Favorite Books of 2019

I’ve been posting my favorite books of the year for several years now, and even though my own debut novel came out this year, I have plenty of other favorites! As usual, I fell hard for some historicals and novels-in-verse, and I’m also including a graphic novel that both my kids and I absolutely adored. In fact, I had quite a few middle grade books among my top picks:

  • THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman. As with all of Padma’s stories, this book is full of heart (which might break just a little while reading, but it’s so worth it).
  • NEW KID by Jerry Craft. This graphic novel is a must-read for everyone. Fantastic artwork and story.
  • OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga. A gorgeous novel-in-verse about a new immigrant and her family.
  • HOW HIGH THE MOON by Karyn Parsons. This racially-charged historical is set partially in South Carolina and partially in Boston, and takes the reader along on a difficult journey they won’t soon forget.

But as usual, most of my favorites this year were young adult titles. So many favorites this year! Here are a handful of my top picks:

  • INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed. This dystopian places a teenager and her family in a Muslim internment camp and follows her resistance from within its walls.
  • LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. The setting in this WWI historical was vivid, the writing gorgeous, and the story layered and rich and divine. Also, the romance(s)! Simply lovely.
  • THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee. I adore all Stacey Lee’s books, and this one is my favorite yet. Jo is a Chinese American girl living in Reconstructionist Georgia whose determination is an inspiration.
  • BUTTERFLY YELLOW by Thanhha Lai. I love Thanhha’s verse, but the prose is just as lovely here. It’s a post-Vietnam War historical and a tragic reminder of the scars immigrants fleeing terrible situations bear.

I also had a couple of really innovative favorites:

  • PET by Akwaeki Emezi. People have been calling this one genre defying and it sure is. Jam calls forth Pet, who returns to Jam’s world to hunt a monster. Absolutely incredible.
  • IN PARIS WITH YOU by Clémentine Beauvais, translated by Sam Taylor. I read this novel-in-verse in the English translation, but I do want to try it in my (rusty) French as well because aaaaah, all the feelings! I loved this gorgeously-written retelling of Eugine Onegin.

Finally, a few bonus books from the 2020 ARC titles I was lucky enough to read this year:

  • THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY by Sherri L. Smith. Get this one on your radar pronto, and get those tissues handy! I love everything about this historical set in Japan in the final days of WWII. Absolutely stunning.
  • THE ASSIGNMENT by Liza Wiemer. This fictional story is based on a real incident that had high school students taking sides in a mock debate about the Final Solution. Like the real-life students, these students refuse to participate, taking a powerful stand against hate.
  • FLOWERS IN THE GUTTER by K. R. Gaddy. This work of narrative non-fiction offers an impressive body of research about the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely-grouped band of teen resistance members during WWII.

That’s it from me for 2019. What were your favorites from this year? And what books are you most looking forward to in 2020? Please share!

Historical Novel Society Conference Highlights

I’ve been watching from the sidelines for years as other historical fiction authors I admire talked about the Historical Novel Society and its amazing conference, held every two years in the United States. I promised myself that if I ever got a book published, I would try to go, and lo and behold, it worked out for me this year!

My debut novel, White Rose, based on the true story of a German student-led resistance group during World War II, was published in April, 2019, with HMH’s new Versify imprint, so I was lucky enough not only to attend the conference this June, but also to present as part of a WWII panel (Beyond Rosie the Riveter) and a Kaffee Klatsch (The Crossover Revolution: Is It Adult or Is It YA?).

Obviously a huge highlight for me was talking my passion with these fantastic authors and attendees. But there was much more to the conference. I’ve been to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences multiple times, and while I can sometimes manage to track down the historical writers in the bunch, it was amazing to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Instead of, “What do you write?” I could start out with a much more specific, “What’s your era?” to get a conversation going. And there were conversations aplenty, starting with Thursday evening’s costume party, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Next, attending other sessions was a huge highlight for me, including the
Tall Poppy Writers’ Marketing Collective panel and the State of the State of Historical Fiction panel with a group of agents and editors.

Finally, listening to Dolen Perkins-Valdez give her fabulous keynote about “making sh*t up” (while she also clearly does the work, putting on the gloves in the archives and the whole bit) and going back to our “nerd-holes” was an absolute inspiration. Looking forward to reading her books, and to reading more from everyone I met!

Favorite Books from 2018

Although 2018 continued to be a dumpster fire in many of the same ways 2017 was, it was at the very least a great year for reading. I read 88 books this year*, and was astounded by all the literary greatness. Choosing only ten favorite books from 2018 was no easy feat. I’m quite proud of myself that I managed it!

