Read this if you’re in the mood for: feminism, general badassery, witty dialogue, diversity, politics, non-fiction, biography

Summary:  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg's family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.

Read this if you like:
Ok, so BOSSYPANTS is a comedic memoir and NOTORIOUS RBG is a political biography (I guess, technically? It's too fun to be a biography!) of a Supreme Court Justice... but to be honest, this is the first political biography I've ever read, and the charming accessibility of the writing reminds me of BOSSYPANTS. Plus, RBG has sass, and so does TIna Fey.

The Rec: As a reader of YA fiction, historical romance, and the occasional comedic memoir, I went slightly outside my normal parameters with this book -- and loved it. I'm a feminist who's been putting in a concerted effort to be knowledgeable about politics and current events, so it was time to expand my readerly horizons. NOTORIOUS RBG is an excellent bridge book to more traditional non-fiction fare -- it has the lighthearted and admiring tone of the Tumblr that inspired it, but it's serious in its examination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a modern feminist icon.

Though I went into the audiobook familiar with RBG's more recent Supreme Court dissents, I was blown away by how, decades before she was a Supreme Court Justice, she almost single-handedly got laws passed that have affected every aspect of my life as a woman. I didn't realize the extent of her influence and the intelligent ways she got a legal system led by white males to, slowly but surely, rule in favor of progressive policies that granted equal rights to women and minorities. Though we still have a ways to go, RBG has spent decades chiseling away at the patriarchy, one case at a time.

With Justice Scalia's recent passing, it's an incredibly timely book, and it gave me a better understanding of the legal implications of choosing a replacement justice. But timeliness aside, the best part about NOTORIOUS RBG is that it left me with an incredible amount of respect for a unassuming-yet-relentlessly hardworking woman who smashed every barrier placed before her. She's depicted as both a heroine to admire and a human to empathize with... and she could beat me in a push-up contest.

The Caveat: The audiobook is great, but the physical copy has photos and other visuals that many readers would appreciate.

You should read this because: RBG is a woman to admire, and her pioneering influence touches nearly every aspect of modern American life. NOTORIOUS RBG is an entertaining but informative tribute to Ginsburg as both a woman and a justice.

Read this book!
NOTORIOUS RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik (HarperCollins, October 2015)
Audiobook narrated by Andi Arndt

Recommendation by: Donna

THE MEMORY OF LIGHT by Francisco X. Stork

Read this if you’re in the mood for: realistic contemporary YA, issues, character-driven, supporting characters, stand-alone, character development, diversity

Summary:  Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.

That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one—about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.

Read this if you like:
THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore (links to my recommendation)
In both books, the main character deals with a toxic family relationship, but no one in the family is painted as a villain. Also, both books were inspired by the author's real-life experience, so it lends a degree of nuance and authenticity to the story.

THE GIRLS OF NO RETURN by Erin Saldin (links to my recommendation on previous blog)
With a group therapy environment, secrets, guilt, toxic relationships, and a need to address a past tragedy, TGoNR has many similarities to THICKER THAN WATER.

The Rec:
Vicky's story provides a straightforward, honest, unpretentious look at the realities of living with clinical depression. She attempted suicide and survived only because she was found in time, and the book covers the "after" -- her treatment and her developing understanding of previously undiagnosed depression and how it shades every aspect of her life.

Vicky's difficult relationships with her father, stepmother, and older sister are particularly heartbreaking. Her father is an especially toxic presence in her life (some of the things he said to her under the guise of "helping" her just made my heart break), but I appreciated that Stork didn't paint him as a villain -- but he also didn't excuse his behavior. Part of Vicky's journey is learning how not to let her father's behavior drown her in darkness.

The ultimate strength of this book lies in the nuanced portrayal of Vicky and the other members of the teen support group at Lakeview. It goes far in de-stigmatizing mental illness, from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. The group members' growing trust in and support of one another was a wonderful thing to witness as a reader.

