the one I chose with you in mind.
  • I’ve read this book more than once because I love it. It’s a beautiful story about a boy growing up and learning what it means to grow up and become an adult, what you lose and gain in the process. It’s about unconventional families and the magic of friendship and loved ones lost. It’s also a quick read, since it’s technically a Middle Grade novel.
  • Neil Gaiman is one of the best authors I have ever read or known when it comes to describing emotion and the unique experience of the human condition. He thinks and feels deeply, and that comes through in his writing. He writes beautifully.
  • It’s also a crazy, fun, wild story underneath it all!

How to Say Goodbye by Katy

What’s it about?

No one is ever happy to see Grace Salmon.

As a funeral arranger, she’s responsible for steering strangers through the hardest day of their lives. It’s not a task many would want – but, for Grace, giving people the chance to say a proper goodbye to the ones they love is the most important job in the world.

From the flowers in the church to the drinks served at the wake, Grace knows it’s the personal touches that count – and it’s amazing what you can find out about someone from their grieving relatives … or their Facebook page. But when she accidentally finds out too much about someone who’s died, Grace is finally forced to step out of the shadows… and start living.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • Okay, so there’s a couple of sad books on here. But really, I promise, this one is not as sad as it may appear from the cover and synopsis.
  • This book was funny and deep in equal proportions, and its a wonderful story about a young woman learning to love and live her life. It’s heartwarming and sweet and a little sad, but mostly looks for the beauty in our lives.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

What’s it about?

All’s “faire” in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • This was the second most recommended book from my book club when I asked what to put on your list. Also- I liked this book too!
  • Well Met is kind of the pinnacle of “light, romantic, and heartwarming.” It has a relaxed and fun vibe and doesn’t take itself too seriously, while also delivering such a sweet love story.
  • When I read this, I remember thinking to myself “ha, this makes me think of a hallmark movie- Amanda would love this,” and here we are now!

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

What’s it about?

Milk and honey’ is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. ‘milk and honey’ takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • I don’t know if you read much poetry or if you’ve already read this one, but this is one of my favorite collections of poetry.
  • It’s short, while also being deep, emotional, profound, and so relatable. I underlined so many things when I read through this the first time.
  • This is such a good collection for women. It’s all about healing and living, our bodies and our minds, and it’s also about love. I think you’d find a lot of ideas in here that you’d relate to.

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

What’s it about?

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancé, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • Oh man, this story made my heart grow three sizes. It was beautiful. Sweet and tender, emotionally honest and nuanced, and full of characters that I loved and rooted for.
  • This book definitely made me cry, but in the best of ways. My heart felt so full while I read this and especially when I finished. The emotions in this book are so real and relatable.
  • Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favorite authors of the year and I highly recommend anything she’s ever written, but this one is my favorite romance of hers. She is a phenomenal writer.
  • I loved the ending and I think you will too.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

What’s it about?

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Ami, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • It’s funny and sweet, and did I mention hilarious? I had a blast reading this one, couldn’t put it down, just lots of sweet and silly fun. When you asked me to make this list, this was one of the first books I thought of. (Though that was also because, at the time, I had just finished reading it. Still, it was a great read.)
  • Reading this makes you feel like it’s Summer outside, which given that you have a ton of snow up there right now– I figured you could use that.
  • Honestly, it was really, really hard to pick just one book from this author that I think you would like. Put Christina Lauren (two awesome BFFs who write together!) on your authors-to-read list, because they are right up your alley. Other books of theirs that I have read & loved: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, Autoboyography, and Twice in a Blue Moon.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

What’s it about?

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of PiLily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • So I read on a book list somewhere, years ago, that this was the book you should read if you’ve ever loved a dog. And you know how many dogs we’ve loved! Reading this brought up so many happy memories of our dogs growing up.
  • It made me cry and laugh and my heart swell. You may want to have a box of tissues, but when the book is over you’ll feel more full for having read it.
  • Its a great excuse to snuggle Bennie! (You’re welcome.)

Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani 

What’s it about?

In a book inspired by her popular TED talk, New York Times bestselling author Reshma Saujani empowers women and girls to embrace imperfection and bravery.

Imagine if you lived without the fear of not being good enough. If you didn’t care how your life looked on Instagram, or worry about what total strangers thought of you. Imagine if you could let go of the guilt, and stop beating yourself up for tiny mistakes. What if, in every decision you faced, you took the bolder path?

