Favorite Books of 2017/Anticipated Books of 2018

It’s the end of the year, which means seeing how you did on your Goodreads Challenge! Did you make your goal? I set out to read 72 books, and have read 80 so far! I’m hoping to get in another five at least before the end of the month. Wish me luck!

Even better than seeing that “Congratulations” message in Goodreads, though. Is looking back on all the amazing stories you read in the last year and remembering which were your favorites. I read so many great books this year. Some were old classics, like A WRINKLE IN TIME and MATILDA. But most were released this year and those are the ones I want to focus on for this post. So without further ado, I give you my favorite books of 2017!

Paper Chains by Elaine Vickers.

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I loved Elaine’s debut, Like Magic. And her sophomore novel lived up to the quiet, gentle storytelling she wowed me with in her first novel. I loved the well-developed characters and the loving friendship between the two girls. The authentic feelings and worries around adoption were a welcome addition to MG lit as well.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green.

I read this book with my daughter’s homeschool book club. They all loved it. One girl declared it “the best book [she’d] ever read.” A book with a big heart all about family and the fact that everyone has a story. It also has a delicious cookie recipe at the end that has become my kids’ new favorite.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I listened to this on audio and kept finding excuses to drive to the store or go on walks so I could keep listening. A YA Russian fairytale retelling without a romance (*gasp*). Beautiful voice and this quiet growing tension that slowly builds up until it finally explodes.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

I’ve heard the term “book boyfriend” before, but had never really been able to apply it to any other character besides Gilbert Blythe…until this book. I loved the romance, loved the kick-butt heroine, and the different take on pirates. I absolutely CAN’T wait for the sequel to come out next year!

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell

This book is funny and heartbreaking. At times hilarious and heartwarming and then gut-punching. Really fun characters and a great message about self-acceptance. It definitely lives up to that fantastic blurb from Gary Schmidt.

The Last Namsara by Kristin Ciccarrelli.

A YA fantasy with dragons and stories as a weapon. This book was thoroughly engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading and I absolutely loved the dragons!

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling.

This is one of those books with a fantastic voice and a character you will never forget. A beautiful story about friendship with a positive, yet unflinching, look at disability.

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Words can not express how much I love this book. The poetry is so beautiful. The story is wonderful and lovely. I read it with my 8-12 year old girls at church and they were all obsessed. Creates some great discussions about differences and being kind.

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The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

I’m usually not a straight romance book person, but this one just sucked me right in. The questions it asks about neurodiversity and what makes us who we are was intriguing. I loved the relationship between the two main characters and the humor of Lily.

The Someday Birds by Sally Pla

If it seems like I read a lot of neurodeverse lit this year, that’s because I did! Though I didn’t plan to. This is an #ownvoices books with an autistic MC. It was hilarious and heartwarming. A summer, road trip book. Who doesn’t love those? It also included a sidestory about the Muslim genocide in Bosnia in the nineties.

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As an author with a debut coming out next year, I have had the opportunity to read some amazing books coming out next year. I can’t feature all of them here, but these are four of the ones I’m most excited about. (Some for obvious reasons. 😉 )

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin.

Cindy is my writing twin, Pitch Wars co-mentor, and CP who I try not to feel insanely jealous of. Her writing is lovely and this book will rip your heart in a million tiny pieces and then sew it back together.

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Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen.

This book is so ambitious for a middle-grade novel and it pulls it off beautifully. The story tackles kleptomania, privilege, social justice without ever becoming preachy. It poses deep and interesting questions to the reader and is told in a mixture of prose and lovely verse. I can’t wait to shove it into the hands of everyone I know.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

This is a verse novel about the artist Artemisia Gentileschi and her rape by another artist and the subsequent trial that happens when she takes her charges against him public. It is breathtaking, unflinching, and heart-wrenching. It will haunt you for months, if not years, after reading it.

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

Okay, okay. This is my book. I won’t talk it up to you. But I am totally excited about it hitting shelves next year.

