April 2024 Update


So much for posting monthly—I totally forgot last month, and here I am coming in under the wire for April. I’ll try to do better.

Ugliest is almost finalized. I’m just waiting on the cover (with my designer) and I need to finalize a resources section for the back of the book. And of course I have to see if I can get anyone to blurb the book. I’m a terrible networker, so this is unlikely to happen.

My publicity campaign officially got started a couple weeks ago, and we’re in the planning and setup stage. I did submit Ugly and Uglier for some more reviews to get more quotes for the book listings and maybe some quotes for the cover, and then also some visibility so people recognize them when they keep seeing them over and over. I’m in the process of preparing book plates and some more swag, with a little bit of original drawing on these mini sketchbooks.


So you all might remember that I said I’d do three reading challenges this year. The first is the Reader Harder Challenge and the second is the Goodreads one. The third one was as yet undetermined when I posted in January, because it was going to be whatever the King County Library System put together.

My Read Harder Challenge is going well. It’s got 24 categories on it and I’ve already read 10, with 3 in progress right now.

On Goodreads, I’m exactly on track to hit my 120 (though to be fair, I did recently get caught up by reading a stack of graphic novels/manga).

Finally, the KCLS challenge did come out, and it’s basically to contribute to a million minutes spent reading by all participants. FYI, I’ve spent 48 hours and 40 minutes reading so far since I started tracking on March 12. That’s actually quite a bit in just a month and a half—I’m rather surprised. But we, as in the KCLS reading community, are going to smash that goal in October or November if people keep reading the same rate, especially if new people join. They’ve already recorded 442,736 minutes.

February 2024 Update

Staying Informed

I haven’t been able to keep up with my weekly posts for quite a while, so I think I’m going to officially do just one post a month for now, with updates. I’m not even going to commit to a particular day, just once per calendar month

I also do have a newsletter now that is also monthly, so if you’re interested in staying informed, that’s a great way, too. You can subscribe here. It goes out the first Tuesday of every month.


I’m still actively working on Ugliest, book 3 in The Art of Being Ugly, and making good progress. But it’s a tough book to work on, because it has such high stakes—and they’re real, not just in the book. The kids become activists for LGBTQ+ rights, fighting against the anti-LGBTQ+ laws that are sweeping red America. This is really happening, and it’s turning much of this country into a near-dystopia, when time will take it the rest of the way. We already are seeing red state refugees—families who are fleeing states to keep their trans kids safe. A few weeks ago, I met a family from Oklahoma that had just moved to Washington for their kid. This is no joke. If you are in a position to fight these laws with your votes, please do. It’s so important.

Other Book News

I’m planning to hire a publicist to really try to get Ugly and Uglier some attention before the release of Ugliest, which I’m targeting for early September this year, even though I don’t know if that’s possible because I’m still writing the first draft.

I’m also planning to redo the covers for all of the books. I actually do like the covers I have now, but I feel like new covers could take them to the next level. But I don’t know what to do yet, so I’m hoping for help from the publicist.

Ugly book cover
Uglier book cover


Ugly and Uglier are both only 99 cents all month, so check them out if you haven’t read them yet. You can find them at all the major ebook retailers (and some of the smaller ones, too).

2024 Reading Challenges: A Plan

I’m going to get back to doing reading challenges again, so I thought I’d share my plan with you. I’m going to do three this year: Goodreads (total books read) and Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge (24 books in specific topics). In the past, I’ve done King County Library’s 10 to Try, or 10 books meeting specific criteria, but they don’t have it up yet and may be revamping their challenges, so I’ll do whatever they put up. I’ve actually already made progress on the Reader Harder and Goodreads challenges, so I’m off to a good start.


For Goodreads, I set it to 120 for 2024, basically allowing for reading 20 picture books and still reading 100 non-picture book books.

