Favorite Reads of 2021

It feels very much on point that I am sharing my favorite reads of 2021 with hours to spare, as I don’t think I’ve managed to finish anything early this year. My 2021 has been packed with the launch of my debut novel, moving across the country, buying a house, revising book two and writing book three on tight deadlines. It hardly seems possible that in a few hours I can say again that I have a book out this year, which is something that is both amazing and slightly overwhelming. I’m really grateful to everyone who picked up Pride and Premeditation, shared photos, recommended it, and left reviews. You all made my debut year really special!

Now on to my favorite reads of 2021! As in previous years, I want to stipulate that these are just my favorites, by no means the “best” because who am I to say what’s the best out of thousands upon thousands? I enjoy making this list, but it also stresses me out to some degree because there are at least twenty books from my TBR book cart that I didn’t get to and desperately want to read, and probably would be my favorites if I could just find the time to read them. It’s enough to give me an existential crisis! But these are twenty wonderful books I enjoyed a lot, and if you’re looking for something to read, I hope you like them, too!

Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi

I love Parvin! She’s loud and funny and passionate, and reading her story reminded me in the best way of all the YA I read when I was fourteen, but this was a fun and smart contemporary take on starting high school.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

It won the National Book Award, what more needs to be said? But I am always here for beautiful stories about queer women coming of age and finding love and building their lives in historical settings, and this one more than delivered.

Squad by Maggie Tokuda Hall and Lisa Sterle

I’m obsessed with the pops of color in this artwork, and this super smart and nuanced story about girls fighting back against rape culture…but what happens when they go too far? Plus, it’s queer!

The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc

This is a brilliant memoir about what it means to be a parent when you don’t fit the binary, and how our world isn’t set up to accommodate nonbinary parents. It’s brilliantly written and the story is utterly mesmerizing.

Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani

Feminist fairy tales with a twist. I think this is supposed to be for kids, but honestly, it’s for all ages. I was continually blown away by each story, and I want to return to them again and again.

When Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow

Here’s another short story collection, this one from contemporary writers whose assignment was to write a short story inspired by Shirley Jackson’s work. No retellings or homages, just their own interpretation of her vibes. The result is a really fascination collection of very different stories that nonetheless feel quite cohesive.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

I enjoyed The Alice Network but fell in love with Quinn’s writing with The Huntress. This is an engrossing story of three women who meet at Bletchley Park, and whose friendship is torn apart by the war. Only, they must reunite against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding in order to solve a mystery that threatens their country and their lives.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

As someone who used to write in Panera every day, I was completely charmed by the premise of this book, which is a single overworked novelist mom who is overheard explaining the plot of her next book in Panera, and is mistaken as a hit woman. Hijinks ensue. I’ve already preordered the second book!

The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton

This might be my most recommended book of 2021, honestly. It’s the fascinating account of Axton’s childhood, which was plagued by paranoia and identity theft, and how she unraveled the decades of secrets once she hit adulthood.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry 

It’s a new romance by Emily Henry, of course it was my favorite! Honestly, I was blown away by her ability to create these beautiful, realistic, vibrant characters. There’s a lot of banter, too. I inhaled it.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

This is a high-concept book that really delivers—a scientist’s husband leaves her…for the clone of her that he created illicitly. And then when that clone “accidentally” kills him, they’re both at risk for discovery. I will pretty much read anything Gailey writes because they’re a genius at coming up with premises that are my catnip and they’ve never let me down.

This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry 

If Marvelous Mrs. Maisel were a contemporary YA book, it would look like this novel! I loved that this book is about stand up comedy, friendship, and learning to identify and extricate yourself from toxic relationships.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This book was fun and fresh and humorous and exciting—think mythology meets contemporary intrigue, with a gorgeous estate setting and lots of secrets. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

If you love the vibes of Practical Magic but want a hot sapphic romance, this is your book! I really loved the tension between the protagonists, but I fell in love with the fun setting and magic system!

She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen

Another book by Kelly Quindlen making the year-end list! I just adore her characters and how she manages to make her settings and the many relationships (friendships, romances, family) feel so fully realized! This is a trope-tastic book with lots of heart.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Arranged marriage, galactic empires, big conspiracies, and lots of jokes! I am honestly sad that this isn’t a series because I would read about Kiem and Jainan saving the universe multiple times over.

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson 

This is a horror novel that straight up scared me and made me eye my basement door with a deep mistrust! I loved how Jackson maintained and constantly upped the tension in this book. It scared the crap out of me!

