June 2022 Royalties Update

So in the past six weeks, I’ve released three self-published books and it’s been really interesting. I know a lot of people really don’t have any idea how many books writers really sell. It’s kind of like money and some people are probably reticent to speak about it. But I don’t really care, so I’m going to talk numbers a bit, because things have been really interesting with these releases (also the numbers are so low it doesn’t matter). 

First, for a reference point: Finding Frances. This book was published by The Wild Rose Press so my numbers come from them. They don’t get instantaneous records of sales and instead they come in in batches. With the exception of copies I bought directly from my publisher, I’ve made just under $100 in royalties over the lifetime of the book (over two years). Note that that does include royalties on copies of the books that I’ve purchased on Amazon myself (I’ve done this a few times, maybe 10-15 copies). In contrast, I made close to $150 in May alone from sales of Always the New Girl (Kindle and paperback). 

Charts

Because I am a nerd, I made a chart showing total royalties over time and another one just showing individual book royalties over time. The first is going to be far more interesting after another couple months go by because right now you can only see Finding Frances royalties. (Though it’s somewhat interesting since you can see how flat it is—they’re coming in pennies at a time.) This is through May, so it technically includes Always the New Girl numbers but not Ugly numbers. 

chart showing total royalties over time

There seems to be a tiny uptick in Finding Frances sales in April and May—this is just coincidence because of the delay in reporting, so it can’t be related to my new releases coming out. But if I see growth over the next few months, I may be able to attribute it to the exposure with the new ones. This next chart shows monthly royalties over time. 

Chart showing royalties over time

You can see quite a gap between July and December of last year—I literally did not sell a single copy of Finding Frances between August and November 2021. Fun times. You can also kind of see Always the New Girl and Ugly presale numbers on the far right of the chart—that blue dot in the upper right is Always the New Girl, and the green dot just above the yellow line is the the 2 copies of Ugly I sold in May. 

Ongoing Sales

Sales have continued on Always the New Girl in June and sales for Ugly have also been surprisingly good (again, for me). As of June 17th, I’ve sold 13 ebooks of Always the New Girl, 4 of Ugly, and 1 of Binding Off, and in paperback I’ve sold 4 of Always the New Girl and 23 of Ugly. These are not numbers that “real” authors would feel anything about (except shame), but for me they are amazing. Going four months without selling a single copy sets your standards pretty low, but I’m actually selling books. More than one a day. Of course I am curious what will happen over the long term, but I’m feeling good that at least I’m off to a good start. 

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Review: Breathless by Jennifer Niven

Breathless book coverI am a big fan of Niven’s first book (All the Bright Places—it’s one of my favorite books) so I’ve read both her others, including Breathless. One thing that I like about her books overall is that they’re all different. Her first two feature dual perspective, on the girl’s and one the boy’s, but in this one, she sticks with the single protagonist, a girl named Claude who’s just about to graduate high school when the book opens.

At first, everything’s just fine—everything’s cool with her parents, her best friend and other friends are all great, and she has a boyfriend she likes well enough. Her boyfriend is of course desperate to have sex, and she’s been putting it off. It’s not a moral dilemma for her; instead, she just isn’t sure if this is the guy she wants to first have sex with. Which she firmly believes is not “losing” anything, thank you very much. When an opportunity presents itself and she very clearly choses not to sleep with him, it’s pretty clear to both of them that this is her final decision. So that’s over, but she’s unfazed and re-fixates on a long-time crush. 

But this isn’t the only fissure in her otherwise just-fine life. Her dad shocks her—or takes the floor out from under her—by telling her he’s leaving. She is torn up about this, and her parents have insisted she not tell anyone, even her best friend (Saz), which is torture for her. And then, Saz has a new girlfriend she’s really into, and Claude feels a little left behind. Not to mention the fact that she and Saz are planning to go to different colleges several states apart, anyway. 

To make things worse, her mom has decided the two of them are going to go away to a tiny island on the coast of Georgia, where neither her crush nor Saz will be. And then when she gets there, it turns out that there is no cell service except in the general store that is open at the whim of the store owner. How’s she supposed to stay in touch with everyone?