Too many of us feel crushed under the weight of our own expectations. We run ourselves ragged trying to please everyone, all the time. We lose sleep ruminating about whether we may have offended someone, pass up opportunities that take us out of our comfort zones, and avoid rejection at all costs.

There’s a reason we act this way, Reshma says. As girls, we were taught to play it safe. Well-meaning parents and teachers praised us for being quiet and polite, urged us to be careful so we didn’t get hurt, and steered us to activities at which we could shine.

The problem is that perfect girls grow up to be women who are afraid to fail. It’s time to stop letting our fears drown out our dreams and narrow our world, along with our chance at happiness.

By choosing bravery over perfection, we can find the power to claim our voice, to leave behind what makes us unhappy, and go for the things we genuinely, passionately want. Perfection may set us on a path that feels safe, but bravery leads us to the one we’re authentically meant to follow.

In Brave, Not Perfect, Reshma shares powerful insights and practices to help us override our perfect girl training and make bravery a lifelong habit. By being brave, not perfect, we can all become the authors of our biggest, boldest, and most joyful life.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • One of my friends who reads a lot of the same books you do recommended this to me. I read it, and I think you’d like it too. It’s right up your alley, and I know you like inspirational non-fiction.
  • It contains some good advice! And it’s aimed at the unique internal struggles of women, when it comes to perfection. I related to that and I think that you will too, given we grew up together.
  • You can get yourself a Bravery Prize after reading it! (Yay!)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

What’s it about?

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Why I’m recommending it to you:

  • Well, for one thing, this is one of my favorite books and my favorite memoirs. It is so well written, it’s smart and funny, and he speaks with so much intelligence and empathy about his life and bigger topics. I love the sense of voice in this book, it feels like meeting a new friend over coffee.
  • I think you’ll be fascinated by his life. That simply, he’s lived an interesting life very different from ours and I learned a lot and was so interested by everything he described.
  • I know you will love his mom and I can’t wait to talk to you about her. I love all of the characters in this book that he brings to life, but his mom is one hell of a woman. She is strong and independent and stubborn and has the strongest faith. You are really going to like her, especially at the end, which brings me to:
  • You’re going to really like the ending. And that’s all I’m gonna say on that.

I hope you have the happiest of all birthdays and the best year ahead, Amanda!!

It isn’t much, but I hope something in this list ends up bringing you tons of light and love. There’ll be a quiz at Christmas, too! 🙂

I love you so much.

Happy Birthday! xxxx

Find more recommendations on: Instagram | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads

ARC Reviews, Reviews

Rules for Vanishing

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.


Well, what can I say? I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

I had no expectations when I picked up Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall. I had never read anything by Marshall before, YA horror was a genre I hadn’t read for years, and I had won this book in a contest before it was published, so- at the time, I didn’t even really know what it was about. I can now say that absolutely none of that mattered. I picked up Rules for Vanishing on a Tuesday night and finished it on a Wednesday afternoon. And not on purpose, mind you, but something about the eerie beginning of this story swept me up almost immediately.

Rules for Vanishing was everything I want around this time of year: eerie, mysterious, spooky, and full of questions.

There were so many things I liked about it that I’m just going to make a list:

One. The format of this book was so much fun to read. Rules for Vanishing is sometimes written like a traditional, first-person novel, but only in some chapters. Most chapters are something different: transcripts from videos found on various characters’ phones, interviews with police, school assignments. This changed the angle of perspective constantly throughout the book which only added a deliciously disorienting effect to an already mysterious story. If this was an homage to the trend of found footage in horror movies in the last few years, it was executed with a very thoughtful eye. It was compelling as hell.

Two. I liked all of the characters. Okay, some of them more than others, but- given they’re a group of teenagers, I feel like that’s only fair. I really felt for all of the main circle though and I feel like Marshall did a great job at giving each of them a unique and relatable vulnerability. They were teenagers, to put it quite simply. Some of them were vain or pretentious or dramatic, but they were also great friends. Their histories were varied and riddled with complications and old wounds and, because of this, their reunion through the story had a sentimental, electric effect. This book made me remember running around with a group of kids at that age, only never in such dire circumstances. I rooted for them.