The book touches on issues of culture, economic class, philosophy, and religion with equal sensitivity, bringing diversity and life to Vicky's world. It's the kind of book that makes you want to highlight certain lines because they are so elegant and meaningful in their simplicity, but it also has a sense of humor, which is no small feat.

The Caveat: Though I admittedly don't have a thorough knowledge of the rules and regulations of treatment, a few times I was distracted by treatment details that felt somewhat far-fetched -- specifically, unsupervised and very lightly supervised travel outside the facility. But overall, it worked for Vicky's story and didn't cause me more than a moment's pause.

You should read this because: THE MEMORY OF LIGHT offers a nuanced and honest portrayal of living with mental illness.

Read this book!
THE MEMORY OF LIGHT by Francisco X Stork (Arthur A Levine Books, January 26, 2016)

Recommendation by: Donna

SEVEN REALMS series / THE DEMON KING by Cinda Williams Chima

Read this if you’re in the mood for: YA historical fantasy, supporting characters, feminism, magic, dual POV, romance, world-building, series

Summary of THE DEMON KING (Book 1 of The Seven Realms):  Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can't sell—the thick silver cuffs he's worn since birth. They're clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he's never been able to get them off.

One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana'Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She's just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her...

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.

Read this if you like:
BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore (links to Sara's recommendation on previous blog)
Both Bitterblue and Raisa are struggling to handle the responsibility of inheriting a monarchy at a very young age, and they're figuring out who they can trust in a world full of the same time they're figuring out who they are.

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson (links to my recommendation on previous blog)
Unlike Elisa, Raisa doesn't have the burden of being a magical chosen one... however, she does have the weight of being next in line for a famed, mystical queendom. Both royals struggle to find their own path in the shadow of those who came before them. Also, romance is present, but it doesn't overwhelm the plot.

The (Spoiler Free) Series Rec: In order to stay spoiler free, I'm going to highlight the top three overall strengths of the series.

First off, the world. The queendom (oh how I love that it's a queendom!) of the Fells includes three groups of people: the wizards, the Valefolk, and the clans. The wizards have magic, but their power is limited by the clans, who control their amulets and magical objects, and who have their own earth magic. The poor Valefolk are just trying to live normal lives in the never-ending wizard/clan tug of war for power and influence. And the Grey Wolf queen, gifted with intuition and a connection to the Grey Wolf line, rules them all. Needless to say, the layers of politics and prejudice are complex and awesome.

Secondly, the characters. We get to know Princess Raisa and former streetlord Han Alister best through their dual POV, and their character development is excellent throughout the series, though I can't go into detail because...spoilers. But a book is made by its supporting characters, and this series has SO MANY wonderful, diverse, multi-dimensional characters (Magret! Fiona! Cat! Fire Dancer!) both "good" and "bad." And I use those quotes purposefully, because this series emphasizes the shades of gray in all of us.

Third, the overall plot. The first book is a little slow, but it seriously pays off in the other three books. The plot moves forward seamlessly from book to book, weaving details together with increasing complexity, but it never gets confusing, and each twist and revelation feels completely natural and earned. That takes skill, people!

The Caveat: THE DEMON KING was actually my least favorite in the series, but I use that term loosely, as it's like pointing out my least favorite cupcake. (It's a CUPCAKE.) But compared to the amazingness of the rest of the series, THE DEMON KING isn't quite as strong, and it had an "intro" feel, setting up everything in the series. Still well worth it!!

You should read this because: It's an excellent fantasy quartet with a world that just begs to be explored. The cast of characters is strong, with a heroine who stands among the best in YA fantasy.

Plus, you'll catch up on the world just in time for FLAMECASTER, the first book in the upcoming Shattered Realms series, set 20 years later in the Seven Realms world.

Flamecaster (Shattered Realms #1) HarperCollins, April 5, 2016

Flamecaster (Shattered Realms #1)
HarperCollins, April 5, 2016

Read this book!
THE SEVEN REALMS series by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion Books, available now!)