But that’s all just setup. Really, this is a book about first love when it happens at that weird quasi-adult time of your life. Because soon after Claude meets a down-to-earth guy named Jeremiah who works summers on the island (I mean, seriously—the dude wears no shoes), her world starts to shift. But Claude is pissed off about being away from everything she cares about, so it’s not all sunshine and roses with them at first. But soon they start to bond, and promise each other they won’t fall in love. This time she feels differently about sex and her new boyfriend in general. They don’t necessarily follow all their own rules, either. 

It’s enjoyable to see Claude grow as her experiences expand beyond the smallish Ohio town she grew up in. She wasn’t exactly naive in the first place, but it’s one thing to be aware of differences and another to experience them. She and Saz have some work to do, and she’s also got to figure out how to feel about her dad, because the split is all about him. By the end, Claude has figured out things well enough to move forward with the next stage of her life. The book features a rather open ending, which often I don’t like, but I did here. It feels more authentic this way 

Review: Google It: A History of Google by Anna Crowley Redding

I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve been struggling to get myself to read for months. It’s a strange thing, given how much I’ve loved reading all my life. I recently did manage to finish another YA nonfiction book, which was really engaging and it’s only the reading weirdness I’ve got going that made me take so long to finish it. 

This well-researched book but Crowley Redding covers the entire history of Google, from the early relationship of its founders through about 2017 (the book was published in 2018). So it is definitely already a little out of date, but it’s a thorough examination up to that point. 

Crowley Redding covers several main stages of the company’s existence in three parts: Frenemies + Homework + Lego = Google?, Google It!, and Impossible Goal + Attempt (+/- Success) = Moonshot. Because this is a YA book, the first thing the author sets up is the foundational idea that Google was new—that there was a world in which there was no quick way to easily found out answers to questions, obscure or not (my mom told me this hilarious story about a time she and her friends were drunk one night and debating some fact, and one of her friends called a library in Hawaii because they were still open, and got his answer). She covers the earliest days, with the cute little story about Sergey and Larry really disliking each other on first meeting at Stanford, but eventually working together on a grad school class project that became Google. She covers the basic idea behind Google—that a web page’s value is defined more in terms of how many pages link to it, which eventually led to the famous algorithm called PageRank that allowed them to score individual web pages. They originally called their project BackRub, which is obviously a terrible name. They liked the idea of the word googol but weren’t particularly good spellers, so we now have Google. Soon, they had their first investment check and actually turned it into a business, at first operating out of a friend’s garage before finally getting more money and moving into an actual office building in the late 1990’s. I had to laugh when the author mentioned Y2K—it was such a big deal, and I had an internship in the summer of 1998 that asked me to write a Y2K countdown clock for their internal website, which I did in Java. It must have run on their site for the next year and a half. Anyway, everyone knows that Google started as a search engine, but the first time it branched out from basic search was inspired by the 9/11 attacks, when people were searching for information, but Google wasn’t designed for up-to-the-minute news. Google News was soon born. Then came advertising on the search page and Google Shopping. And soon afterward, they brought in an actual CEO. 

The second part of the book is more about Google as a company in the modern era, after it had a huge headquarters and tens of thousands of employees. Google Books came to be, and then Gmail. Then they went public. Soon there was Google Earth and Maps. And YouTube. Then Niantic emerged (I had no idea they were behind Pokemon GO!, but they were). Crowley Redding addresses the formation of their now-parent company, Alphabet. And somewhere in all this, she has a short discussion of the China thing. To me, this is a clear sign that Google isn’t as innocent as they claim to be, but perhaps that’s just me. 

The last part of the book really tries to look forward, focusing the various “moonshot” ventures Google (or Alphabet) is trying. These are basically the really extreme ideas of things that are probably hard to do, and are likely to lead to failure, but seem worth trying, anyway. They are getting into AI and other research for a variety of projects, including self-driving cars, machine translation, drones, wearable tech, Google Home, rural Internet service via balloons, space travel, and slowing aging. 

So the book covers a lot of ground, even if the last four years or so aren’t addressed. I’m sure there are more academic explorations out there, but this would be a good place for anyone to start learning about Google’s history. Crowley Redding does a pretty good job of not being too admiring, and presenting different sides (at least to the point of knowing it exists if you want to find out more). 