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

This book is so big-hearted and complicated, with two sisters who don’t want to admit they love each other but who can’t stop looking after the other. It’s a quieter read, but the emotional impact will stay with me for a while.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis 

Found family, a fantasy western world, and nonstop action and me flipping the pages so fast! I really loved the world building and characters of this novel, and I have the sequel on my Kindle right now. (It’s my greatest ambition to finish it before the end of the year, but…I’ll be honest, it probably won’t happen tonight!)

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

This book. Holy cow. It’s a retelling of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and it hits you right in the chest. It also has a literal cliffhanger that has me counting down the days until the sequel!

Happy New Year! I hope that your 2022 is full of good books!

Favorite Reads of 2020

Oh, 2020. What. A. Year. It’s been really exciting in a lot of ways (I got married, I wrote a whole book and revised another, I saw the launch of Rural Voices), but also, you know, a global pandemic happened. Kind of a suckfest. We are luckier than most, and I’m glad for that, but there were times when I really wasn’t feeling like myself and my reading definitely suffered. I also took on more tasks and responsibilities over at Book Riot, including joining the All the Books! team on a monthly rotation, which meant I read way more brand-new releases that come out on the third Tuesday of the month than I ever have before. And…I also DNF’d a lot of books. I thought my stats would shake out to be a bit disappointing, so I was a bit shocked when I realized I’m on track to have finished 110 books this year, the same number that I accomplished last year!

I know that surviving this year intact is an accomplishment in and of itself, and I shouldn’t try to compare myself to years previous, but I am such a stats nerd! I use a Sheet-based log (you can get the reading log, which I built and shared on Book Riot), and it keeps track of lots of stats! It’s not quite the end of the year yet and I hope to squeeze in at least five more books, but here are some cool numbers from my year in reading!

I read a ton in audio–the most audiobooks I’ve read in any year since I started tracking that in 2018! I still prefer print, but because of my work reading, which is mostly of ARCs, I have to read a lot digitally and on audio. I sometimes daydream of running away to a cute little AirBnb or cabin in the woods with nothing but a box of books to get through my spectacular print backlog.

Fun fact, I used to be afraid of nonfiction! I thought it was boring! I’ve been reading way more nonfiction (this is up from 13% in 2019, and 9% in 2018!) and this year I read a lot of great true crime, some amazing memoirs, and even some science books, which surprised even me!

My genre break down is really interesting to me–general fiction has always been my biggest pie slice, followed by mystery/crime, so no surprises there. I read a little less sci-fi and fantasy this year–I don’t know what it is, but I found myself being really picky about about my world building, although some of my faves are sci-fi/fantasy! The biggest increase is in romance (6% last year, and 3% the year before) because I found some really delightful and lovely romance novels I L-O-V-E. And then my biggest surprise of 2020 is that apparently I like horror novels??!?!?! WHO KNEW!

I always strive to read diversely and outside of my comfort zone, because I think it helps me be a better writer and person. Tracking my reading helps me stay focused on those goals, and I’m excited to see what 2021 looks like! It also helps give me perspective, because despite feeling mehhhh about my reading life in general this year, I read a lot of great books that I’m excited to shout about! As always, keep in mind these are faves I read in 2020, not necessarily “best of” the year. They’re a mix of 2020 releases and backlist books I read for the first time, and they aren’t the only ones I loved, just the top 20 that stood out! Also, the links take you to Bookshop.org because they support Indies, but I highly recommend checking out your local indie store’s website if you want to buy them! Here we go!

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Okay, but this book might actually be my most favorite book of the year? It’s queer and it’s full of so! many! twists! and it has a fascinating world, plus multiverse travel. I loved everything about it, from the characters to the voice to the multi-world stakes. It’s a standalone, but this debut novel has made Micaiah Johnson an auto-buy author for me!

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

This is one of my favorite LGBTQ+ YA reads of the year because it’s about friendships and identity beyond the coming out narrative! Codi is a teen with two amazing best friends, but she accidentally falls into a new friend group that she loves…and she doesn’t tell her friends about it. I love a good friendship story, and I love how casually queer and accepting everyone in this book was!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

I know this is one seriously hyped fantasy and I wasn’t sure if it could possibly live up to everyone’s love for it and it did! Like, I felt all the feelings and laughed and maybe almost cried five times. It’s the most wholesome and hilarious fantasy novel, and it doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve read!