Read Harder

For the Read Harder Challenge, here are the 24 categories and the books I plan to read (as of now):

  1. Read a cozy fantasy book - The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel by Sosuke Natsukawa & Louise Heal Kawai - Legends & Lattes is the book that brought cozy fantasy into pop cultural awareness, and I was going to pick that until I saw a book about cats and books on a list (I mean, duh)
  2. Read a YA book by a trans author - X by Davey Davis - I had this on the shelf next to me, a dystopian story by a nonbinary author
  3. Read a middle grade horror novel - Ophie's Ghosts by Justina Ireland - the author of the YA Dread Nation series (so good) has this MG, so I thought I’d try it
  4. Read a history book by a BIPOC author - Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson - this sounds freakin’ fascinating so I picked it even though it’s over 500 pages
  5. Read a sci-fi novella - All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells - a friend recommended this series to me a while ago, so I’m finally going to try to read it
  6. Read a middle grade book with an LGBTQIA main character - The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith - the same friend also recommended this, so here I go …
  7. Read an indie published collection of poetry by a BIPOC or queer author - okay, I’m going to admit this will be the last thing I will read, and only if it is literally the only thing left to complete the challenge, because I don’t like poetry, and I finding reading it anxiety-inducing - if the lines are longer, like closer to page width, it makes me less anxious, so hopefully I can find that
  8. Read a book in translation from a country you’ve never visited - probably Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez & Gregory Rabassa (Translator) - I loved A Hundred Years of Solitude in high school, so I’ll try another of his (I feel like I might have read something else a long time ago, but I don’t remember)
  9. Read a book recommended by a librarian - "You Just Need to Lose Weight": And 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon - a topic of interest to me
  10. Read a historical fiction book by an Indigenous author - Maud's Line by Margaret Verble - this is set in 1928 Oklahoma (interestingly on the Cherokee reservation, which is near Osage land—I think adjacent—of Killers of the Flower Moon fame, and in a similar time period)
  11. Read a picture book published in the last five years - I’m not going to commit to one, as I’ll just read what I feel like at the time
  12. Read a genre book (SFF, horror, mystery, romance) by a disabled author - The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis - a YA sci-fi that sounds cool
  13. Read a comic that has been banned - This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki - a YA graphic novel that sounds cool
  14. Read a book by an author with an upcoming event (virtual or in person) and then attend the event - I’ll see what’s coming up
  15. Read a YA nonfiction book - Code Name Badass by Heather Demetrios - a YA history of Virginia Hall, an American woman who worked for the British with the French Resistance in WW II (I already read an adult history about her, but it was a great story so I’ll try this one)
  16. Read a book based solely on the title - Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe - a YA about an overly charming boy and the girl he can’t charm (I like her already)
  17. Read a book about media literacy - Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble - I conveniently already had this and it’s one of my high-interest areas, data science ethics, so yeah
  18. Read a book about drag or queer artistry - No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics by Justin Hall (Editor) - new to me, but looks interesting
  19. Read a romance with neurodivergent characters - Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert - I loved the first two books in this series and already have this one, so it will be great to finish it off
  20. Read a book about books (fiction or nonfiction) - The Book by Amaranth Borsuk - this is one of those little books in the Essential Knowledge series from MIT Press about very specific things (I’ve read some others and conveniently had this one the shelf next to me)
  21. Read a book that went under the radar in 2023 - still need to find one for this
  22. Read a manga or manhwa - Cat Massage Therapy, Vol. 1 by Haru Hisakawa - I’d already started this this week, so I’ll finish it and count it
  23. Read a “howdunit” or “whydunit” mystery - Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara - a thriller set in post-WW II America with survivors of the Japanese detention camps in the west
  24. Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat - A challenge from 2021: Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism - White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo


So that’s the plan so far. I’ll add a KCLS one when it comes out. And I’m feeling good about this year, and I’m already off to a strong start with four books already finished and (of course) several in progress.

Reading Wrapup for 2023


Like most writers, I’m a big reader. For a few years I did reading challenges, which I’d announce at the beginning of the year, and then at the end of the year, I’d report on how I’d done. This year I didn’t do any challenges (besides a Goodreads total read number), partially because I’ve been in a reading slump. The good news is that I seemed to finally get over the slump this year, and I’m really enjoying reading again. I have been reading more nonfiction than I have in the past, so less fiction, but that’s fine. I firmly believe readers should read whatever they want, so I don’t feel bad. In this post, I’ll talk about the Goodreads challenge and many of the books I read this year (though I’ll spare you the complete list).