Recommendation by: Donna


Read this if you’re in the mood for: realistic contemporary YA, issues, character-driven, supporting characters, stand-alone

Summary:  Cecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated.

Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Soon, CeCe becomes part drug dealer, part honor student. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome. 

Thicker than Water is an unforgettable dark, harrowing look into the disturbing truth of drug addiction and the desperate love of a sister watching her brother deteriorate before her eyes.

Read this if you like:
Both Vera and CeCe want more for themselves than the world seems to be offering them. Much like CeCe, Vera is dealing with grief, guilt, and some seriously imperfect parenting. The books show how complicated grieving can be when someone you love dies – the anger and resentment mixed with love and anguish. The books also show how a family member’s substance abuse affects your daily life.

THE GIRLS OF NO RETURN by Erin Saldin (links to my recommendation on previous blog)
With a group therapy environment, secrets, guilt, toxic relationships, and a need to address a past tragedy, TGoNR has many similarities to THICKER THAN WATER.

The Rec: CeCe's story unfolds in a past/present narration. In the past, her OxyContin-addicted brother is bankrupting their already in-debt family, and CeCe decides to steal some of his pills and start selling them so she can afford to go to college. In the present, CeCe's been put in an in-patient therapeutic rehab program as she awaits trial, and she's drowning in guilt over her role in her brother's death.

This book touches on a number of issues beyond prescription drug addiction: how debt affects a family, death of a parent, toxic relationships, abuse, poverty, and parental neglect, and it shows how good people can make bad decisions that snowball into something beyond their control. 

The other teens in the program serve as foils to CeCe; though their stories are equally harrowing (or more so), they are much more able to address their demons and thus can move forward and make progress in the program. Denial is a strong theme in this book, and it affects ever member of CeCe's family. Beyond the mystery of what happened to CeCe's brother and how CeCe was involved, this book is about forgiveness, facing your demons, and clawing your way back from a place you never thought you'd find yourself.

The Caveat: Trigger warnings.

You should read this because: THICKER THAN WATER is a compelling novel about how addiction transforms a family, and CeCe's story is one worth reading.

Read this book!
THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore (HarperTeen, January 5, 2016)

Recommendation by: Donna

TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard

Read this if you’re in the mood for: young adult fantasy, friendships, feminism, general badassery, world-building, character development, multiple POV, magic

Summary:  On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a "witchery," a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safiya’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safiya and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and privateer) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Read this if you like:
SHADOW AND BONE / Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
The various types of "witchery" in TRUTHWITCH are reminiscent of the different orders of the Grisha -- and they all seem pretty awesome!

THE KISS OF DECEPTION / The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson (links to my recommendation)
Both books show the power of female friendship and involve political machinations.

Prophecies a go-go! Like FIRE AND THORNS, TRUTHWITCH is about discovering the true extent of your inner strength and magic, and deciding who you are when everyone is telling you who they want you to be.

The Rec: 
First and foremost, this book is about the threadsister bond between Safi and Iseult, and I just LOVED it. Their friendship is incredible, specifically the unwavering trust in and support for each other. Each is willing to fight and die for the other, and they defend each other fiercely, whether in battle or against prejudice. And they're FUNNY; it's so clear and wonderful how they find joy and love in one another. The two girls couldn't be more different, but one is the yin to the other's yang, and they allow that balance of strengths and weaknesses to make them stronger together than apart. Safi and Iseult come from very different worlds, but each girl's backstory gives a depth of character that strengthens their bond.

The supporting characters were also standout, specifically Merik and Aedeun (who also have POV chapters)... and Kullen and Evrane and Ryber... SO. MANY. GREAT. CHARACTERS. What's impressive is how deftly drawn and layered and imperfect each character is, each with his or her own clear motivation. THIS TAKES SKILLS, PEOPLE.