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Look, if you tell me about a lesbian romance set in Regency times, I’m going to have to read it. Not only is this just a good romance (queer or straight), it’s also a really great Regency-era novel that explores women who are active in both science and art, and the struggles they faced to be acknowledged. And the romance–swoon. Spoiler alert, the second book in this series is also a delight.

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Okay, look if you tell me about any lesbian romance novels…I’m going to read them. This one is notable because it’s the first f/f romance put out by Berkley, a big romance publisher, and like, wow, yay, and more, please! I don’t normally love Hollywood-set romances but this one worked for me on so many levels. Fair warning it is a slooooow burn, but totally worth it!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

I read Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass last year, and it’s one of the best Snow White retellings I’ve ever read. In this book she takes on a Persian myth, and as a standalone fantasy, it’s absolutely excellent. The writing is beautiful, the plot unfolds wonderfully, and I loved the (queer!) romance. Bashardoust is an auto-buy author for me!

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Crosby

I had the privilege of appearing in Rural Voices alongside Crosby, and I loved his story so much I immediately checked out this book from the library and I LOVED IT. It’s a very gritty, action-packed thriller and let’s just say that I had no idea that a car chase scene could be as riveting on the page as it could be on a screen! Crosby is so talented!

The Twisted Ones by T Kingfisher

This is my spouse’s favorite book of the year, so naturally I wanted to read it so we could talk about it. It’s a really great, funny/spooky about a young woman and her dog, and the dog DOES NOT DIE, which is important. I immediately downloaded Kingfisher’s newest 2020 release, which I’ve not read yet but definitely plan to!

Beach Read by Emily Henry

There is so much I love about this book–dueling writers! Small towns! Lake Michigan beaches! Romance! Family complications! For real, this is one of the most delightful books I read all year, and it came to me during a truly meh month and I am forever grateful for that.

Six Angry Girls by Adrienne Kisner

This book is very excellent and very hilarious, and it will totally make you so angry because sexism! It’s not cool! But Adrienne Kisner is so cool because she’s created these amazing characters who decide they won’t put up with any bullshit, and they fight tooth and nail against the system and entitled boys, and they rock. Pick this up for amazing representation, two very funny voices, and a fight against injustice.

Goodbye From Nowhere by Sara Zarr

I’m a huge Zarr fan, but even so I was not prepared for this book to totally capture my attention and my heart. It’s about Kyle, a teen boy who is dealing with the fact that his family isn’t who he thought they were, and what that means for him and his relationship with them. It’s a book that’s admittedly light on plot but big on nuance and emotion, and I can’t stop recommending it.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisely

I love graphic novels that capture the “ughhhhh” feeling of being a kid, but also the joy. This book, loosely based on Lucy’s childhood when she was abruptly moved from the city to a farm with her mom and her new boyfriend, totally nails it! The art is so fun and playful, and I was with Jen all the way.

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Vera is back, and I’m so happy! This is a sequel to Who Is Vera Kelly?, which follows Vera, a twenty-something woman having very interesting adventures in and out of the CIA’s employ in the 1960’s. This book finds her setting up her own detective agency and maybe finding a good girlfriend? I just want all good things for Vera, even when she’s making questionable decisions. I’m fervently hoping for a third book!

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

This is another delightful LGBTQ+ YA novel that explores the drag scene and can I say, I love that it gives equal spotlight to drag kings as well as queens! It’s also a painfully realistic novel about feeling awkward and saying the wrong things, and trying anyway, and I would like to hug all the characters and tell them it’s gonna be okay.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

I bought this book because I’m on a mission to own all of the gorgeous Sourcebooks Fire editions of Montgomery’s work, but I’d never actually read this book before! It’s an adult novel about Valancy Stirling and her misadventures when she stops letting her odious family control her and it was an utter delight, plus surprisingly relevant for a book written nearly 100 years ago!

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Are we surprised that Acevedo’s latest novel is on this list? I mean, she’s incredible. And this novel-in-verse about two half-sisters who discover each other’s existence when their dad dies in a tragic plane crash had me hooked from the very beginning. I will read anything Acevedo writes–or narrates!

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Okay, just know that this is quite a heavy but incredibly beautiful memoir written by Chanel Miller, who might be better known as Emily Doe in the Brock Turner case. Miller is an incredible writer, and her memoir had me in tears multiple times. Read it, because this is an important story about healing, reclaiming one’s voice, and speaking the truth.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Miller

I started thus book on audio one evening and didn’t look up until it was midnight and it was sadly done. This is a bizarre but endearing story of someone without a purpose finding her place with two very unexpected people. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, and I’ve not read anything else like it.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This was probably my first really great read of 2020, and it’s really stuck with me all year long. It’s about the pitfalls of performative allyship, navigating those weird years between college and feeling like a “real” adult, and the messiness of class. It can be satirical, but it absolutely packs a punch.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, because who doesn’t love the idea of time travelers going back in time to meet Jane Austen…and then grappling with whether or not to save her life from an illness that modern medicine could definitely treat? I liked the moral and philosophical questions this book raises, and how it handles questions of an author’s legacy and what parts of them readers are entitled to.

