Favorite Books of 2023

I read a lot of fabulous books this year, so I’m really excited to share my favorites. I’m still reading others, but I’m currently sitting at 80 books completed–a bit higher than my goal of 75. I have a longer commute this year (and by car instead of bike), so the biggest change in my reading habits was an increase in audio books. But I have to admit, I still love paper books best of all! These books below were some of my tippy-top favorites!

NO COUNTRY FOR EIGHT-SPOT BUTTERFLIES by Julian Aguon. My teen bookseller daughter knocked it out of the park when she chose this for me (even when she told me I was hard to buy books for because I read so much, eep!). I hadn’t heard of this collection of “lyric essays” before, but it had me weeping already on page six, which is highly impressive and the kind of book I love. If you’re concerned about the natural world and climate change and love beautiful writing, this might be the right read for you too.

WE ARE ALL SO GOOD AT SMILING by Amber McBride. Another incredible YA verse novel from the author of award-winning ME (MOTH), which I likewise adored.

A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING by Dan Sanat. This graphic novel is probably on everyone’s radar since it won the National Book Award, but my daughters and I all enjoyed it too much not to include it!

SUPER BOBA CAFÉ by Nidhi Chanani. I love, love, love Nidhi´s artwork and stories, and this graphic novel is no exception. Adorable! Plus, who doesn´t love boba???

PARDALITA by Joana Estrela translated by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. This YA graphic novel is on the quiet side, but it’s set in Portugal, beautifully translated, and is a fantastic read for Heartstopper fans.

I got several of my other favorite reads from the library this year, so I don’t have a photo of this stack, but I also highly recommend these:

NEARER MY FREEDOM: THE INTERESTING LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO BY HIMSELF by Monica Edinger and Lesley Young. I’m always a sucker for history in verse, and this one is nonfiction! The authors made blackout poetry from the subject’s autobiography. How cool is that? So creative!

YELLOWFACE by R. F. Kuang. Once I gave into the hype and began to read this incredible book, I sat there picking my jaw off the floor page after page. I just–WOW. So good. Read it!

THE BLACKWOODS by Brandy Colbert. This story is epic. Epic! It’s a saga about several generations of a Black Hollywood family with two timelines (historical and contemporary) and tons of amazing characters that jumped to life off the page.

GATHER by Kenneth Cadow. This YA contemporary has some pretty dark themes (poverty and drug abuse), but the story comes to life with so much heart and really had me rooting for the main character. I have to say, I’m a little tired of all the well-off teenagers in YA today, so this was a welcome change that felt truly authentic.

MASCOT by Charles Waters and Traci Sorrell. This MG verse novel is written from POVs of several kid characters in a community grappling with the important decision whether to change their rascist mascot. The co-authors did such a great job showing the various perspectives, including of course why these stereotypes are so harmful.

Those are my top ten picks, and I and would love to hear your favorites!

But first, two quick bonus rounds!

1. Books I blubed that came out in 2023! Obviously I love all of these and highly recommend them!

2. Two 2024 books I got to read early and absolutely loved. Please pre-order both of these as soon as you read these words!

Scenes from Spring Bookish Travel

It’s officially a wrap! My last events of the school year are now behind me, and I’m ready to focus on writing again. But before I lock myself in the writing cave, a fun photo album from the events I was lucky enough to attend in the past couple of months!

On a YA panel at the New Hampshire School Library Media Association (NHSLMA) Conference
At the Derry Author Festival
Going to the LA Times Book Prizes Ceremony
At the LA Times Book Festival
At my new local indie, Molly’s Bookstore
At the Mass Poetry Festival

That’s it! It was a marvelous spring and such a great whirlwind of fun, wheee! Now, to work!

Book Prize News

This week, the L.A. Times announced the finalists for their prizes for books published in 2022. What a thrill and honor for me to learn that The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin was one of the five finalists in the YA category!