And because I'm a sucker for romance, I'm mentioning it gleefully -- specifically because OH MY SEXUAL TENSION and also that it DIDN'T overshadow the plot. (And hey, look at that, girls are just as hormonal as guys and zero shaming/guilt. High five, Susan Dennard.) But yes, the hint of romance has me jonesing for book two.

Other great things:
- Worldbuilding: Loved it! Really felt like I was THERE in multiple locations, from sights and smells to the motion of a ship.
- Pacing: 400 pages, diving in right from the get-go. Constant action, and it kept me entertained!
- Magic: I enjoyed the witchery, and though the concept of the different types of magic wasn't anything brand new, I liked the nuance that Dennard brought to it -- from the specialties that certain witches have (for example, Airwitches have more varied power than Windwitches) to the limitations of the use of power and the effects it has on the witches.
- Prophecy: It's touched on a bit here but will be explored more in later books. OH THE POTENTIAL!!!

The Caveat: There are a LOT of names and empires and types of witchery to keep track of here. I never found it to be confusing (it was actually astonishing how well I was able to follow along, which shows how distinct the characters are), but it might be intimidating for someone who doesn't often read high fantasy. Hang in there!

You should read this because: Badass female friendships, magic, and the start of a series with SO MUCH POTENTIAL. Just get on the bandwagon now -- this book is worth it!

Read this book!
TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard (Tor Teen, January 5, 2016)

Recommendation by: Donna

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir

Read this if you’re in the mood for: sci-fi stand-alone, space, witty dialogue, character-driven, general badassery, supporting characters, world-building, audiobook

Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Read this if you like:
Cast Away (2000)
Remember rooting for Tom Hanks to figure out how to survive alone in a deserted location when everyone thinks he's dead? Meet Mark Watney. He's on Mars. (No, he doesn't have a Wilson, so at least we're spared that heartbreak. WILSONNNNNN.)

Survivorman (2004–)
It's like THE MARTIAN on Earth. The reality TV show's tagline says it all: "NO FOOD, NO SHELTER, NO FRESH WATER, NO TOOLS…NO CAMERA CREW.  ONE MAN – ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS." Les Stroud has a great sense of humor too, actually quite similar to Mark Watney as he talks into the camera about the crappy weather he's enduring and the bugs he had to eat for nutrition, and he similarly puts an optimistic spin on the less-than-ideal conditions. Plus, he's intelligent and finds creative ways to survive situations that others wouldn't.

The Rec: First off, this is an excellent book, but my love for it is exponentially higher because I listened to the audiobook, narrated to perfection by R.C. Bray. I had a minor interest in the movie, so in my usual books-before-movies fashion, I decided on a whim to get the audiobook from the library — and WHAT A WHIM IT WAS.

I could write sonnets to Mark Watney. He's recording his experience being stranded on Mars, so the whole time it feels like he's an interplanetary pen pal you desperately wish you could meet in real life. He's hilarious, and I already miss his deadpan-yet-optimistic sense of humor. Can you miss a fictional character? Yes. Yes you can.

The narration is interspersed with the POV of NASA, specifically of Venkat Kapoor, the head of Mars operations, who is also immensely entertaining in the face of ridiculously bad odds.

I especially appreciate the effort that Andy Weir put into making details as accurate as possible. Never once did I question Watney's explanations or authority, and that's a testament to Weir. Unlike action movies that require you to suspend disbelief over and over again, THE MARTIAN feels totally legit, so as a reader, you're immersed in Watney's experience and struggle for survival.

Between the well-timed switches in point of view and perfectly paced action, THE MARTIAN never disappoints and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I spent many extra minutes sitting in my parked car just waiting for a scene to finish — that's how you know it's a great book.

The Caveat: Sometimes there are math, engineering, and botany-related explanations of how and why things work as Watney figures out how to MacGyver his way out of a problem. They're comprehensible to your average non-astronaut, but still, if you're reading, you might be inspired to skim a bit. The audio narration makes all of this totally enjoyable, trust me.