What are some of your favorite reads of 2020? I can’t wait to hear about them!

Preorder RURAL VOICES now!

rural-voices-15-authors-challenge-assumptions-about-small-town-americaIn all the chaos and anxiety of recent months, it hardly seems possible that we are under six months out from the release of Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions about Small-Town America, edited by my friend Nora Shalaway Carpenter! I’m extremely honored to have a short story in this anthology, and I talked about my contribution a bit more here. It was a lot of fun writing about a first date between two girls set against the backdrop of the county fair, which is one of the events of the year where I’m from!

Since this anthology is a collaboration of 15 different writers and illustrators spread far and wide, there’s no way to offer readers copies signed by all of us. However, I wanted to offer a little thank you to anyone kind enough to preorder! If you order a copy of Rural Voices before the release date of October 13th, I’ll send you a Michigan postcard with a personal note. I love sending mail and these postcards are so lovely, plus they showcase some of my favorite things about my home state–including Superman ice cream!

Michigan postcard

There are three ways to order and get a postcard!

  1. Order from my local indie, Books & Mortar in Grand Rapids, MI. You can get a copy by calling them or by placing an order on their website (yes, they ship!). I’ll sign any preorders, and slip a postcard in your book when it ships!
  2. Order from any retailer of your choice, and then fill out this simple Google form to let me know where to send your postcard! No proof of purchase necessary.
  3. Request that your local library order a copy of the book, then fill out the Google form to let me know where to send your postcard! No proof of request necessary! Most library systems let you easily request materials online, and trust me, librarians love ordering patron requests!

(Note: I won’t share your info with anyone, and it’ll be deleted once I send your postcard.)

That’s it! No matter where you order from or in what format, I’m happy to send you a postcard. And if you request the book at your library–thank you! Library requests are so important, and you rock!

Learn more about Rural Voices under Books!

Favorite Reads of 2019

Well, I held out as long as I possibly could before declaring my favorite books of 2019. I always feel like I should give all my year’s reading a fair shot at making the list and therefore not even think about favorites until December 31st, but does anyone even care about your favorite books of the year after January 1st? No, they’re all on to next year’s books! But I think it’s safe to say that between now and the next four days, I’ll mainly be finishing up books that I started and didn’t get quite through but definitely don’t want to abandon!

I’ve had a weird reading year. As usual, I keep track of everything I read using a spreadsheet that generates stats. If you too want to partake in the magic of tracking and reading stats, you can check out the reading log I built for Book Riot that took approximately 10 hours to make but will save you time and delight you with CHARTS. This year, I read 105 books, which is a lot of books, but that’s 40 fewer than last year. (And 40 is also a lot of books!) I read way more diversely, leaned into audiobooks, and I really got into nonfiction, but I also felt stretched thin. I read a ton for my Book Riot work, both for the Read Harder podcast and TBR service, which left me less time to marathon books purely for fun and re-read favorites. My podcast schedule left me feeling like I was constantly reading to satisfy a requirement, not for fun. I also had some pretty big writing deadlines this year and made the switch to full time freelancing in May, so the theme of 2019 seemed to be constantly re-centering myself and my reading life definitely took a hit.

Nonetheless, here are my 20 favorite books of 2019 in no particular order! It’s a good mix of backlist and 2019 releases, because backlist titles are awesome and it’s never too late to pick up a great book. I’m sure there are tons of 2019 titles that will end up on next year’s list because I am behind, story of my life.

fave books of 2019-2

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My library teens convinced me to pick up this book and I am so glad I did! It’s a darkly humorous book about a near-ish future where death has been eradicated but Scythes still “glean” people at random to control population. Two teens get caught up in an epic struggle among Scythedom that asks a lot of big questions about morality, ethics, and the nature of life. It’s the only book we picked for teen book club that generated so much discussion I had to cut the teens off after our hour was up. Also, did I mention it’s funny?