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Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves

I’m in the middle of Blood Rose Rebellion right now and already can’t wait for the sequel to come out next year!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

 

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from Women’s Fiction

For just over a month, several contributors here at TTOF have been discussing the importance of writers being readers too. Elaine (MG), Erin (MG Fantasy), Rosalyn (YA) and Helen (NA) each talked about the importance of reading, so I’m not going to reiterate what they have said.

Instead, I will advise that reading is fundamental to understand genre. Of course, there are certain genres that are easily identifiable, but as the market continues to grow, it becomes important, no, essential that writers are reading what they claim to be writing. There are nuances between magic realism and fantasy, between MG and YA, between romance and women’s fiction, nuances that people can talk about and explain, but that are nearly impossible to fully understand without having read that genre.

So, the books recommended below are all novels that were instrumental in helping me identify my genre, see what was possible within it, and a deep study from some of the masters of women’s fiction and how they weave in the fundamental elements of the genre.

For a lesson on emotional writing

For a lesson on magic

For a lesson on family relationships 

For a lesson on friendship

For a lesson in voice and character development

For a lesson in establishing mood and setting

For a lesson on historical fiction

Do you have any WF novels that taught you quality lessons? 
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from New Adult Books

Read, read, read. And read some more.

We here at Thinking Through Our Fingers are strong proponents of the idea that writers must be avid and analytical readers in order to learn the craft. By reading in our genre especially, we can learn much from the example of others.

In this “Writers are Readers” series, several of our blog contributors will be sharing some of the best reads within the genre that we write along with the lessons learned from these gorgeous reads. I write both Young Adult and New Adult, and my spotlight will be on New Adult books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this genre, these are stories that feature characters between the ages of 18-24. This is a time of newfound independence and freedom, of self-discovery and exploration, of trying out new and often risky things, of testing the waters of adult relationships, of incurring emotional hardship and damage, and perhaps most of all, of the tumultuous emotional development that brings us into adulthood and makes us who we are. Particularly popular within this genre is contemporary romance, likely because this age represents a time when we can explore and experiment with those adult relationships for the very first time.

As such, the following book picks are some of the New Adult contemporary romances that drove a lesson home…and in a few cases, a stake through my heart. ❤

Note: Due to the nature of the genre, all of the contemporary romances in this list contain mature subject material, including varying degrees of sexual content associated with emotional progression of characters (some more on the sweeter side, others definitely steamy). Everyone has different tastes, so you may want to check out non-spoilery book reviews or preview a sample of a book if you think this may be an issue for you.

For a lesson in realistic romance: Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park, Deep Blue by Jules Barnard


For a lesson in humor and voice: Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame, Imperfectly Criminal by Mary Frame, With a Twist by Staci Hart

For a lesson in building sexual tension: A Little Too Hot by Lisa Desrochers, Obsession by Jennifer L. Armentrout


For a lesson in emotional development: Wait for You by J. Lynn, Charade by Nyrae Dawn


For a lesson in damaged characters: Tragic by J.A. Huss, Unbreak Me by Lexi Ryan, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

For a lesson in external conflict/suspense: The Untamed Series by Jen Meyers and Victoria Green, The Chicago Underground Series (1-3) by Skye Warren (note: this is a dark romance)


For a lesson in romance that will break your heart into a million pieces: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

If you want to catch any of the other posts in Thinking Through Our Fingers’ “Writers are Readers” feature, here they are! 🙂

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books

I strongly believe that writers must be voracious readers. Read widely, read critically, read for fun, and definitely read as many books as possible in the genre you’re writing. It’s definitely helpful to read new releases to get a sense of what’s selling (or what was selling a year or two ago), read classics to get a sense of what lasts, and read as a way to connect with your author peers.

Some of the best writing lessons can also come from thoughtfully and analytically reading the very best books in your genre or age group. If you look at the books that have had the greatest impact on you, stop and ask yourself what it was specifically about that book that was done so masterfully.