You should read this because: Actually, you should listen to this. But either way, THE MARTIAN is a triple threat: a main character (and supporting characters!) you want to share a beer with; a kickass sense of humor; and a thrilling story of survival.

Read this book! (Before you see the movie!)
THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir (Crown, February 2014)

Recommendation by: Donna

SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo

Read this if you’re in the mood for: young adult fantasy, diversity, general badassery, world-building, character development, multiple POV, magic

Summary: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...

A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. 
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. 

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

Read this if you like:
WHITE CAT / Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black
Beyond the excellent writing and the slick, sneaky, and too-smart-for-his-own-good main character, SIX OF CROWS reminded me of WHITE CAT because the world feels so real, and there's just a touch of magic (or people with magical abilities) that makes this book technically a fantasy. Also, people with abilities aren't the norm, so they're very much feared, revered, and hunted.

HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter (or OCEAN'S ELEVEN, your choice!)
Make no mistake — SIX OF CROWS is a fantasy and much, much darker than HEIST SOCIETY (and OCEAN'S ELEVEN, for that matter). But you have multiple characters with varied skills and backgrounds coming together for one epic, "impossible" heist. It's like THE BREAKFAST CLUB gets out of detention and decides to pull off a heist.

SHADOW AND BONE / Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
If you loved the world of the Grisha trilogy, you're in luck! But SIX OF CROWS is very much its own book, independent from the previous series, and many will argue that it's even better. It definitely feels like less of a fantasy, solely because it's not from the POV of the Grisha army, though one of the characters is a Grisha.

The Rec: This book. was. awesome. The idea of six main characters usually makes me scoff and think that only one, maybe two, will be deftly drawn, and the rest will just hang out on the periphery. Nope. Those 450+ pages were put to great use, and you truly get to know and care about these flawed, diverse, scrappy people who each have their own demons to exorcise (figuratively, of course).

I also loved the relationships between the characters, and how nuanced and unsure the connections were. When you have people who've come from different backgrounds and have done the unthinkable just to survive, there are some trust issues! The characterization (and witty dialogue) is what truly elevated this book from good to great and kept me engaged the whole time.

And then there's the job: sneaking into an unbreakable prison, and then breaking someone out. There are multiple settings, and the world-building is vivid and nuanced in each. The heist is clever but never feels over-the-top, and every character's strength gets to shine and each persons's weakness sets them back. The characters pair up and separate in different groups throughout, so the dynamic is ever-changing. The action scenes are also top notch, no surprise there! Overall, the plot kept me guessing and intrigued.

The Caveat: This book is nearly 500 pages. I didn't mind one bit. Also, bonus points that it's a duology, not a trilogy-that-should-be-a-duology, so I'd much prefer two longer books with perfect, necessary plot arcs than separating into three with a useless book in the middle. Yay duologies!

You should read this because: At this point, I'm just gushing about everything because it's a high-quality book from start to finish, but the characters are what stand out the most and elevate this to a 5-star read.

Read this book!
SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt & Company, September 29, 2015)

Recommendation by: Donna

The refugee series on Humans of New York

Humans of New York has been a must-read website of mine for a long time now. The perspectives it gives you about the inner lives of strangers is incredible.

The current refugee crisis is an ocean away, and unfortunately, the humanity of those hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants often gets lost in the media stories we see on TV and in the news.

Brandon Stanton's photographs of and quotes from people he met in Greece are incredible, and the posts are both moving and so important for people to read, to help them comprehend the reality of refugees seeking asylum in countries that are rejecting them.

Here are three of the recent migrant posts:

For more about the migrant crisis, check out John Oliver's video on the same topic:


Read this if you’re in the mood for: atmosphere, young adult historical fantasy, diversity, badass heroines, world-building, character development

Summary: A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Read this if you like:
Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson
Elisa takes a little longer to develop her emotional badassery than Leah, but both stories have incredible world-building, relatable heroines, and fantastic characterization. Like the Fire & Thorns trilogy, romance is present (and authentic and earned!), but it doesn't overshadow the plot.

GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers
Another historical with just enough magic to push it from magic realism into actual fantasy. Plus, Ismae is coming into her own and learning to trust her capabilities, like Lee. Plus, romance!

The Rec: The basic premise of Gold Rush-era America and a main character who can sense gold is excellent, but Carson just nailed the execution. Lee is a fantastic main character — brave, hardworking, determined, intelligent — and the supporting characters are phenomenal and so deftly written. I really appreciated the natural inclusion of diversity in the characters and the realistic portrayal of the racism and sexism of the era.

Lee spends the entirety of the book keeping her ability a secret, so there's not much "MAGIC" in the all-caps sense. But Carson weaves Lee's constant awareness of gold through every page, and it feels utterly realistic, which is the mark of every successful fantasy. 

The difficulties of traveling West feel like a grown-up, visceral "Oregon Trail," and the harsh landscape combined with character conflict keeps the tension high throughout. (And it makes you appreciate cars and planes!) It's a long book, but there's a perfect balance of detail vs plot momentum, and I read it in just a couple of sittings because I became totally absorbed in Lee's world.

WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER has cemented Rae Carson as an auto-read author for me, and I can't wait to see where this series goes!

The Caveat: If you prefer your fantasy super fantastical, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for epic gold seer-ness, I think we'll find more magic in the sequel, and I'm totally ok with that.

You should read this because: This book is the total package. The historical world is so vivid, and I can't wait to spend more time with the characters.

Read this book!
WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER by Rae Carson (Greenwillow, September 22, 2015)

Recommendation by: Donna


Read this if you’re in the mood for: contemporary YA, diversity, romance, excellent characterization

Summary: My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Read this if you like:
JOYRIDE by Anna Banks (links to our recommendation!)
On the surface, the books couldn't be more different — JOYRIDE centers on the daughter of deported immigrants, and EVERYTHING EVERYTHING is about a girl with a rare medical condition. But both girls are trapped in lives they didn't choose, and their stories center around their escape from that life and the things they risk and sacrifice to experience freedom. (Also, it's worth noting that both MCs are multicultural, with Carly being Mexican and Madeline being half-African American, half-Asian (like Nicola Yoon's daughter is, which is just awww).) Plus, the love interests have some seriously messed up home lives, with abusive fathers.

The Rec: EVERYTHING EVERYTHING is about deciding that you want precisely what the world says you can't have — and being willing to sacrifice anything to get it. After living her whole life in a bubble (ok, her house, but it's basically a house-shaped medical bubble), Madeline gets a taste of a "normal" existence when she meets Olly, and she becomes willing to risk her life to get to experience a world she's only seen through her window. It's so charming to see the world through her eyes, since nearly everything is a "first" for her.

I loved the relationship dynamics between Madeline and her mom (and their Phonetic Scrabble (Fonetik Skrabbl) game nights), Madeline and Carla (her wonderful nurse), and Madeline and Olly (her parkour-addicted new neighbor-slash-future love interest). Olly is totally crushworthy, too, and their bantering is delightful. They're quickly smitten with each other, but hours upon hours of conversation deepen their bond.

As you witness their relationship develop, the reality of Madeline's diagnosis always hovers in the background, and you can't help but wonder (with a sense of foreboding) how it's all going to end. Spoiler-free, I can tell you that the end is going to be divisive for many readers. Some will love it (and to be fair, Yoon sets it up with subtle hints throughout the book); some will hate it. Personally, I felt a bit conflicted, but it didn't mar my overall enjoyment of Madeline's story.

Ultimately, though, EVERYTHING EVERYTHING wins because of Madeline and her quirky voice, her spoilerrific one-line book reviews, and her drawings. 

The Caveat: The ending wraps up a bit too quickly, and I think more readers would be content with the ending if there had been a little more time for it to settle.