*So far. I am well aware that there are 12 days left of the year and I am still reading. But at the moment I’m up to my eyeballs in research books that are completely fascinating to me but unlikely to end up on a top-ten list of favorites.

As usual, some of my absolute favorite books are historical fiction or novels-in-verse, and this year was no exception. To start with some of my favorite historicals, I fell hard for:

  1. THE DOLLMAKER OF KRAKOW (MG historical) by R. M. Romero tells the story of Karolina, a doll who comes to life as the Nazis roll in to Krakow. Heartbreaking, lovely, and poignant.
  2. ORPHAN MONSTER SPY (YA historical) by Matt Killeen is about a kickass Jewish teen who infiltrates an elite Nazi school. Looking forward to the sequel already!
  3. NOTHING BUT SKY (YA historical) by Amy Trueblood sends the reader high over the skies in the 1920s with wingwalker Grace. Love the historical details in this one.
  4. THE NIGHT DIARY (MG historical) by Veera Hiranandani is told by Nisha, a young girl composing letters to her deceased mother during the turbulent time when India becomes independent and breaks into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. Epistolary novels are most decidedly my jam.
  5. THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACY (YA historical) by Mackenzi Lee features asexual Felicity in her well-deserved own story after playing a side character to her brother Monty and his love interest Percy in THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. While I adored GENTLEMAN, I’m pleased to report that I loved LADY even more. Historical fiction at its best!

    a few historicals

    Also as usual, I fell hard for some amazing novels-in-verse this year.

  6. JAZZ OWLS (YA novel-in-verse) by Margarita Engle is such a gorgeous book about the Zoot Suit Riots. The poetry is absolutely lovely, and the details she weaves into the lines just sing. As a bonus, artwork throughout by Rudy Guitierrez further sweeps the reader away.
  7. REBOUND (MG novel-in-verse) by Kwame Alexander is a prequel to his Newbery-award-winning THE CROSSOVER, aka the verse novel that astounded me with its ability to interest me in a sport. REBOUND is actually a historical too, since it’s the story of the dad in THE CROSSOVER as a teen, so it doubly captivated me. Un-put-down-able.
  8. BLOOD WATER PAINT (YA novel-in-verse) by Joy McCullough is stunning. It tells the timely #MeToo story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter active in Italy in the early 17th century. But don’t just take my word on it. BLOOD WATER PAINT is winning all kinds of praise, and is a newly-announced Morris Award finalist.
  9. THE POET X (YA novel-in-verse) by Elizabeth Acevedo is pretty much everything. This book! The poetry grabs you by the heart, and Xiomara’s voice rings true and loud and in-your-face, and so many people needed her story right now, and I can’t recommend it enough. On top of all that, THE POET X just won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so others think it’s a pretty awesome book too. Side note: if you ever get the chance to see Elizabeth in person, do not miss it

    some favorite verse novels

    Finally, a bit of a curve ball.

  10. The Faithful Spy (YA nonfiction) by John Hendrix caught me completely off guard. I had pre-ordered this one because I’m particularly interested in World War II resistance within Germany by Germans, and I’ve long held great respect for pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As expected, I devoured it when it arrived, but the unexpected thing is … I simply cannot stop re-reading it.  I just love it so much. I’ve never read such a gripping work of non-fiction, and I absolutely credit that to the graphic presentation. The story of Bonhoeffer’s life progresses in a linear fashion, but it’s broken up by compelling images, descriptions, and details that add up to a full and rich picture not just of this one important man’s life, but of the terrible time he lived in and how he reacted to the circumstances as a person of conscience. This book is a masterpiece and I would love to thrust it upon more readers, so here!  

a book unlike any other

On top of all these wonderful books, I’ve also had the chance to read ARCs of some of the new books coming your way in 2019. From Gita Trelease’s ENCHANTÉE to Justin Reynolds’ OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS to Laurie Halse Anderson’s SHOUT to Mariama Lockington’s FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME to Lamar Giles’ THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER, you are in for some fantastic treats! 


Total books read: 88
Total YA books read: 35
Total MG books read: 39
Total adult books read: 14

#TakeYourBookOutdoors: August 2018

This summer, I decided to join the #takeyourbookoutdoors challenge started by bookstagrammer Bronte, and August ended up being another great month for me to do so. There were some quite hot days, but many beautiful ones, and I took my books along to all sorts of fun places.

One one of those hotter days, I took SUNNY by Jason Reynolds along to the pool. One of my local librarians recommended this book to me, since she knows how much I loved LONG WAY DOWN. This book is for the younger (middle grade) crowd, but sings with musical prose.