The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel was on last year’s list and this follow up starring Cormac Reilly definitely did not disappoint. It’s got murder, conspiracy, rich people misbehaving, mistaken identity, and academic drama galore! I cannot wait for her next book!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

This graphic novel is my catnip. A fall-tastic story about two work friends who decide to make the most of their last night working at the Disneyland of pumpkin patches and discover a few things about their relationship! It’s funny, it’s colorful, it’s so happy. I am almost jealous that I didn’t write it.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

This is a National Book Award finalist and totally suspenseful and inventive novel about a world where there are no monsters, until a creature named Pet emerges from a painting to tell our protagonist that they have to hunt one more monster hiding in pain sight. It’s a short, gripping novel that I listened to on audio in very nearly a single sitting.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I’m a big Leigh Bardugo fan, so this is no surprise…and yet I was surprised at how much I loved this occult mystery set in New Haven, CT with old money, poor students, and very creepy happenings. It’s not YA, although I think Bardugo’s YA fans will really dig this book. My ONLY complaint is that this is very clearly the start of a series and we have no info on when the next book will be released. Plus, I once heard Leigh say at a panel that she was so excited to sign with an adult publisher who didn’t expect her to publish a book a year, and while I am very happy for her and her creative process, this is sad for us because I don’t think 2020 will bring us the sequel we want.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

I want Samantha Irby to be my IRL best friend! For real, this collection of essays is hysterically funny and honest, and I listened to her narrate the audiobook while driving from Michigan to DeKalb, IL, which is a real hazard when you consider how many semis there are around Chicago that I almost drove into because I was laughing so hard.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

At this stage, I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth Acevedo’s books are must-reads for me. In fact, they’re must-listens as long as she’s narrating the audiobook–her performance of this novel was absolutely brilliant and I love that we got this story about a young woman taking chances and forging her own path without any wild, contrived plot drama. It was just an excellent coming of age story!

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

If you read one book off this list, please make it this one. Samantha Allen confronts so many stereotypes about small town and rural queers in this amazing book, which is part road trip diary, part memoir, and part investigative journalism. Queer people are living in small towns and making a difference and creating communities everywhere, not just the big cities.

My Real Children by Jo Walton

Full disclaimer, I started crying about 50 pages before the end of this novel and I did not stop. This isn’t a book that follows a traditional narrative. It starts in our world, with a young woman presented with a fateful decision in the days after WWII. The rest of the book alternates between her two lives depending on the choice she makes, but each of her lives diverges from our known reality in a small ways, then bigger ways. However, they are unified by a few commonalities. This book is queer, and weird, and so very moving. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry again, dang it!

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Hands down my favorite kids’ book of the year! It’s about a little girl whose family immigrates to the U.S., but the only job they can get is caretakers of a motel, which is owned by a very cranky and bad man who takes advantage of them financially and exploits their labor. However, our protagonist is bright and she’s plucky and she helps her parents wherever she can and soon they’re helping other immigrants who have been exploited. It’s also a very age-appropriate book about immigration and the challenges and unfair labor practices that immigrants face–and there’s a sequel out in 2020!

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I inhaled this in almost a single sitting, staying up til 1 AM to finish. I’m such a big fan of Machado’s writing, and her memoir about domestic abuse was beautifully written, even though it was painful at times. I think she’s terrifically brave for putting her abuse to paper and then sharing it with the world so that we can start a conversation about queer intimate partner abuse–because queer relationships aren’t all perfect.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

This book is really weird and bonkers and I admit that I struggled to understand the plot for a good 100+ pages BUT I DID NOT CARE because I love Gideon so much and this sarcastic, hilarious, sometimes immature voice had me cracking up every other page. Seriously, just read the first paragraph.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Oh, I wanted to hug Freddie and tell her that if Laura Dean keeps breaking up with her, it’s time to break up with Laura Dean. Like with Machado’s book, I love that we are finally making space for all kinds of queer relationship stories, not just HEA. This is a great one for teens figuring out what love is and isn’t, and it’s beautifully illustrated.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

I know I am super late on this one, but 2019 was the year I finally gave in to Audible and bought the audiobook because I only wanted to experience this book with Noah narrating it to me and it was not the wrong decision! Full of hilarious anecdotes and sobering history lessons, this is an incredible memoir from a truly talented comedian and writer.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I’m so glad that I discovered Sarah Gailey’s work this year because they have like 3 books coming out next year and they are all speculative and queer and very very very good. This is about a PI investigating a murder at a high school for teens with magic, which would be fine except the PI doesn’t have magic but her twin sister (and teacher at this school) totally does and there is HISTORY there. I loved how Gailey mashes the mystery and fantasy genres together here!