You should read this because: EVERYTHING EVERYTHING is a unique, charming contemporary novel that lets you see the world for the first time through Madeline's eyes.

Read this book!
EVERYTHING EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte, September 1, 2015)

Recommendation by: Donna

Solving Hollywood's diversity problem + Climate change nightmares

by: Shannon M. Houston, via

Standout line: "For every Schumer, we should have at least five or 10 other female comics with their own shows, who are not going to go down in history. For every Kerry Washington, we should have five or 10 other black women leads on network TV shows that aren’t as popular as “Scandal.” For every Meryl Streep, we should have a slew of women over 50 who aren’t Oscar-nominated practically every year, but still get to do good work in Hollywood. This is what equality would look like."


The point of no return: Climate change nightmares are already here

by: Eric Holthaus, via

You live on this planet. You should read this. The first line says it all:
"Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan."

GEORGE by Alex Gino

Read it if you're in the mood for: middle grade, contemporary, GLBTQ, character driven, diversity

Summary: BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.

George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.  

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Read this if you like:
NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio (link goes to our recommendation!)
GEORGE deals with transgender issues in a middle grade format and NONE OF THE ABOVE deals with intersex issues in a YA format. Totally different things, but these books are both daring, informative, and will touch your heart.

Both Patron and Gino write with compassion and heart about their characters. Like George, Lucky simply wants to know where she fits in the world, and both characters worry they'll never find that place.

The Rec: This was one of the books I was on the lookout for at BEA, and I was lucky enough to grab a copy AND meet Alex Gino. I'm not normally a middle grade person, but I really enjoyed this book. The reader is thrown right into George's world--the book opens with her looking through teen fashion magazines. It's a great opening that immediately helps you understand a piece of what it's like to be George. As an adult reading it, it was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

The secondary characters offer a great layer to this book. They help inform George's experience (we get to see what it's like encountering a range of people, from the most heartless to the most supportive), but they also build the world of the book in a very real way.

Even though George is transgender (she is biologically a boy, but feels and wants to present herself as a girl), this is a book that all readers can relate to. From being the odd person out, to not feeling like you can show your true self, readers will be able to find all sorts of entry points into George's world to help them connect with her.

The Caveat: This book is a tidy story at 240 pages, and you might be left wanting more George!

You should read this because: There simply aren't enough books with transgender MCs out there, and George is one everyone can identify with in one way or another.

Read this book!
GEORGE by Alex Gino (Scholastic Press, August 25th, 2015)

Recommendation by: Sara

THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Read this if you’re in the mood for: contemporary YA, magic realism, unreliable narrator, atmosphere, excellent characterization

Summary: Every October Cara and her family become inexplicably and unavoidably accident-prone. Some years it's bad, like the season when her father died, and some years it's just a lot of cuts and scrapes. This accident season—when Cara, her ex-stepbrother, Sam, and her best friend, Bea, are 17—is going to be a bad one. But not for the reasons they think.

Cara is about to learn that not all the scars left by the accident season are physical: There's a long-hidden family secret underneath the bumps and bruises. This is the year Cara will finally fall desperately in love, when she'll start discovering the painful truth about the adults in her life, and when she'll uncover the dark origins of the accident season—whether she’s ready or not.

Read this if you like:
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
The atmosphere and otherworldliness of THE SCORPIO RACES reminds me a bit of THE ACCIDENT SEASON. Of course, THE SCORPIO RACES has an indeterminate time and TAS is set in present-day, but both have very vivid language and excellent imagery.

WE WERE LIARS  by E. Lockhart
Comparison with a caveat: This is going to be one of the most common comparisons to THE ACCIDENT SEASON, but besides the use of an unreliable narrator (though Cara is SIGNIFICANTLY more reliable than Cady), and the suspense of not knowing all the pieces of the story as they slowly come together, this book couldn't be more different. (If you were put off by the fragmented writing style in WE WERE LIARS and disliked the pretentious characters, you'll probably be a much bigger fan of THE ACCIDENT SEASON.)