Goodreads Challenge

I committed to reading 100 books this year, which was a common target for me in the past. Because I’m also sometimes studying picture books, I also logged those on Goodreads, which artificially skewed my numbers, because I don’t “count” picture books as real book reads. In my reading slump years, this helped me get close to my goals, but this year they skewed things. I do count almost everything else, including YA, MG, and graphic novels (the graphic novels really help with my numbers, but I still think they count).

I surpassed 100 many months ago because of all the picture books I read (I counted about 95 several months back, and I haven’t read any since). But Friday night, December 29, I counted how many non-picture books I’ve read over the year, and it came to 90.

A Challenge Within a Challenge

Well. I hadn’t realized I was that close to 100, and who am I to shy away from a challenge? I hit up my graphic novel shelf and pulled several off and scrambled to read everything. This might be a little sketchy, but I have read many graphic novels over the year, so it’s not like I’ve been fudging all year, so it’s fine. I didn’t want it to be all graphic novels, so I also found some other books I started previously and was reasonably close to finishing.

Friday night I managed to finish three books, including a nonfiction book I started ages ago, and I almost finished another I started earlier in the week. I continued all weekend, and these are the books I read in my mad scramble to 100, in order:

  1. Saga #10 by Vaughan and Staples (sci-fi GN)
  2. Data Analyst: Careers in Data Analysis by Rasmussen et al (data science-related NF)
  3. She and Her Cat by Shinkai and Yamaguchi (cat manga)
  4. Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Stanley and Lehman (career/data science-related)
  5. Cat + Gamer #1 by Nadatani (cat manga)
  6. Saga #11 by Vaughan and Staples (sci-fi GN)
  7. Cat + Gamer #2 by Nadatani (cat manga)
  8. In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration by O’Mara (NF about … walking)
  9. Goomics by Cornet (a humorous NF GN about Google culture)
  10. American Born Chinese by Yang (graphic memoir)

And now I’ll talk about some of the books I read the rest of the year.

Young Adult Fiction

This is generally my favorite category, and I mostly read contemporary, with a few others thrown in. Some standouts include:

  • This Poison Heart and This Wicked Fate duology by Kaylynn Bayron
  • I Must Betray You by Ruth Sepetys
  • Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
  • Quiver by Julia Watts

I’ve been crediting the Bayron books for finally really breaking my reading slump. I’d never stopped reading, but it was just happening in slow motion. It would take me forever to get through a novel, whereas before I’d read two a week. But this series had me so engrossed that I tried to find a paper copy of book 2 locally after I finished book 1, but couldn’t, so I had to wait a couple days for it to arrive from Amazon. The series is an LGBTQ contemporary fantasy about a teen girl who has a strange power over plants. The story gets complex and harkens back to Greek mythology.

I Must Betray You is another fantastic Ruta Sepetys historical novel, set in 1989 Romania. I didn’t think I’d be as into it as I was, because she creates a fantastic main character. I just loved it.

Symptoms of Being Human is a fascinating book about a nonbinary teen. The teen is gender fluid and it’s handled masterfully—Garvin avoids using any pronouns for the character and they give no hint to their presumed gender (by their parents, for instance) even though they’re not out yet. It isn’t until page 148 that there’s a first real clue. This sounds like it would be gimmicky, but it actually comes across completely natural, without awkward moments that make you wonder why a pronoun wasn’t used. But outside of that, it’s a good story about knowing who you are, even when life is very harsh.

Quiver is a great story about two teens from very different worlds—one a liberal family that lets the kids be who they are, and one from a ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian household with a tyrant for a father—but still manage to connect. The story is about how one of the Christian girls really learns to think for herself, with quiet support from the other teen.

Other Fiction

  • Happy Place by Emily Henry
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

Happy Place is basically an upmarket romance, but it’s really good. Everyone I know who’s read it loved it. I’ve enjoyed every book of Henry’s that I’ve read.

The other two both deal with race in ways that are uncomfortable for a white person, but also seem totally real. Such a Fun Age is about a Black girl who’s recently graduated from college and is working as a nanny for a wealthy white family. I loved this character, who’s watching her friends get “real” jobs while she feels stuck in this non-career job. But then she’s the victim of a racist incident, and the white woman she nannies for goes bonkers trying to be the right kind of white ally, completely failing to actually see her own real privilege. I love how everything resolves.