Sometimes getting outside means taking the T, and I was reading GIRL IN DISGUISE by Greer Macallister on a trip into town for some dumplings. This book about the first female Pinkerton detective really hooked me.

A NIGHT DIVIDED is on the MCBA (Massachusetts Children’s Book Award) list this year, and my children both thrust it on me, telling me how much they loved it. The book tells the story of a family divided by the Berlin Wall. I had to keep stepping outside for fresh air and looks skyward as the clock ticked on against their escape plans.

On a literary field trip this month, we had the chance to read some of Emily Dickinson’s poems below her window among the tree stumps. We each opened to a random page and read the poem we found there out loud. I read this one just afternoon. Chills!

I read THE CONFIDENCE CODE by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (here at the Japanese Garden at the MFA) this month. It was jam-packed with interesting science, but I’m now reading THE CONFIDENCE CODE FOR GIRLS (which I checked out for my daughter), and I’m enjoying that version even more.

A BOOK OF PEARL by Timothée de Fombelle was my companion for a few delicious days, including on a lakeside picnic. Part historical, part fantasy, part fairy tale, this book is absolutely gorgeous (as is de Fombelle’s other work–loved VANGO as well).

Finally, I took WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW by Cindy Baldwin along to the Hatch Shell for a (free!) Landmarks Orchestra concert and got to read a little while waiting for the amazing dance performances to begin. This lovely, painful book is a perfect summertime read that ends with buckets of hope.

What great reads have you taken outdoors this summer?


#TakeYourBookOutdoors: July 2018

Last month I decided to join the #takeyourbookoutdoors challenge started by bookstagrammer Bronte, and I had just as much fun taking my books outdoors in July as I did in June. This month actually included a week of vacation, so my great outdoors went beyond Boston and up to the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont and tranquil Lake Champlain in New York.

First off, my daughters and I are continuing our read-aloud of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, and we got to read a chapter one morning before breakfast in the most gorgeous setting in Vermont.

I also started reading THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani while at a writing retreat for a few days on Lake Champlain. One of my daughters had thrust this book in my hands and I could see why she loved it as soon as I started it. Such an emotional, epic journey set in the newly-separated Pakistan and India in 1947.

Back home from vacation, I had the luck of receiving an ARC of SPECTACLE by fellow member of the #novel19s, Jodie Lynn Zdrok. My photo from reading in my own back yard is of the spine because the atmospheric cover hasn’t yet been revealed! But it’s a perfect match to this historical fantasy set in nineteenth century Paris.

Another book I started poolside after my daughters devoured it was FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang. What I love best about this book was how it gave us so much to talk about: how hard life can be, especially for new immigrants, how prevalent racism is, and how experiences from people’s own lives can make the best stories.

Finally, a shot from our new reading nook on our front porch (sadly, a three-season porch, which means a one-season porch in Boston) of THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER by Jen Wang. This graphic novel is absolutely adorable, and this time, my kids devoured it after I did. The historical details, charming characters, and steadfast friendship between this fictional Belgian prince who loves wearing dresses and his ingenious dressmaker is absolutely charming!


#TakeYourBookOutdoors: June 2018

Prompted by the #takeyourbookoutdoors call by bookstagrammer Bronte, I decided to do just that this summer and take advantage of the few months of the year when the weather actually cooperates in Boston. This June has been a particularly fine month for weather, which means I got to enjoy books in all sorts of places, and I had a whole lot of lovely books to read this month, which made it even more fun.

At first, I didn’t venture out too far, taking AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao out to my back porch. This book is so, so fun to read, but it also has a more serious side that made me fall hard for it. Bonus points for taking place just down the road at MIT! More bonus points for being a YA set in college–would love to see more of these.

Next I headed to one of my regular summertime haunts (the beach, of course!), taking MY SO-CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE by Nisha Sharma with me.  What an adorable story! The romance is top-notch, but really what sold me on the book was the way all the relationships felt so real, including the romance of course, but also the friendships and family relationships. It was refreshing to read a YA with such likable parents!

My next read took me out to sea even though my body stayed firmly on land at an outdoor café while I read THE UNBINDING OF MARY READE by Miriam McNamara. This book is full of adventure, romance, and all the gender and sexual orientation questioning. Plus who wouldn’t love a book about girls dressing up as boys, especially when the characters are based on historical pirates?