The Rec: The first thing that stood out to me in this book is the eeriness. As if the concept of the Accident Season isn't enough—with the perpetual tension that builds and builds waiting for the next bad thing to happen—Cara, the main character, discovers that one of her old friends, Elsie, appears in every single picture she's ever taken. But Elsie isn't in school, and no one else seems to know who she is, and Cara, Sam, Bea, and Cara's older sister Alice can't find any trace of her. Creepy, right?

The whole book is atmospheric and somewhat fantastical like this — with a disappearing costume shop, an abandoned ghost house, ominous Tarot cards, a Secrets Box, and more. It's set in Ireland, but in the subtle way of being written by a local who's writing about locals, and everything from the woods to the town contribute to the overall fascination and discomfort you feel as a reader as you witness everything unfold.

Cara is a poetic narrator, and the writing is vivid and imaginative and wholly engrossing. As a reader, you begin to doubt what is real and what isn't, but the book keeps you tethered to reality. I loved how Cara, Bea, Sam, and Alice contributed to the plot, each very deftly characterized and totally unique, all with their own damage and secrets.

There are some heavy issues at hand, especially when everything begins to unravel. It's very gripping and a little disturbing, and I highly, highly recommend reading it... with the lights on.

The Caveat: This book gets a little fantastical at times, but it never feels over the top and it ties into the plot.

You should read this because: Eerie, engrossing, and atmospheric, with vivid characters and imagery, THE ACCIDENT SEASON is a standout debut!

Read this book!
THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (Kathy Dawson Books, August 18, 2015)

Recommendation by: Donna


Read this if you’re in the mood for: YA historical fantasy, general badassery, romance, magic, feminism, world-building, supporting characters

Summary: A princess must find her place in a reborn world.
She flees on her wedding day.
She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection.
She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.
She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

Read this if you like:
A princess coming into her own (and becoming a badass) in a magical, epic, historical world? Sounds familiar, in the best way! The plots are quite different, but both Elisa and Lia have destinies to fulfill.

BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore
Lia is a princess and Bitterblue is queen, but both have huge learning curves and plenty of deception to contend with in their respective kingdoms.

The Rec: Historical fantasy is my drug of choice, but I'll try to be objective here. I love that Lia is a badass heroine in a decidedly female way (aka, her badassery is not dependent upon what society values as traditionally male traits/skills). Her strengths are her intelligence, her courage, her tenacity, and her compassion. Yes, she can throw a knife — but she still needs to practice. She inspires loyalty in the people around her, and she has a strong sense of duty... but on her own terms.

Full disclosure: There's a love triangle (ish) — in the way that there are two guys who compete for Lia's affection. But balancing out the romance component is something even stronger — the book's female relationships. Lia's friendships with her lady's maid (and co-runaway), the innkeeper who takes them in, and a fellow serving wench are multi-layered and wonderful.

As for the epic adventure, it's pretty awesome, crossing over deserts and plains and all kinds of crazy landscapes that just come alive with Pearson's writing. (Truly, I loved the worldbuilding, and I'd love to visit Terravin!) I wish we got into the magic a smidge more, but there's soooooo much promise for the sequel!

The Caveat: This is a long book, and for readers who want to get to the epic adventure part, it takes awhile, but the ending and the setup for the rest of the series make it worthwhile!

You should read this because: I'm super biased in favor of historical fantasies, so I'll leave you with this: There can never be too many badass princesses in the world.

And the sequel, THE HEART OF BETRAYAL, is out now!

Read this book!
THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, July 2014)
Indiebound / B&N

Recommendation by: Donna

Nancy Drew's original ghostwriter was a feminist badass.

Nancy Drew is the heroine of many childhoods, and this fascinating Slate article chronicles the life of Mildred Wert Benson, who ghost-wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. In addition to being a prolific author, she was a pilot, reporter, traveler, and adventurer in her 96-year life.

Click here to read the full article!