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

If you know me at all, you know I LOVE Jane Harper! I read her latest release on a flight from Philadelphia to Seattle, and yes, I read the ENTIRE novel on that flight, finishing just as we landed. The book is just that suspenseful and taut, and the setting–super remote, so far out in the middle of the nowhere you could die if you aren’t prepared Australia–was kinda creepy but gorgeously depicted!

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

This is by far my favorite audiobook of the year, narrated by Bahni Turpin. It’s an incredible novel about international politics, which is something I know nothing about, told from the POV of a young Black woman who finds herself caught between two countries and two ideologies.

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Let’s just say that if Moïra Fowley-Doyle puts out a new book, it’s gonna be on my faves list. This is a queer novel about family curses, sisters, and exposing the injustices of history in order to heal. Plus, it’s magical. Yes, please. More, please.

A Madness of Sunshine by Nailini Singh

Singh is a romance writer who has written an amazing first crime novel here. Keeping with the remote setting theme, this one is set on New Zealand’s west coast and is about a missing young woman whose plight stirs up unpleasant memories for the town while the community’s sole police officer (an outsider, naturally) tries to stay ahead of the game. It’s really riveting and perfect for Harper and French fans!

A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

I’m just going to say it, I love YA fantasy but I’ve struggled to find new YA fantasy that I love. THIS ONE IS AMAZING. It has grimoires and dangerous libraries and kick ass librarians and grumpy sorcerers and hilarious banter and capricious demons and high stakes! Plus, it’s a standalone so no waiting for sequels! (Although I wouldn’t complain if Rogerson did write one…)

What are some of your favorite reads of 2019? Tell me about them!


Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about realistic, positive representation of small towns and rural communities in fiction, especially when it comes to portraying LGBTQ+ and characters of color. I’ve lived in a rural farming community my entire life, my hometown is considered a “city” at just under 10,000 people because we happen to host a small state university, and I grew up on a farm and participated in 4-H in middle and high school. While many stereotypes about rural communities and small town prejudices do have a grain of truth in them, I’ve found that my lived experiences don’t often match up to the ways in which small towns are often portrayed in YA books. Or worse, they’re not portrayed at all.

My awareness of this disconnect was only heightened when I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. While that program is full of awesome, wonderful people and I highly recommend it if you’re serious about writing (for real–email me!), I also became familiar with how these stereotypes are continually reinforced. Like how if you live in a small town, you’re supposed to want to get out. That everyone is small-minded. That queer people can’t possibly find happiness in small communities. But! I also encountered some really amazing writers who were also from small, rural communities and fought against these prejudices alongside me. One such writer is my amazing critique partner, Monica M. Roe, who wrote her critical thesis on rural stereotypes, titled Reconsidering the Trailer Park: Confronting Stereotypes of Rural and Blue-Collar Culture in Young Adult Literature and the MFA Academy.

Another great writer I met through VCFA is Nora Shalaway Carpenter, the author of the picture book Yoga Frog, and the forthcoming YA novel The Edge of Anything. Last year, Nora (who is from West Virginia), had the great idea for a YA anthology about teens from rural areas. I sent her back an all-caps text that was essentially, “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” After a lot of hard work on Nora’s part, and hard work from so many other writers and our respective agents, I am so excited to announce that I will be contributing a short story to RURAL VOICES: YA STORIES ABOUT GROWING UP IN REMOTE COMMUNITIES! The book will be published by Candlewick Press in Fall 2020!

Rural Voice announcement

When Nora first approached me with the idea and asked if I’d like to write a short story for this anthology, I knew I wanted to address two things: the experience of raising pigs in 4-H, and the experience of being an out, queer young woman in a small town. Raising pigs was a trip, and I’ve never failed to acknowledge that from the outside, a pig show looks somewhat bonkers. I loved raising pigs when I was younger, and it was so much fun to give that experience to my character. Writing about being out in a small town was harder for me, because it can be such a rollercoaster experience. There are clear disadvantages, and not-so-obvious advantages. I drew heavily on personal experience for both elements of this short story, and ended up with “Best in Show,” a f/f romance about county fairs, a pig named Herbert, and first dates! I hope you’ll like it!

And in conclusion, here is a photo of me at age 14, with my show pig. I don’t remember his name, and believe me, that makes me really sad. The Laura Ingalls Wilder braids were courtesy of a rumor that the judges liked it when the girls wore braids and ribbons, which is pretty sexist! I’ve a sudden urge to write a sequel YA short story about a feminist revolution set during the county fair…