Three. The main character, Sara, was particularly competent in a way that just makes me so happy. I love reading a character, especially when she’s a woman, that does the best they can and generally doesn’t do anything supremely stupid, barring normal human error anyway. People are flawed, and so is Sara, but it can also be refreshing to read about a character who is driven, prepared, and competent to do what they’re doing. Or- for the most part, at least. Especially in YA, I liked seeing her fortitude and drive being front and center.

Four. Damn, Kate Alice Marshall did a fantastic job of rendering The Road in all of its mysterious, terrifying, glory. The environments in this story are often shrouded in darkness or lost to the unknown, but the way that the author chooses to render them to the reader was done particularly well. Marshall’s descriptions were focused on all the right things to bring you right into the moment that these characters are living and forget about the world around you. I couldn’t put the book down, mostly because I just couldn’t stand not knowing what insane, spooky obstacle would come up next. The plot and the atmosphere are drenched in fog and confusion and malevolent spirits and I loved every twist.

Five. I love horror, scary movies, scary books, and all things Spooky Season so I’m not an easy scare. While I wouldn’t say this book “scared” me per se, it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, wanting more. Too often with YA horror/thriller it feels like something is being held back, either in the writing or in the topics, but I didn’t feel that here. Marshall took me to some dark places, both in the story and conceptually, and I genuinely enjoyed myself along the ride. I commend her for taking those risks because they paid off.

So- I guess I really recommend this book. Especially if YA is your thing and/or spooky books are your thing! This book had a little bit of all of that and then a little more, and a ghost story on top of the whole thing. Rules for Vanishing is on shelves now! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thank you so much to BookishFirst who provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


See you tomorrow! x

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Writing

What Makes Good Non-Fiction?

Are you a writer this month? Maybe participating in #NationalNovelWritingMonth? Or maybe you’re more of a reader, and you’re joining in on the Non-Fiction fun for #NonFictionNovember? Or hey! Maybe you’re both! And if that’s the case, then this article was written for you.

I love Non-Fiction. A good Non-Fiction book moves just as quickly and action-packed as a good Fiction novel, and a bad one can make you regret ever sitting down to read it. Or at least lead to a good nap. But there are some great things about good Non-Fiction that make it stand out from the rest.

Good Non-Fiction doesn’t need all of these things, per se, but every Non-Fiction book I’ve read and loved has been or had at least a handful of these attributes and they are part of what makes them unique and so, so readable.

Let’s do this.


Good Non-Fiction is accessible.

This one’s pretty straight-forward. Unless you’re writing for a specific audience of super geniuses, or just experts in a specific field you are also an expert in, Non-Fiction should be accessible to anyone who decides to pick it up. Put simply, make sure you think about your audience’s pre-existing level of knowledge about the subject you’re writing about and don’t over-complicate the way you speak about it. Most people respond most positively to a style that’s somewhere in between “instruction” and “casual conversation with a friend.” If your audience can’t make sense of what you’re saying, you’ve lost them before you can even teach them anything.

Good Non-Fiction finds the human element.

Regardless whether you’re writing a memoir or a history of the country or a scientific examination of the smallpox eradication, when you write, make sure that you are focusing first on the relatable, human experiences within your subjects. We learn and grow best when we feel and care about something, it motivates us and compels us to learn more: use this! Turn your numbers into people, homes, sister’s who still speak to you, but don’t just write about the numbers. We don’t feel empathy for numbers. Add warmth to your prose by focusing on your project’s “characters.” What are they thinking and feeling? What do you want your reader to think and feel about them? Make your reader feel something and they will absorb the ideas you’re also trying to get across.

Good Non-Fiction tells a story.

Like finding the human element, telling a story is an essential piece of reaching the reader that you want to inform. For the same reason we remember a song better than a random string of numbers (867-5309, ring any bells?) we remember things that happen in related sequences, ie. stories, better than we remember random information that is given to us. It’s biology! Telling a story through the information you’re trying to convey in your NF book also brings a myriad of other benefits to your writing: heart, empathy, greater understanding of the subject. Those who can master the use of storytelling in their technical, non-fiction writing will find it is to their enormous advantage. Plus, stories are just easier and more fun to read!

Good Non-Fiction is experienced.