Readers of this blog might recognize the first three titles. I loved them so much that I listed them among my top ten favorite books of the year! So landing on this list with these other books is such a huge honor. Plus, I’m going to get to go to L.A. for the ceremony, woot! It will be amazing to spend time with the other authors in person. I’m already thrilled for whichever title will win the prize. Yay!

Favorite Books of 2022

I read a lot of fabulous books this year, and I’m about to finish three more, so I’ll be at 65 out of my goal of 75 books shortly. I’m hoping for some reading time over the holidays too, so hopefully I can finish a few more of my other partially-completed reads before the end of the year. As always, YA verse novels and historicals were at the top of my list of favorites, but I also fell in love with a few others! Since all of my top ten favorites are so fantastic, I decided to list them in alphabetical order.

AFRICAN TOWN by Charles Waters and Irene Latham. As a YA historical-in-verse, this one ticked all my boxes before I even started reading. All the voices Charles and Irene captured on the pages here really bring these people to life.

ALL MY RAGE by Sabaa Tahir. This National Book Award winner is surely on everyone’s radar, but yeah, this really blew me away too. Just fantastic storytelling.

A MILLION QUIET REVOLUTIONS by Robin Gow. This verse novel is about two trans boys who name themselves after Revolutionary War soldiers. Bonus! Not only is this in verse, but it also includes letters!

HOLLOW FIRES by Samira Ahmed. This contemporary YA set in Chicago is all about a teen’s quest for justice on behalf of a younger teen who should have had a full, promising life, were it not for racism. So powerful, and loved the format.

MY SECOND IMPRESSION OF YOU by Michelle Mason. This YA contemporary is definitely a lighter read compared to most of my faves, but I love theater kids, and I love the life lesson that sometimes how we remember something isn’t how it happened at all.

NOTHING SUNG AND NOTHING SPOKEN by Nita Tyndall. I’m a sucker for a historical set in Berlin, and the love and friendship between these girls in the Schwingjugend during World War II captured my heart.

RIMA’S REBELLION by Margarita Engle. Yes, another YA historical-in-verse! This story about suffragettes fighting for their rights in Cuba is simply glorious.

THE GHOSTS OF ROSE HILL by R. M. Romero. This verse novel about a teen violinist wrestling ghosts in Prague is truly magical.

THE SILENT UNSEEN by Amanda McCrina. This YA historical set in Eastern Europe during World War II offers a glimpse of the complicated history still affecting people in the region today.

TORCH by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. This YA historical is set in former Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion. I loved all the characters so, so much–especially how they work together to fight oppression.

Those are my top ten picks, and I and would love to hear your favorites!

But first, one quick bonus! Two 2023 books I got to read early and absolutely loved. They are both YA verse novels and are both incredible, so get them on your radar now!

All About One Last Shot

It’s October 17, which means that it’s exactly three months until the release of my next book! One Last Shot is a YA historical verse novel about photojournalist Gerda Taro. I love Gerda so much and I can’t wait to introduce her story to readers. Since it’s getting closer to release, I wanted to share a look behind the scenes of how the book came together, starting with a glimpse into my inspiration to tell Gerda’s story.

Early in the morning of August 1, 2018, I opened Google to find the following:

This impish girl with the camera immediately drew my attention, so I obviously clicked on it to learn more. So began my journey learning about Gerta Pohorylle (aka Gerda Taro). I was intrigued enough by what I saw at first glance that I quickly ordered several books about her and her more famous partner, André Friedman (aka Robert Capa).

One of the first books I devoured was Eyes of the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, a YA nonfiction book about Taro and Capa and their collaboration. Their book includes tons of photographs of and by Taro and Capa, and it got me all the more intrigued to learn more. Irme Schaber’s biography, Gerta Taro: Fotoreporterin im spanischen Bürgerkrieg (in German), was by far the most comprehensive work I read about Gerda, and Jane Rogoyska’s biography, Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa, was also extremely informative.