The best books do many things well, but I find I can often pinpoint one characteristic of favorite books that made each truly memorable and exceptional. Here are the titles I turn to when I want a book to show (rather then tell) me how to get it right.

For a lesson in voice: Ida B by Katherine Hannigan, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
For a lesson in dialogue: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (and its sequel, Finding the Worm)
For a lesson in making the reader fall in love with a character, even when they’re making terrible choices: Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
For a lesson in humor: The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
For a lesson in mystery and suspense: The Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson
For a lesson in just the right amount of scary: Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes; The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox
For a lesson in weaving together multiple threads: Holes by Louis Sachar
For a lesson in just beautiful writing: Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith; Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
For a lesson in writing authentic and caring parents: Loser by Jerry Spinelli; Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
For a lesson in writing unforgettable siblings: The Penderwicks by Jeannie Birdsall; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
For a lesson in establishing a sense of place: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin; Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
For a lesson in how to really write a novel in verse: House Arrest by K.A. Holt; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
For a lesson in packing an emotional punch: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

What about you? What novels have given you your best lessons on writing?

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Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

Helen’s Five Favorites from 2014

This entire week we’ve been highlighting our five favorite reads from 2014 in the genre that each of us write. In case you want to visit/revisit any of the previous posts, here’s the breakdown:

Today: My Five Favorites (Young Adult Fantasy and New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Some of my book picks were published this year, some earlier, but I’ve enjoyed reading each and every one of these in 2014! At the end of this post, I also have a special excerpt to share from one of my favorite romance reads.

Aurora Sky (Vampire Hunter #1) by Nikki Jefford
(Upper Young Adult Fantasy)

If there is one thing eighteen-year-old Aurora Sky wants, it’s to get off the iceberg she calls home. Being kissed before she graduates wouldn’t hurt either.

Then a near-fatal car wreck changes everything. Government agents step in and save Aurora’s life in exchange for her services as a vampire hunter. In Alaska. Basically she’s a glorified chew toy. All thanks to her rare blood type, which sends a vampire into temporary paralysis right before she has to finish the job… by hand.

Now Aurora’s only friends are groupies of the undead and the only boy she can think about may very well be a vampire.

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys upper YA paranormal. The main character is a heroine who’s forced to make the transition from a typical high school teenager to a vampire hunter. I loved how Nikki Jefford captured both Aurora’s paranormal challenges as well as her typical high school struggles. Compelling story with great humor, awesome action, and super cast of characters! Loved it.

Awaken (Awakened Fate #1) by Skye Malone
(Young Adult Fantasy)

Running away from home was never Chloe Kowalski’s plan. Neither was ending up the target of killers, or having her body change in unusual ways. She only wanted a vacation, someplace far from her crazy parents and their irrational fear of water. She only wanted to do somethingnormal for once, and maybe get to know her best friend’s hot stepbrother a bit better at the same time.

But the first day she goes out on the ocean, strange things start to happen. Dangerous things that should be impossible. Things to which ‘normal’ doesn’t even begin to apply.

Now madmen are hunting her. A mysterious guy with glowing blue eyes is following her. And her best friend’s stepbrother seems to be hiding secrets all his own.

It was supposed to be a vacation. It’s turning out to be a whole lot more.

This was a fun YA read! Skye Malone spun a creative story revolving around mermaids and other mythical creatures, and I loved the lore connected to the various characters. The story had plenty of action and Malone kept the intrigue factor high as she unfurled secrets and threw in unexpected twists. It does end on a semi-cliffhanger, but the other books in the Awakened Fate series are already available. I already bought book two and can’t wait to hop into it!

Her (Him #2) by Carey Heywood
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

You know her side of the story, now learn his.

“It was useless. I felt branded beneath my skin by a girl who left without even saying goodbye.”

When Will Price was assigned a partner for a sixth grade class project he had no idea she would become his best friend. After years of friendship, she eventually became so much more. Then, one day she left with no explanation. 