You don’t have to be the world’s top expert with every certification to write good non-fiction, but you do need to hold some authority in order to garner trust with your reader. If you’ve sold millions of albums, people are going to want to read about your life in the music industry. If you’ve been working in a field your whole life, people will want to read about what that was like and what insider tricks you may know. Even if you’re just writing about yourself or something inspiring that happened to you, you are an expert on you and those experiences have given you a unique point of view that can be valuable to your reader. Whatever you’re writing about, make yourself an expert. Put in the work. Do the research. Make sure your research is correct and double-checked. And remember that authority doesn’t need to fit the traditional mold: if your life or work or experiences have given you knowledge that not everyone might have, remember that that can be enough. But keep your reader in mind. You want them to trust that you know what you’re talking about and that they can take that information out into the world with confidence.

Good Non-Fiction is inclusive.

None of us is an island and none of us can speak for every human experience on the planet; writing with these facts in mind can truly expand the relevancy of your non-fiction book. It can be easy, especially when you’re an expert in the topic you’re writing, to fall into a solely-instructive mode. Good non-fiction not only communicates what the author knows, but also what the author doesn’t know. One of my favorite non-fiction books takes a whole chapter to talk about emerging research in the field, unsubstantiated but possible theories, and differences in opinion within the field. Reading this chapter made me think of the author as someone who thought about every single facet of this topic and made a thoroughly informed, educated thesis from it. That is so impressive to me, and more importantly to most readers. Especially if you’re writing something social, but even in the sciences, taking other points of view or theories into account can impress upon your reader that you want them to be informed: not just persuaded to agree with you. Good research and good non-fiction doesn’t live in a vacuum. It is nuanced, multi-faced, and inclusive of all groups that are affected by a given topic.

Good Non-Fiction keeps it simple.

You should never dumb things down for your reader, but you should focus, clarify, and simplify every idea you want to communicate. Good Non-Fiction almost always does this to some degree. Even something as simple as using metaphors or examples can make a complicated topic seem much more manageable. This “keeping it simple” trick can even make its way into the structure of your book: clarifying what each chapter is about, making sure that each chapter is focused on its purpose, make sure that they go in the order that makes the most sense to teach your topic- and so much more. You don’t have to go out of your way, but really examining how a lay person would approach your book and making adjustments accordingly can make a world of difference to your readers.

Good Non-Fiction is is free of judgement.

Have you ever read smug Non-Fiction before? Where it feels like the author is condescending to you? Yeah, me too, and it is so annoying. If you want to communicate with someone, especially something technical or complex, you can’t judge your reader for not knowing what you’re trying to teach them– before you teach it to them. That’s why they’re supposed to buy your book, right? Share knowledge with joy, with excitement that someone else gets to learn it for the first time, and that excitement will infect your reader too. They’re here to learn and you have the privilege of getting to share something really cool: enjoy it, make the most of it, appreciate it. Readers can tell.

Good Non-Fiction asks more from the reader.

Lastly, good Non-Fiction asks the reader to do some of the work. As hard as you work to simplify your ideas and communicate clearly and with heart and enthusiasm, if your reader doesn’t have to participate in some part of the process it won’t stick with them the same way. So ask something of your reader. Raise the bar on what you expect from them. The best way I’ve found to do this is to literally ask questions. Make your reader think about the context of what you’re teaching them in their own lives, in the real world. Tell a story about something in your own life or the life of one of your characters that will reach out and grab the reader, something they can relate to. At the very least, good Non-Fiction asks its readers to decide what they think and feel, and any time you can give your reader such valuable introspection on a subject- you’ve succeeded. Bonus: they win too!


To check out some of my personal favorite Non-Fiction books, check out my list here!

Happy reading, friends! x

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WWW

It’s “What are you reading?” Wednesday!

I’ve seen a lot of bookish memes and list ideas here on the book-blogging circuit, and I wish I could do all of them! One of my favorites has been a trend of bloggers posting their current reads on Wednesdays.

This week I’ll be taking inspiration from Taking On a World of Words, and trying out their “WWW Wednesday!”

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

What I’m currently reading:

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

I just started this, but I am eager! I really liked McMahon’s newest book, The Invited, and I’ve been really feeling thrillers and scary stories lately. This one was recommended to me many times by multiple people in my bookclub who know my tastes so I have high expectations. I’m not in far enough to judge yet, but so far I am really enjoying myself!

Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

YESSSSS. Honestly, I would probably be done with this already except for two things: I’ve been crazy busy lately and I’ve been trying to savor it. I’ve just been really excited for this new Christina Lauren book. So far the story is sweet and sexy and has the classic CL style of tugging on my heartstrings while also writing something that feels fresh and familiar all at the same time. Will definitely be writing a full review for this one.

Still reading: The Hunger by Alma Katsu & Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

I have been so busy this week that I am still in the middle of so many books! These two in particular. I’m really enjoying Katsu’s The Hunger, but am still in the early stages. It’s a retelling of what “could have happeneded to the Donner party” and honestly I’m just eager as hell to find out what this theory includes. And I’m also loving Imaginary Friend! Damn, this book is loooong though. 720 pages. Usually that wouldn’t phase me in a week, but I haven’t been able to really sit down and devote my entire attention to this yet. I’m hoping this weekend will do the trick! Look for reviews or updates on these soon.

What I’ve recently finished:

The Return by Rachel Harrison

Omg guys this was so good and insane hahaha. No seriously, it was weird and then it picked up fast and then all of a sudden it was over. I had so much fun reading this one, sooo much fun. I loved that, at 80% way through the book, I still didn’t know what was going on but had a hundred theories and none of them were exactly right. Absolute success for me. This one doesn’t come out until 2020, so keep an eye out! I’ll be writing a full review of this closer to its publication date, so keep an eye out for that too!

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

I bought this on a whim after a shift at work (I work in a bookstore, it only feeds my habit) but I’m so glad that I did. This book is a collection of all of her speeches, from rallies to the UN, and a small amount of writing she’s done for this book. Greta is someone that really inspires me in the world right now. Reading her words makes me anxious, because I believe everything that she is saying and am so frustrated with the responses we’ve had, but also so hopeful: if half of the next generation is anything like her, we’ll all figure it out.

Almost Home by Madisen Kuhn

I really enjoyed this. In fairness, I knew that I would. Kuhn’s previous collection of work, Please Don’t Go Before I Get Better, is one of my favorite books of modern poetry. I don’t know what it is about her writing, if it’s the simplicity or empathy or perspective in her work, but something about her words has always connected deeply and often with me. I relate to her work and I was so excited to see a second book from her. This was even better than her first and I relate so much to the authenticity in her writing. Definitely recommend to poetry fans.

What I think I’ll read next:

Honestly, I’m still reading so many things that I don’t know exactly what I’ll pick up next and I’m focusing more on the books I’m still reading. I’ve also got a pile of ARCs to read before deadlines, so who knows. However, there is one book I’m kind of eager to pick up:

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

This just looks so interestiiiiing! I work in a bookstore and everyone has been buying this/talking about this/asking if we have this, not to mention that it was one of Book of the Month‘s picks this month too. It’s also a thriller and I have been in such a thriller mood lately, so. Yeah, it’s likely that I end up reading this one soon. Can’t wait!


Happy reading, friends! See you tomorrow! x

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ARC Reviews, Book Tour, Reviews

Refraction ( + Giveaway!)

After an attack on earth, all reflective surfaces become weapons to release monsters, causing a planet-wide ban on mirrors. Despite the danger, the demand rises, and 17-year-old Marty Callahan becomes a distributor in an illegal mirror trade―until he’s caught by the mayor’s son, whose slate is far from clean. Both of them are exiled for their crimes to one of the many abandoned cities overrun by fog. But they soon realize their thoughts influence their surroundings and their deepest fears begin to manifest.

With fast pacing and riveting characters, this is a book that you’ll finish in one sitting.

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N


Refraction by Naomi Hughes was an intense, compelling, ultimately fun read that I kept itching to pick back up. During work or driving home, I’d be thinking about where I left off and what theories or guesses I had about the story. Ultimately, I enjoyed this a lot. Another win for YA Horror in 2019.

First and foremost, the characters felt real and so did their connection. They felt like people: engaging, likable and flawed. I still rooted for them. I wanted them to survive. Marty’s drive to get to his brother and Eliot’s need for approval were so relatable, honest, and human that my empathy survived through every fumble, twist, and turn. 

I also loved that there wasn’t a romance in this book. I don’t mind romance, usually I enjoy it, but because it seems to be in absolutely every story lately, this was— a refreshing change of pace. It was nice to not be distracted for once, especially in a story where it would have felt forced. It wasn’t needed. The story kicked ass on its own.