Also incredibly important to me was studying the photographs themselves, both on the International Center of Photography’s (ICP) website and in Trisha Ziff’s fabulous film about the Mexican Suitcase, curated by Cynthia Young at the ICP.

Finally, I’m married to a Spaniard myself, and while I’ve been to Spain many times, this past summer I was lucky enough to follow Gerda’s footsteps in Madrid and the surrounding area with help from historians Alan Warren and Almudena Cros. I’m so grateful for their efforts!

One Last Shot will be published on January 17, 2023. It’s so soon! Please do add it to your Goodreads list, pre-order if you can, and share with all your friends! Thank you!

Add to your TBR list: Goodreads

Pre-order: The Silver Unicorn | B&NBookshop | Book Depository | Amazon 

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

My sophomore novel, The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, has now officially been out in the world for a full week! So one last Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome to this book I’ve been working on since 2013.

Last night, we had a lovely celebration at Porter Square Books.

Kerri Maher & I after our animated conversation!

It was wonderful being at a bookstore again for an in-person event! And I was thrilled to see so many supportive people in one place. You all really made my night. Thank you for coming, and a special thanks to Kerri for supporting me and this book from the start!

Film Research

There’s officially one month left until the release of The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin (out March 29, 2022!). With the clock ticking, I’m excited to share today one more essential piece of my research: films!

The initial spark of inspiration for this book came from a film from the era.

Menschen am Sonntag (“People on Sunday”) is a 1930 film about young people making a living in Berlin at a time when Sunday was normally the only day workers had off every week. I was captivated by this slice-of-life film set in the last years of freedom before the Nazis came to power.

But I also knew that this fascinating glimpse didn’t tell the full story of Berlin at the time. As part of my research, I watched (or re-watched) many other exciting films from Germany in the early 1930s.

Mädchen in Uniform (“Girls in Uniform”) is a 1931 film about a girls’ boarding school–specifically about one of the students who develops a crush on her female teacher. The film became a cult classic and is simply fantastic.

Kuhle Wampe, order Wem gehört die Welt? (“Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World?”) is a 1932 film about the fight for one family’s survival in Berlin in the face of unemployment and homelessness during the last days of the Weimar Republic. Hertha Thiele starred in both this film and Mädchen in Uniform. I wrote a longer review of this film for the Weimar Film Network.

Die Büchse der Pandora (“Pandora’s Box”) is a 1929 film directed by G. W. Pabst and starring the American actress Louise Brooks. Louise’s bobbed hair made her a fashion icon, a style copied in Europe as well as the United States. My protagonist Hilde is pegged as a Louise Brooks look-alike in one of the very first scenes of Dazzling Girl!

Der blaue Engel (“The Blue Angel”) is a 1930 film starring German actress Marlene Dietrich. The film is based on the Heinrich Mann novel, Professor Unrat. It’s about a professor transformed by a cabaret and his love for the singer there. It was (and still is) a very popular and iconic film from the Weimar era.

M is a 1931 film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It’s about the city’s serach for a serial killer targeting children in Berlin. The scenes of life in the city–including the people, the homes, and the streets–really give a glimpse into life at the time.

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (“Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis”) is a 1927 film. It uses trains and streetcars to take viewers through the city. It’s a great way to take a tour of Berlin at the time.

Asphalt is a 1929 film about a young woman who steals a necklace and seduces the policeman who comes by to investigate. It does a great job showing the desperation of Berliners at the time (and is a pretty dramatic story!).

Finally, Cabaret is a 1972 musical film. It’s set at the Kit Kat Klub, a cabaret in Berlin in 1931, and focuses on the relationships between characters at a local boardinghouse and their love interests, all set against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis.

I highly recommend all these films, and hope these hook you on the fabulous world of Weimar cinema!