Yellowface is about a white woman who steals an Asian writer’s manuscript. The book is all about how she justifies every crazy thing she does after by deluding herself, and it’s fascinating to see what she does. There are elements that I found a tiny bit far-fetched (mostly with how the publishing industry would deal with her, especially in the beginning), but the overall story is great, even though it also is uncomfortable to read as a white person. But I like that challenge.


  • The Hidden Language of Cats by Sarah Brown
  • Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
  • Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years by Geoffrey Nunberg
  • Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries by Kim MacQuarrie

These are a little more self-explanatory because of the titles, but you probably know how into cats I am, so the first one makes sense. I read another one about cats that was also good. I’m sure I’ll read more in the future.

Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle just charmed me. I’m a big fan of Darwin in general, and this was his account of the 5-year voyage he took in his early twenties, and his passion for nature was just adorable.

The book about assholism was interesting both because of his exploration of differences between assholes and other types of unpleasant people (and his analysis of specific people) and because of his info about the linguistics related to the term. (I love linguistics, especially sociolinguistics.)

I read the last book because I was going to South America in November, and I read several books related to the continent (it’s also why I read the Darwin book when I did). But this book was so cool, full of crazy stories about interesting major and minor incidents in South America, mostly in the Andes.

Next Year

I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ll read next year.

My Writing Year, 2023 Edition

I had a decent year with my writing, wining some awards and releasing the second book in The Art of Being Ugly Series.


I found out in January that Ugly was an SCBWI Honor Book for the older readers category, which basically is second place. The SPARK Award is for self-published books, but SCBWI is an international organization that a good number of people who write or illustrate for children, from board books through YA, belong to, so the contest is competitive.

In June, I learned that Always the New Girl won first place in the YA category of the National Excellence in Story Telling (NEST) Contest. It was also a finalist in two other contests, the Next Generation Indie Book Award and Book Excellence Award.

Binding Off also finaled in the Next Generation Indie Book Award contest.

Ugly book cover
Binding Off book cover
Always the New Girl book cover

Release and Good Review

I released Uglier, book two in The Art of Being Ugly series, on August 1 and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews soon afterward.

Uglier book cover

And Finally, Some Special Things for Readers

I should also mention that Ugly and Uglier are both on sale for 99 cents through the end of December.

Also, Uglier is part of a giveaway of 20 YA books where you can win all of them and also a Kindle simply for signing up for author newsletters. It’s open to enter through the end of January, and you can enter here.

Uglier also will be available for free for a few days at the very end of January.

Review: Quiver by Julia Watts

Quiver book coverLibby and Zo form a connection over the fence as new neighbors in rural Tennessee, but they couldn’t be more different from each other. Libby’s from a fundamentalist Christian family with its patriarchal tyrant, her “caring” father who punishes her because he “loves” her. Zo’s family is the polar opposite because her parents actually do care about their kids. Zo is gender-fluid and her (I feel like she uses she/her in the book, though it’s possible I’m projecting) parents are very liberal, especially her father, who recommends she stay away from Libby because of her family. He says it’s only going to lead to trouble. Zo chooses to keep the friendship.

Libby is so in the dark about almost everything, including Zo’s gender fluidity and sexuality. But she still likes Zo, even if she isn’t sure why. Zo doesn’t seem like a bad person, and Libby can’t see how she could be based on what she knows. Zo has a much better read on Libby and is patient with her, limiting what she shares to avoid conflict, but without being inauthentic. I liked their friendship, and I obsessively wondered how things would play out once Libby learned the truth.

Libby’s world is as restrictive as you’d expect, where her father is basically a dictator who only cares about his wife’s uterus and views himself as the protector of those of his daughters, saving them for their rightful owners, some random equally tyrannical self-absorbed narcissistic “Godly men.”

Why don’t I tell you how I really feel about her father.

Anyway, Zo’s family sends an olive branch for the sake of their kids (Zo has a younger brother who befriends one of Libby’s brothers early on, too). Zo’s father tries to be tolerant, but all Libby’s does is get angry when things—including the way Zo’s family simply exists—aren’t like he thinks they should be.