The plot was wild, dark, and frequently terrifying. I’ve always been particularly creeped out by scary stories involving mirrors and this one took that trope and ran with it. The author does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing and the reveal(s) took me off guard more than once.

Not everyone likes an open ending, but I do. This one left just enough room for the imagination, while providing enough of a foundation to still be satisfying. I’d love to read a sequel, if that’s in the cards. Who knows?

Ultimately, I enjoyed Refraction a whole lot. I have high hopes whenever I dive into a YA scary story, and this mix of horror and sci-fi was the perfect tone to set my spine tingling. I loved the focus and detail the story was written with, and it was just unbelievable enough that I was swept up along for the ride. If this genre is your jam, don’t miss Refraction this year.


Hey! I’m Naomi Hughes, writer of quirky young adult fiction (usually involving physics and/or unicorns). I live in the Midwest US, a region I love even though it tries to murder me with tornadoes every spring. When not writing, my hobbies include reading (of course), traveling, and geeking out over Marvel superheroes and certain time-traveling Doctors. My debut YA sci-fi standalone novel, Afterimage, is available now from Page Street Publishing. My next novel, Refraction (also a standalone YA sci-fi), comes out in Nov 2019. I also offer freelance critique services at naomiedits.com.

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Enter to win a copy of Refraction by Naomi Hughes!

Giveaway is open to US residents and ends 11/19/2019.

Enter through this Rafflecopter form and may the odds be ever in your favor!


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ARC Reviews, Reviews

The Furies

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead.

She’s posed on a swing on her boarding school’s property, dressed all in white, with no known cause of death. Whispers and rumors swirl, with no answers. But there are a few who know what happened; there is one girl who will never forget.

One year earlier: a new student, Violet, steps on the campus of Elm Hollow Academy, an all-girl’s boarding school on the outskirts of a sleepy coastal town. This is her fresh start, her chance to begin again in the wake of tragedy, leave her demons behind. Bright but a little strange, uncertain and desperate to fit in, she soon finds herself invited to an advanced study group, led by her alluring and mysterious art teacher, Annabel.

There, with three other girls–Alex, Grace, and Robin–the five of them delve into the school’s long-buried grim history: of Greek and Celtic legends; of the school founder’s “academic” interest in the occult; of gruesome 17th century witch trials. Annabel does her best to convince the girls that her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals, and that they are just history and mythology. But the more she tries to warn the girls off the topic, the more they drawn to it, and the possibility that they can harness magic for themselves.

Violet quickly finds herself wrapped up in this heady new world of lawless power–except she is needled by the disappearance of a former member of the group, one with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance. As her friends’ actions take a turn for the darker and spiral out of control, she begins to wonder who she can trust, all the while becoming more deeply entangled. How far will these young girls go to protect one another…or to destroy one another?


I am loving the “female rage novel” trend, aren’t you??

The Furies by Katie Lowe is another compelling addition to this developing genre. Following the new girl at the notorious Elm Hollow Academy, the Furies reads like The Craft, Mean Girls, and The Secret History all had a meeting and wrote a book together. It’s dark, explores the intense sides of humanity and female friendship, throws in a dash of witchcraft, and all for an enthusiastic Young Adult crowd.

I am always fascinated when a book explores female relationships as a primary plot point and this book definitely does that in spades. The girls in this book are sometimes brutal, mean, or downright wild but they are all one thing at their core: human. I loved the way the author played with mortality and fear and the ways we compete with each other whether we’re in competition or not.

Lowe’s writing style sets the perfect tone for this kind of story. Her descriptions are detailed and full, the plot is tight and interesting all the way through, but what I liked most was the way she wrote characters. Lowe’s eye to humans and their relationships is nuanced and examined and thoughtful, which gives the whole book an eerie speculative feel. The Furies does an excellent job of making the reader wonder what is going to happen next and if we really know the characters as well as we think we do.

Overall, The Furies was a great debut and an excellent contribution to the recent growth of “rage-lit.” It was fun, brutal, twisted, and consistently kept my attention on every page. I enjoyed feeling, raging, and going wild with the girls in The Furies, and I very much hope you will too.


Happy reading, friends! x

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