Berlin Research Trip

It’s December 29, which means there are only three (3) months left until the release of The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin! Since six months pre-release, I’ve been running a countdown. So far, I’ve shared a book teaser, some of my book research, and my playlist. (As a reminder, here’s a link that lists out what I’ll be sharing each month until release.) This month, I’m excited to share a bit from my Berlin research trip I took back in 2019.

Me and my camera in an U-Bahn station with a photo from 1935

I should first explain that I’ve lived in both Bavaria (Würzburg) and Austria (Feldbach, not too far from Graz). However, I never made it to Berlin in my time there! I’d been working on The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin since 2013, but it didn’t quite come together to take another Germany trip until 2019. Luckily this was before covid, so I will always treasure the moments from this lovely trip before the world changed so drastically.

Before

I had definitely done my share of armchair research before the trip, including reading books and watching films set during the early 1930s in Berlin. Along with these, I used old maps and guide books to decide on some of the sights I wanted to see.

Berlin old and new maps

During

While in Berlin, I used my trip notebook (which included my planning and brainstorming notes) to make diary entries of what I actually did and saw each day, along with bits and pieces of some of the highlights like these.

My trip notebook

After

The final result offers a tiny peek into the setting I was researching. I shared the following post just after the trip: A Dash of Weimar Republic. Hope some of the pictures I took give you a bit of the flavor you’ll find in the book!

Favorite Books of 2021

Another year with a lot of reading for me! As of today, I’ve read 73 of my 75-book goal this year, but I’ll surely finish up a few stragglers I’m currently reading before 2021 comes to an end. With so many wonderful books, it was harder than ever to choose my favorites this year. As usual, I read more YA than anything else, with historicals and verse novels at the top of my list.

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride. This YA novel-in-verse is absolutely gorgeous. It’s incredibly moving. It has so, so many things to offer and I honestly can’t say more because (redacted). I highly recommend this book to everyone!

LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB by Malinda Lo. This National Book Award winner is probably on everyone’s radar, but I can’t help expressing my love for this meticulously-researched and atmospheric YA historical.

LUCK OF THE TITANIC by Stacey Lee. It might be hard to believe someone can write a compelling new take on the Titanic disaster, but Stacey Lee has absolutely done that with this gorgeously-written YA historical.

YOUR HEART, MY SKY by Margarita Engle. As always, Margarita Engle’s poetry sings, and this story about young love during a terrible period of starvation in Cuba’s recent history totally captured my heart.

YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED by Michelle Mason. What’s not to like about a YA version of Manifest with a teen character from the 90s showing up with her flight today after a 25-year delay? It’s amazing how much has changed since the 90s. Also, Michelle is one of my longtime critique partners, and I was so thrilled to hold her debut in my hands!

CALL ME ATHENA by Colby Cedar Smith. Historicals in verse are definitely my jam, and this multi-generational tale starring young women from an immigrant family was definitely jammy. A great YA/adult crossover read.

COOL FOR THE SUMMER by Dahlia Adler. This YA contemporary about a bi teen girl deciding between “the guy of her dreams or the girl of her heart” is filled with beachy vibes. It’s charming, funny, and heartfelt.

RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE by Rajani LaRocca. This utterly beautiful middle grade novel-in-verse offers layers upon layers of heart. As a bonus, it takes place during the 80s, so as an 80s child myself, I felt right at home.

SOUL LANTERNS by Shaw Kuzki, translated by Emily Balistreiri. I’ve already re-read this middle grade historical, so that’s a testament right there of how compelling this book is. It’s about the terrible bombing of Hiroshima, but from the point of view of a twelve-year-old born after the war, her city haunted by the victims.

THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE by Eugene Yelchin. This memoir for middle grade readers caught me by surprise. I loved the humor, the heavy weight counterbalancing it, and this slice of history I really didn’t know well. Excellent for readers of all ages.

Those are my top ten picks, but I and would love to hear your favorites, as well as what books you’re looking forward to in 2022!