What makes this story great is seeing Libby being open to ideas that are not ones her father has allowed her access to. She has started seeing cracks in the supposed perfection of her family’s world. When things come to a head with Libby’s pregnant mom suffering a health emergency that Libby has to deal with, she finally sees through her father when he makes it clear what he cares about (hint: it rhymes with tooterus). Finally there is a path out.

I really did like this book even though all the religious crap drove me crazy. But it was so clear that Libby was only about 80% brainwashed so there was something in there that was salvageable, and it was really cool to see that small part emerge victorious. The fundies know their system actually sucks for everyone except the tyrants themselves, which is why the men are so controlling and make sure their kids and wives are never exposed to the many obviously better ideas and ways of existing.

October 2023 Update

It feels a little like things are paused right now, because I’ve been focused on two other projects, and I was working extra for my day job, too. I’ve just started querying on my nonfiction project related to my day job, so it’s sort of “done”. The third romance I’m writing under a pen name is also wrapping up, but there are still several chapters left to write. I’m just feeling a little wrung out and stretched thin. And on top of that, since July I’ve lost two cats and had another diagnosed with cancer, so it’s been a rough ride. But a friend convinced me to start going to yoga, and I figure I’ll give that a shot, so hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon—which will mean posting here more regularly. It will also mean making much more progress on Ugliest, which is moving along, but slowly.

In the realm of good news, Uglier has gotten some recognition lately, which is really cool. It got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews a bit ago, and the made it an editor’s pick for their most recent issue of the magazine, out today. I also got some other good news about it, but I can’t share that for a bit. Watch this space.

I’ve made some decisions about social media. Partially because I was feeling overwhelmed and busy, I’ve not been active. But I have finally decided to officially give up on BookTok. My account is clearly marked, and no matter what I do, I can’t get past the about-250-views mark. Sometimes I’ll post it and get there in a couple hours, but other times it might take me a day or two, but whatever the timing, as soon as I hit 250, TikTok stops showing it. I also have an account for my romance pen name, and although I don’t get a lot of views, it’s not blocked like @kv_books is. And on my account related to my day job (@kelly_datascientist), I occasionally get 1000+ views (I’ve had one go over 8000, too). So it’s obviously @kv_books that’s blacklisted or whatever. But anyway, I’m trying to get back on Instagram. I took a bunch of pictures of books I’ve read in the last few months (fortunately, I am still reading a lot) and will be posting those soon, a few at a time. Maybe I’ll even make some videos.

In other news, I have some sales on my ebooks coming up. Always the New Girl and Binding Off are on sale for the first half of November, both for 99 cents (and 79 cents for Binding Off where possible). Ugly and Uglier are also going to be 99 cents for the entire month of December. I will be sending reminders about these out in my newsletter, so subscribe if you’re interested.

And just for posterity, here are a couple pictures of my old lady cats who are no longer with us. They’re both still so cute in these, even though they were difficult to take care of at the end.

Chloe the cat
Zmije the cat in her cage

August 2023 Update

I can’t believe it’s already almost September. But since it is, I’d thought I’d give an update on what’s been going on writing-wise, because there is stuff.

Good News

I got some good news a couple weeks ago—Uglier got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. It’s such a nice review, and you can see it here. I’m pretty proud of this book and although it’s slow going right now, Ugliest is coming along.

A List

There’s a somewhat new book site that’s kind of an alternative to Goodreads called Shepherd, which also works with authors more closely than Goodreads. They have lots of book-related content and invite authors to create lists on a theme where they recommend a handful of books. You can also browse books based on various filters and see what authors have said when they’ve recommended a book. It’s actually a pretty cool site and it’s growing. I created a list called “The best books that remind us that nonbinary people are human, too.”


A few weeks back, I was on the podcast Beyond the Pen with Maccabee Griffin. He was really nice to talk to and also very understanding when I missed the first recording we had scheduled because I got the time zone wrong (something I rarely do, fortunately). He rescheduled and we talked. You can find the podcast here.

I was also on another podcast called The Bookshelf Odyssey with Art a few months ago, which can be found here. Art is also nice and it was a good conversation.

These were both fun to do, even though it should have been a little intimidating, but talking about my books is not too difficult.

Also, also, I should mention that both these podcasts are really interesting if you like digging into writers’ thoughts about their books, themselves, the world around them, and on an on. So definitely check out their other episodes.