Since I was out at sea for UNBINDING, I was drawn to the harbor for my next read. My children and I have been making our way through the Harry Potter series, and we’re currently on book six. I read the books myself in English back in the day, so reading them in Spanish (my children’s first language) is somewhat like reading them again for the first time.

Finally, I wrapped up the month by starting YOUR DESTINATION IS ON THE LEFT by Lauren Spieller, which I brought along on an outing to the North End (not pictured: pizza from Regina’s and granita from Caffe Vittoria). I’m already loving the story of nomad Dessa and am looking forward to finding out where the road will take her!

Favorite Books from 2017

My favorite books from 2017 contain a bit more of an eclectic mix than my usual YA historical fare, although I’ll start off by giving a shout-out to one of my favorite books released this year, THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. I’m not including it on this list since I was lucky enough to read an ARC in 2016 instead, but I’m still oohing and aahing over it a year later, so definitely get on that if you haven’t read it yet.

Out of the sixty-four books I read this year, my top picks include some historicals, some verse novels, and a few other surprises, so without further ado, here they are!

  1. THE BOOK OF DUST by Philip Pullman (MG fantasy). I was lucky enough to pick up a signed copy in Oxford (after stopping by Lyra and Will’s bench at the botanical garden). Fans of Lyra and her world will love this first book in the new trilogy just as much. 
  2. SOLO by Kwame Alexander (YA novel in verse). I’m a huge fan of Kwame’s books, and I especially loved the way this one brings music into the story.
  3. LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds (YA novel in verse). The sparse, powerful writing, striking images, and punch to the gut at the end left me reeling.
  4. THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA contemporary). Once I cracked open this book, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. So, so powerful and a must-read for everyone.
  5. THE PEARL THIEF by Elizabeth Wein (YA historical). As a fan of CODE NAME VERITY, I absolutely adored this dive into the backstory.
  6. ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan (MG fairy tale). This is one of those books that seems to have been written expressly for me. Reading each of the finely-crafted tales and watching them come together was absolutely magical.
  7. REFUGEE by Alan Gratz (MG historical/contemporary). Like ECHO, this book seamlessly weaves together three heartbreaking stories about refugee children escaping terrible situations with their families.
  8. AMONG THE RED STARS by Gwen Katz (YA historical). This book about the Night Witches was everything I’d hoped it would be–from its gripping action scenes to its epistolary format.
  9. YORK: THE SHADOW CIPHER by Laura Ruby (MG steampunk). This book was so unique and lovely and made me laugh out loud. Can’t wait for the next installment.
  10. SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt (Adult historical). I’ve read some Lizzie Borden novels before, but the lyrical voice in this one really blew me away. So fresh and fantastic.

Any other fantastic books I might have missed that seem particularly kippish? Please share any favorites below!

Favorite Books from 2016

Time for a rundown of my favorite books from 2016! This was a crappy year for lots of reasons (*cough* election *cough*), meaning it was an especially lovely year to hide in a book. Out of the eighty books I read this year, it’s probably not surprising that eight of my top ten picks are historical, since that’s my favorite genre, and nine out of ten are young adult, since that’s what I mostly read, but I’ve also got a couple of additional picks that really blew me away.

  1. SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical). This one comes  a photo of me with the author right after she signed my copy of her book. This WWII historical with multiple points of view is most definitely a must-read! kipandruta
  2. OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez (YA historical). This book absolutely wrecked me (and I mean that in the most positive way). Anyone who knows me knows I love tragic reads, and this story about a 1937 school explosion in Texas couldn’t be more compelling.
  3. BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina (YA historical). I wasn’t convinced this story would be for me, since it’s closer to present day (1977), but the details absolutely captured me in the time and place. I absolutely loved Nora and couldn’t turn pages fast enough as the summer of Sam heated up.
  4. OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee (YA historical). This story takes place in San Francisco in 1906, so the danger to Mercy Wong and everyone she holds dear is evident from the very beginning. Such lovely details and gorgeous writing!
  5. THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry (YA historical). This is one of the voice-iest historicals I’ve ever read, with multiple points of view sharing an amazingly well-researched story.
  6. AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder (YA historical in verse). Clara’s story as an immigrant at the turn of the last century grabbed me right from the start in this stunning verse novel. Such compelling images throughout!
  7. TO STAY ALIVE by Skila Brown (YA historical in verse). If you think you know the story of the Donner party, think again. Though I knew what was sure to happen in the end, I simply couldn’t put this book down.
  8. WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA magical realism). This book is about a boy born as a girl and the girl reborn from the water who loves him, and it is absolutely magical. Each line of the story of Sam and Miel’s romance sings.
  9. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown (YA contemporary). Even if you don’t read a lot of contemporary, do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely story about a queer teen who has to hide who she is as she navigates faith, friendship, and romance.
  10. THE GUSTAV SONATA by Rose Tremain (Adult historical). One of the reasons I loved this book is because of its similarities to Thomas Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, but I also adored the glimpse into post-WWII Switzerland, along with the very fine line between deep friendship and true love.