Will’s life shattered right before his eyes and he was left alone to pick up the pieces. Floundering, Will must figure out a way to carry on, to find a way to exist without her. 

Seven years later, a chance encounter leaves him desperate to get her back. He has one week to make her his again. Not everyone gets a second chance with the love of their life and Will is determined to never lose her again.

 If you like friends-to-lovers stories, this book is for you! Her is Will Price’s side of the story and is based off Carey Heywood’s NYT Bestseller Him, which tells the story from Sarah Miller’s point of view. I actually read this one first because I enjoy reading stories told from male points-of-view, and I adored it. Carey Heywood did such a great job portraying Will’s emotions, angst, and inner turmoil as he tries to win back his old friend and love.


Charade (Games #1) by Nyrae Dawn
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Nineteen-year-old Cheyenne tries to portray the perfect life to mask the memories of her past. Walking in on her boyfriend with another woman her freshman year in college threatens that picture of perfection.

Twenty-one-year-old Colt never wanted college and never expected to amount to anything, but when his mom’s dying wish is for him to get his degree, he has no choice but to pretend it’s what he wants too.

Cheyenne needs a fake boyfriend to get back at her ex and Colt needs cash to take care of his mom, so they strike a deal that helps them both. But what if Cheyenne’s past isn’t what she thought? Soon they’re trading one charade for another—losing themselves in each other to forget about their pain. The more they play their game, the more it becomes the only thing they have that feels real.

Both Cheyenne and Colt know life is never easy, but neither of them expect the tragedy that threatens to end their charade and rip them apart forever.

Nyrae Dawn has such an amazing gift for writing authentic characters with real issues. For me, the emotional development of characters in new adult stories are key, and I loved being part of Colt and Cheyenne’s journeys as their relationship progressed and became something meaningful. The books in this series may be read as standalones, and I read this one after buying a signed copy from Nyrae at an author event *cue fangirl scream.* Without providing any spoilers, you might want to include a box of tissues if you give this one as a gift.

The Untamed Series by Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Rich, beautiful, and wild, Reagan McKinley has everything she needs…but nothing that she wants. That is, until she spends one hot night in the arms of sexy, unbridled Dare Wilde.

She’s a girl trapped in a rigid world she desperately wants to escape, and he’s an untamed artist with an attitude, hell-bent on freeing her–body, mind, and soul. But Reagan’s life is not her own, and Dare is not welcome in it. She can’t include him in her carefully-controlled, extremely public lifestyle…and yet she cannot give him up.

Will a shared passion for art–and, increasingly, each other–be enough to keep them together? Or will it be the thing that ultimately tears them apart?

The epic saga is just one click away…

Available for the first time: all 5 books in the Untamed Series collected into this special omnibus edition–a $13 value, over 1,000 pages long! Get ALL of Dare Wilde–wrapped up in a big, red bow–just in time for the holidays.

Reagan McKinley is a damaged soul in the guise of a woman who has everything, and her journey with artist Dare Wilde is emotional and action-packed. This isn’t just a story about finding your true love, but it’s also about finding courage and inner strength to stand alone. I loved each of these novellas and am looking forward to reading more from these authors!

I’m also happy to be able to share a short excerpt from the authors Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green, two very lovely and FUN women that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know this past year.

EXCERPT

The light of early morning sunshine woke me. Or maybe it was the heat of Dare’s gaze. I felt it on me before I even opened my eyes. It was a weird sensation—both familiar and unnerving. Slowly lifting my eyelids, I found him sitting on an armchair off to the side of the bed, watching me sleep. 

No, not watching. Drawing. 

Eyebrows knitted together and lips pursed in deep concentration, his gaze flitted from me to the sketchpad propped on his bent knee. His hand moved across the surface and the only sound in the apartment was that of pencil on paper. Up and down and side to side, with long, sweeping strokes. 

It sounded beautiful. And almost made me forget where I was.

In bed.

Naked.

After a night of mac and cheese and Dare.

What are your favorite reads from this past year? Comment below!

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. 

Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.