A Final Thought

I should hopefully be able to get back to posting reviews here like I used to, since I’m reading more now. We’ll see if it happens, but I hope so.

Small Celebrations


I should have posted about this earlier, but I clearly didn’t. I’ve just been feeling a little overly busy lately. Uglier was released into the world on August 1st. Ra ra. I’m excited to have it out there and I’m proud of how far Nic comes in this book. I’ll be doing a book tour with it soon, so you might see it on social media. I’m actively working on the next book in the series, and this is going to be quite a story.

Find purchase options for Uglier here. It and my other books (except Finding Frances) are on sale for 99 cents through August.


The other thing I’m celebrating is the apparent end of that horrible reading slump I’d been in for like two years. I’ve been reading a lot lately and finally genuinely enjoying reading lots of pages in one sitting. During the slump, I’d be done after a chapter. But now I’m reading again, and it feels great.

In the YA space, I just finished Pet (by Akwaeke Emezi) Friday night and recently finished The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta and Lizard Radio by Pat Schmitz. Maybe I’ll start making real progress on my TBR shelves. I’ve also been reading a lot of nonfiction, which I’m enjoying, too. It’s just so nice for the thing that brought me joy for so long and then just stopped, is back to making me happy.

Review: I Must Betray You by Ruth Sepetys

Even though historically are not my primary jam, Rita Sepetys has become one of my favorite authors because she does such an incredible job. I’m also amazed at how she can paint such accurate worlds in completely disparate locations, cultures, and times. I Must Betray You is set in 1989 in Romania right before and during the revolution that ousted they terrible leader. It is so good. If you are interested in my thoughts on her other books, check out my reviews of Salt to the Sea and Out of the Easy.

A Quick Note on Reading

Reading this was actually an interesting experience. From the first page, I felt such a distinct sense of unease and dread, because I know things weren’t going to well for the protagonist. For several days, I could only cope with reading 10-20 pages before I had to put it down. But I had a flight for a business trip and I read a decent amount on the plane. Then I met with my colleagues, and finished the book in one fell swoop after I got back to my hotel room. Yes, I stayed up later than I should, but I couldn’t stop.


Cristian is seventeen and wants to be a writer, but that’s a dangerous path in communist Romania. He also speaks decent English, which he studies in school. He’s close with his grandfather, who tries to quietly defy the regime, stressing out both of Cristian’s parents. The secret police (the Securitate) have terrorized the entire populace by creating a huge network of informers, regular people who report back to them all sorts of details about their fellow citizens’ lives. Everyone hates informers, even people who are informers, because the Securitate blackmails, tricks, and otherwise forces people into becoming working for them. But not doing what they say is incredibly dangerous.

An Assignment

It’s a perpetual nightmare, even though the country’s dictator has conned the rest of the world into thinking things are just fine in Romania. Early on in the story, Cristian gets roped into becoming an informer, assigned to target an American diplomat by befriending the man’s teenage son. Fortunately, Cristian has nerves of steel and a deep-seated sense of what’s right and wrong. A lot of his fellow Romanians are beat down and have no will to fight, something that they deem fruitless. But youth and idealism have a strong position in revolution, and I loved watching Cristian fight back the best he could—and risk everything in a clever act that would get the message out about how bad things are in Romania—and help power a revolution.

A Small Personal Connection

The book particularly resonated with me because this was all happening in my lifetime, and I had no freaking clue. The Berlin Wall came down on my birthday in 1989. It was ninth grade and I was taking German, so that should have made it more meaningful to me, but I was too self-absorbed to know that people’s lives all over the world sucked in much worse ways than mine. Much later, I lived in Czechia and that made me despise communism, as it appeared to me that those its communist regime killed the soul of the country. I can't imagine it being different elsewhere. So seeing a horrible communist dictator ousted was especially satisfying.

But you don’t have to have even a tangential connection to Romania or communism to love this book. I cannot recommend it enough.

Review: An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

Book cover for An Emotion of Great DelightSetup

I was excited to read this book, because I so loved Mafi's other YA contemporary, A Very Large Expanse of Sea (also the last book I reviewed in 2022). Expanse was about a teen Muslim girl who chooses to wear a hijab, a couple years after 9-11. This book also has that same setup, but the problems the girls are dealing with are very different, although both touch on similar themes relating to bullying, family, friendship, love, defining who you are, and finding your place in the world you happen to exist in.