As a bonus, I was lucky enough to read an ARC of THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE (YA historical by Mackenzie Lee), and I simply cannot recommend this book enough! It releases in June, 2017, so get it on your radar now!

So … what were your favorites? Any great historicals I missed?

Verse Novel-a-thon

To celebrate National Poetry Month this year, I decided to turn my reading list into a verse novel-a-thon, and I can happily report that it was an even more amazing experience than I had hoped. What stories! What voices! What magnificent, gorgeous writing!

My signed copy!

As a Rilke scholar and Poetry Editor at YARN, I of course love poetry. I’ve read and loved some fantastic verse novels in the past, among them BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, and AND WE STAY by Jenny Hubbard, to name a few.

At YARN this month, we chatted with two verse novelists, Leza Lowitz and Dana Walrath, who also shared some of their beautiful work. Reading their novels definitely inspired me to read more novels in verse, so you can find more about them in my recommended reading list below. This is by no means a complete list! But if you’ve never read a verse novel before, one of these might be a good start.

UP FROM THE SEA by Leza Lowitz is a haunting tale about the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan told from a teen boy’s perspective.

LIKE WATER ON STONE by Dana Walrath uses multiple points of view to share a family’s heartbreaking journey during the Armenian genocide.

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder pulls the reader deep in the head of a striking factory worker at the turn of the 20th century with amazingly visceral details.

SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Jensen is a gorgeous near-historical set in NYC about AIDS, guilt, love, and family.

WITNESS by Karen Hesse is another multi-POV story for middle-grade readers that takes a serious look at the KKK in a small Vermont town in 1924.

MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose is a beautifully-written middle-grade historical that appeals to Little House fans (with a bit of Home Alone mixed in).

CAMINAR by Skila Brown tells the heart-wrenching story of a boy who survives an attack on his village in war-torn Guatemala.

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson sends the reader on a journey with a teenage girl to her family’s orchard in Japan after a bullied girl in her class kills herself.

A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman is a beautiful story about a bharatanatyam dancer’s healing process when she loses her leg in a tragic accident.

VerseNovelsHaving read all these fantastic novels has not dampened my enthusiasm in the slightest for verse, as is probably evident by my current TBR stack. Can’t wait to make my way through these ones next!

Please feel free to add any other must-reads in the comments!


A History Lesson from Erika Mann

Erika Mann, the flamboyant, fascinating daughter of Nobel prize winner, Thomas Mann, piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw the 1932 film, Mädchen in Uniform. Erika plays a supporting role as one of the teachers in the film, and seeing her onscreen sent me in a spiral of research, reading works by and about both of the eldest Mann children, Erika and her close brother, Klaus.


Library of Congress: Erika Mann

From Berlin’s cabarets in the 1920s to a life of exile in the 1930s that made her stateless until her lavender marriage to English poet, W.H. Auden, got her a passport, Erika zoomed about trying to find joy while taking issue with the political climate.

I have no desire to be political myself, but as it becomes more likely that someone many of us once thought was a joke is now a viable candidate for president, with comparisons to even contemporary leaders that make one shudder, we must look to history for proof of what can happen when radical leaders take power. Because it’s all there.

Erika Mann’s essay, “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes,” appears in the 1940 collection Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free. This appeal, to a young American she meets on a train on the way to Los Angeles, is meant as advice to a country on the sidelines of a Europe under siege, but her words are just as applicable today:

But what constitutes the disease? Fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, defeat? No! Because they already are death. The “disease”—that is the inability of the body to resist Death. The decay of the organism, the breakdown of resistance, that is the disease.

She goes on to write a full essay-within-the-essay for her young companion, outlining the symptoms of decay, her own experience as a non-political actress silenced by a horde of Brownshirts in 1931, a political meeting with a group of friends in Berlin, and ultimately the failure of resistance. Perhaps most haunting of all are her words closer to the beginning of the essay, when she passionately tries to explain why this history matters:

“You will not believe,” I added, and noticed that my tone was a little too intense, “you can’t imagine how painful it is gradually to discover that no country, no nation, no youth has wanted to draw a lesson from our dreadful example.”

Please, draw a lesson. History like this—a dreadful example like this—should not be allowed to repeat itself.