2018 Favourite Reads (Part Two)

I’ve read (okay, for the most part, listened to audiobooks of) so many amazing novels this year, that I couldn’t put all my favourite reads into one post. If you missed Part One, be sure to check it out. The last post is scheduled for the last Thursday in December. (I’m posting the books in roughly the order in which I read them.)

The Wrath and the Dawn by: Renee Ahdieh (YA Fantasy)

(From Goodreads): In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Tyler Johnson Was Here by: Jay Coles (YA Contemporary)

(From Google Books): When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
Tyler Johnson Was Here is a powerful and moving portrait of youth and family that speaks to the serious issues of today–from gun control to the Black Lives Matter movement.

An Ember in the Ashes  by: Sabaa Tahir

(From Goodreads): Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
 It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

The Belles by: Dhonielle Clayton (YA Fantasy)

(From Google Books): I am a Belle. I control Beauty. In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful. Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the Queen to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined. When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces and impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

American Panda by: Gloria Chao (YA Contemporary)

(From Google Books): At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth—that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by: Dana L. Davis (YA Contemporary)

(From Goodreads): For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.

But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by: Amy Spalding (YA Contemporary)

(From Google Books): Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

Little and Lion by: Brandy Colbert (YA Contemporary)

(From Google Books): When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she’s isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Here We Are Now by: Jasmine Warga (YA Contemporary)

(From Google Books): Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because it turns out Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father…

When Julian asks her to go with him to his hometown to meet the family she has never known, Taliah embarks on a three-day voyage of discovery – of her father, of the past her mother has never shared with her, and of herself.

Simon vs The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by: Becky Albertalli (YA Contemporary)

(From Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Dumplin’ by: Julie Murphy (YA Contemporary)

(From Goodreads): Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Puddin’ by: Julie Murphy (YA Contemporary)

(From Goodreads): Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined.



That’s it for this post. Be sure to check out Part Three of the list in December.

NaNo Check In

Wow, hard to believe how quickly this month has flown by!

I knew going into NaNoWriMo that this November was a busy month for me, and I’d be hard pressed to hit 50,000 words by the 30th. But I had a story begging to get to put on the (digital) page, so I told myself I’d be happy with any progress I made.

I should have known better.

I’m waaaaay too competitive for an attitude like that.

So instead of being happy with my ever-rising word count, I’ve been stressing out every time I fall behind (which, thanks to some unexpected health stuff, happened even more than I could have predicted at the start of the month).

On the other hand, maybe the stress is worth it, considering I’ve actually (as of Wednesday night) managed to get my word count ahead of where it needs to be to finish on time, thanks to squeezing writing time in every chance I get.

I still may not “win” NaNo. I don’t usually get much writing done on weekends, and this Friday my kids have the day off school, which means I won’t be writing then, either.

But I’m going to keep trying. Despite it stressing me out, despite literally losing sleep. Because I feel like I need this one thing to go right for me.

But, if I don’t win, I’ll still be 40,000 words closer to a draft than I was at the start of the month. (Somebody remind me of this in December, okay?)

If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, I hope your word counts are ever-climbing.

And Happy Turkey Day to my American readers!

CANSCAIP Conferencce Recap

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the CANSCAIP (Canadian Society for Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers) Packaging Your Imagination Conference in Toronto. It was a great gathering of Who’s Who in the Canadian kidlit world, and I had a blast meeting up with old friends, making new ones, and finally having in-person encounters with some of my online critique partners.

As usual, I won’t get into the specifics of the workshops, because that wouldn’t be fair to those who paid to attend (or those being paid to give them). I also probably won’t breakdown every moment, but try to recap the ones that stuck with me the most.

Ruth Ohi talked a bit about her process in her opening keynote, and her enthusiasm for her craft was positively contagious.

Danielle Younge-Ullman explained how her experiences inhabiting roles as an actor has influenced the way she goes about creating full, rounded characters.

The Breaking-In Panel, featuring S.K. Ali, Naseem Hrab, and Jean Mills, inspired me with their tales of perseverance.

But I think I got the most out of Karen Krossing’s Workshop on Plot. With just four quick, one-to-two question writing exercises, she helped me form a greater understanding of the main character of my NaNo book, and how she needs to drive the plot.

I also paid for a One-on-One manuscript critique, which went very well. Not only did I get some good feedback on the first chapter of my MG Fantasy, but I also got some helpful info about the Canadian Publishing Industry as a whole.

All in all, I came away from the weekend excited to jump back into writing, and more determined than ever to get my work published.

NaNo News is Good News

As you may have been able to tell from recent posts, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I struggle with Impostor Syndrome at the best of times, and this year has been anything but.

I wasn’t planning on doing NaNo (aka NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month) partly because I’m low on time this month, and partly because I just didn’t have any story ideas ready to go.



And it was frustrating, because I’m just about finished this MG Fantasy re-write, and I have no idea how to fix my YA or other MG, so writing something new is exactly what my next step should be.

Except every idea in my “Book Ideas” doc (am I the only one who has one of these?) felt tired. I came up with most of them years ago, just waiting for the time to feel right, or wisps of ideas to get fleshed out into whole stories. But the world has changed a lot in the last few years, and many of the ideas didn’t feel relevant anymore.

Except for one.

One tiny nugget of an idea that was so out there, so flimsy, I didn’t even bother to write it down. And just like that, the character and the world burst out me like Athena, fully formed and armed, and demanded I write them. So, I spent the last ten days of October developing the side characters, plot twists, and tiny little details of the world. I did research that spawned more ideas (seriously, I think I have rough plot outlines for, like, five books right now).

The catch?

It’s an Adult book. (Not, like, adult as in naughty, but a book for grown-ups, with a main character around my own age).

And I’m going to write it.

I have no idea if I’ll “win” NaNo this year (aka write 50,000 words by the 30th). I’ve got a lot on my plate this month, including a conference out of town (more on that next week), and my fibromyalgia has been brutal lately. But this story wants to get out of me, so I’m going to try.

After all, my NaNo theory is: If you end the month with more words than you started, count it as a win.

If you’re doing NaNo this year and want to be my writing buddy, I’m there as K Callard.


October Reading Stats

Going to keep this post pretty short this week. My fibromyalgia has been kicking my butt lately – although it at least chose to give me my worst flare when I’d been off sugar for a week, so I’m back to allowing myself small amounts (yeah, yeah, I know it’s not definitive proof, but cut me some slack, I’m in pain *and* we have Halloween candy in the house).

My stats aren’t very impressive this month, although three of the audiobooks I listened to were around 20 hours long (and felt like it). I also spent a considerable amount of time wallowing in comfort re-reads.

October Reading Stats:

  • MG Fantasy (2)
  • MG Contemporary (1)
  • YA Sci-Fi (2)
  • YA Urban Fantasy (1)
  • A Sci-Fi (1)
  • A Suspense (1)
  • A Urban Fantasy (1)
  • Re-read: (A Urban Fantasy: 9)

October total: 9 (+ 9 re-reads)

Year-to-Date: 154 (+ 9 re-reads)