Family and Friends

So Emotion did not disappoint. Shadi’s parents are immigrants from Iran. We’re never told exactly where they live, but it seems to be middle America, whatever that might mean—nowhere really big or really small. Shadi’s dealing with a lot of trouble at home—her brother has recently died and her father is sick and probably dying—but her other major problem is the disintegration of her oldest friendship with another Iranian-American girl named Zahra.

It’s not clear what happened with Zahra, but we do learn over time that it was ugly and seemingly not Shadi’s fault (like legitimately not her fault, not like she won’t accept responsibility). And a secondary consequence of that friendship ending is that it also ended a friendship with Ali, Zahra’s brother, which we understand was also important to Shadi.

Getting By

Shadi is really torn up about her brother’s death, even though it takes a while for us to learn what happened to him. She’s also angry at her father about something and really wishes he would just die already. Her mom is a mess and her sister is obnoxious as ever.

Everybody keeps forgetting about her and she’s stuck walking to and from school and other places she has to go, even if they’re far away and it’s pouring buckets. She’s so busy trying to stay under the radar and not cause waves around her that she doesn’t pay much attention to what she herself needs and wants.

Final Thoughts

Shadi grows over the course of the book and figures out how to stand up for herself, even though it’s in a quiet and non-disruptive way. By the end she is doing what she wants, and reading it made me happy. The novel isn’t plot-heavy by any means, but it’s a beautiful portrait of a Muslim teen girl—who has all sorts of expectations dumped on her—trying to make her way in a tough world.

June 2023 Update

The last few weeks have been good for me as both a writer and a reader.


I sent my final draft of Uglier to my line editor. She won’t start working on it for a couple weeks, but I’m still on track to release it August 1.

A Reading Slump

This of course makes me happy, but one other things has happened that makes me even happier: my reading slump seems to have ended. For those of you who know me at all, you know I’ve always been a big reader. Easily 100 books a year, basically two books a week. I’ve always been a mostly fiction reader, but usually I’m reading a couple of other nonfiction books, just more slowly. But mid-2021, I fell into a reading slump. It was awful—I’d want to read, but then I’d read about 10 pages, and feel overwhelmed. So I did still read, but not every night and obviously not very much at a time. It’s just terrible to not be able to enjoy something you know you should enjoy.

The End of a Reading Slump

But lately, I’ve started tracking what I am reading as part of my efforts to find content for BookTok, and after reading This Poison Heart and This Wicked Fate a few weeks back, my reading has picked up again. I am reading a lot of books at once, and some I’m just reading slowly and I’ll finish eventually. But as a point of reference, last week I read from 16 books and finished 6 and the week before, I read from 14 and finished 4. To be fair, some of the books I’m reading are short Spanish beginner readers, but still. Some of them were full-length books.

A Chart!

As you might have just gathered, if you didn’t already know, I’m a data nerd. I have kept a spreadsheet of all the books I’ve purchased and read since 2011. So I’m going to share a chart I made of my reading over the last ten years.

Although there have been a few months with an unusual number read, it’s pretty obvious that my numbers fell dramatically in 2021 and only really picked up in the last month. The more recent high values have been on the graphic novels I’ve gone on binges with. That’s what happened in October 2022. And then in December, I spent half the month traveling, so I read a lot on the bus. Basically I didn’t consider the slump over—I was getting better, but not all the way there. I was still struggling to enjoy reading. But now, it’s different. I’m only one week into June, so I’m sure I’ll get through a lot.

And Bringing It All Back

So it’s nice to be enjoying reading again. Now I just need to get other people reading my books so they can enjoy reading them.

Review: This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart book coverI read this book so fast. Some of you know how I’ve been in a terrible reading slump for over two years and how it’s generally taking me weeks to finish a single book (though I am always reading several at once, but it’s still slowed way down, to what feels like a crawl). So when I say I read this book fast, I mean 7 days, which is a near record for me lately. This was definitely a “couldn’t put it down” book several nights.

Set Up

I am officially a fan of Bayron since I’ve read and really loved both this and her first, Cinderella is Dead (see the review here). Both of them have twists that surprised me (I did catch on to some of the smaller twists, but not the big one). This Poison Heart starts off fairly low-key, with the main character, Briseis, having an odd innate magical ability to “do stuff” with plants. She doesn’t understand it at all, but plants sort of perk up around her and she can bring a plant back from the dead. She’s adopted and her moms are both as baffled as she is, but they’re very protective of her and worry about her strange gift and what it means for her.

Some Major Secrets

Early on, she inherits an old house on some land with large gardens and she and her moms go there with a plan to stay for the summer and figure things out long term while they’re there. At first this is fairly mundane, too, but Briseis meets some people and soon things get weird. There’s a lot more to the house and gardens—especially the gardens—than they originally thought. There are some secrets the town knows and it takes a while for Briseis to figure things out. It turns out there’s some danger lurking in the town, but Briseis doesn’t understand it. It takes some work and digging through hidden paperwork and figuring out what a slew of keys can open before things become clear. The stakes get really high at the end and something rather shocking happens, which sets up the sequel.

Regarding the sequel, I was going to Barnes and Noble today so I figured I’d just buy it in person, but they didn’t have it or any of Bayron’s books, which totally offended me on her behalf. Also, it meant I had to order it or read it on my Kindle. Ugh.

Get It!

Anyway, about the book—go read it, pronto. I’m not really an urban fantasy reader, but I loved it and recommend it without reservation.

April 2023 Update

I’ve been really busy and struggling to keep up with everything, so it’s been a while since I posted. But everything’s moving along nicely right now.

Uglier will be released August 1st. I have lined up several beta readers for it, and it’s out for round one right now. I’ll be sending out round two in early May, hopefully with changes based on feedback from some of the round one readers. I’m getting this to my editor in mid-June. I’ve got the cover ready, and I’m including it at the bottom of the post. I’m also planning to do some art to include in the book, which is a little intimidating because in the book, Nic is a very skilled artist, and I’m … not (yet). So hopefully mine will be good enough to include.

I’m also happy to report that I am in the planning stages of Ugliest, and I’ve mapped out the first half of the book already, in the last week or so. I can promise this one will be exciting and it deals with some real world problems and I think you will like it.

Here’s the Uglier cover:

Uglier book cover

Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

I read Summers’ book Sadie a while back and loved it, even though the character was a little difficult. I still totally sympathized with her. But that wasn’t the first difficult character Summers has worked with, as Cracked Up to Be features an even more troubled one, who isn’t as easy to like.


Cracked Up to Be book coverWhen the book opens, we meet Parker, who’s not doing well and has to see the guidance counselor, which she is not happy about. (Who ever is happy about seeing a high school guidance counselor, actually?) But Parker’s a mess—she’s at a private school and her uniform as grungy and she’s got the wrong shoes, and she failed to brush her hair. Blah blah.

Parker used to be perfect—she was the cheerleading captain, made perfect grades, and was generally difficult to be around because of her high standards and overachieving nature. But the old Parker would not have a mustard stain on her skirt.

A Thing Happened

We know that Parker has been a mess for a while. She may even be doing better at this point than she was. She seems to not be drunk all the time now, for instance. But she is still on a self-destructive path. She’s rude to everyone, especially the people she was close to Before. Because that’s the thing—something really bad happened, and she knows it’s her fault. Everyone knows that Parker’s friend Jessie went missing after a party, but nobody except Parker knows that it’s her fault, and she’s not telling anyone.

Moving On—Or Not

The book focuses on Parker’s journey—is she going to manage to graduate despite her missing class and homework? Is she going to forgive herself for whatever she did? And will they figure out what really happened to Jessie? The reader obviously wants to know what really happened, how it could be Parker’s fault. Because as an outside observer, you can guess that it probably isn’t really her fault. In the end we do finally learn what she did, and while it’s easy to understand why she thinks it’s her fault, she isn’t the one who caused Jessie to disappear.


The book is a reflection on regret, guilt, and responsibility, with a distinctly feminist bent because it reminds us why girls and women have to look out for each other and how distinctly messed up that is. Parker was perfect but she did one thing that wasn’t perfect, and look what happened. It shouldn’t take constant vigilance for girls to stay safe.