Review: Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Vincent and Theo book coverI’ve recently become aware that there is actually a decent amount of YA nonfiction out there, as I’m working on one myself, although mine is more technical than narrative. One of the authors I found is Deborah Heiligman, who wrote Charles and Emma about Charles Darwin and his wife, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. I bought that book, but the first one I decided to read was her one about Vincent van Gogh. 

Vincent and Theo is a great exploration of Vincent’s rise as an artist, and all his stumbling along the way, as well his relationship with his steadfast brother Theo, who literally and figuratively supported Vincent pretty much all his adult life. This is basically a birth-death portrait of both of them, and it starts off describing their rather commonplace, middle-class childhood in The Netherlands. Their father was a pastor and they had several sisters and everything seemed pretty normal and positive in those days. Vincent and Theo were close despite a four-year age gap, even pledging to always be there for each other in their late teens. Their uncle worked in the art industry as an art dealer, and it was expected that both Vincent and Theo would go into that field. Vincent had no intentions of becoming an artist in the early days. 

So Vincent did come of age and start working as an art dealer. But it didn’t take long before some of his more difficult personality traits emerged and although they tried moving him to London, it really didn’t work out. This period was really the point at which his mental health challenges started to emerge. Vincent floundered around for a while and became intensely religious for a period of time, trying to make a career out of evangelism. But this ultimately didn’t work out, either, and he floundered some more before finally deciding to become a draftsman. He threw himself into this with unrivaled intensity, drawing and painting in watercolor (which he actually still called drawing) to train himself to render things accurately. Eventually he started working in oils, and became a full-fledged painter. Theo literally supported him through all of this, sending him money for rent, food, and art supplies, sometimes sending paint directly. 

Although he had no responsibilities except to his own development as an artist, Vincent didn’t do that well. He tended to not eat or generally take very good care of himself, something he did his entire adulthood. He got romantically involved with a prostitute who had first one child and then another (not Vincent’s) and they moved in with Vincent. Poor Theo was then responsible for two adults and two children, and the woman’s mother was somehow involved in all of this. It just sounded messy to me. During all this, Theo is encouraging Vincent but still saying he’s not skilled enough, so he’s developing, developing, developing. Eventually Vincent and the woman split up, Vincent moved around a bit, and then he finally started having the beginnings of success. He became part of the European art scene after Theo managed to sell some of his pieces. From this point on, Vincent was a real artist, but he also truly struggled with his mental health and he still wasn't pulling in much actual money. He and the artist Gaugin lived together and encouraged and challenged each other, drinking together a lot, as well. 

Although the author never says it, it sounds to me like he had classic bipolar disorder, the variant with full psychosis (bipolar I). And his habits of not eating and not taking care of himself—and also drinking excessively—are some of the worst possible things bipolar sufferers can do. I’m not sure why, but the drinking in particular makes it immensely harder to regulate feelings, which is the downfall of a sufferer. Things can spiral up or down, neither of which is a good thing. And of course this one in the days before Lithium. Untreated bipolar disorder is a nightmare. 

Everyone knows of the incident with Vincent cutting off his own ear. We sometimes trivialize that—it even seems kind of funny. Heiligman doesn’t go into detail about it, either, but think about it—he took a razor and cut through the skin and then all that cartilage. And anyone who’s ever cut their ear accidentally knows how painful just some dinky little cut is. This would have taken Vincent real time. It just makes me ill thinking about it. He also delivered the ear to a prostitute at one of the brothels he frequented, something he later felt really guilty about. He did eventually recover from this incident, but after trying to keep painting and having some more ups and downs, his struggles continued and eventually he shot himself somewhere in his torso from what I gather. He survived initially but was still mortally wounded, but it allowed Theo to reach him and spend time with him before he died. 

I’ve talked mostly about Vincent here, because although the book itself spends as much time on Theo and his own tribulations (he didn’t have an easy time of things, either, although he doesn’t seem to have had any significant mental health challenges), the whole reason for the book is because of how important Vincent became in the art world. And that never would have come to be without Theo’s support. Interestingly, their mother had some of Vincent’s paintings but didn’t keep them safe, and they didn’t survive. Nobody in his family saw his successes except Theo, forever viewing him in terms of his earlier failures. Theo, on the other hand, was 100% committed to sharing Vincent’s work with the world. Sadly, he barely outlived Vincent. Both Vincent and Theo contracted STIs from all their cavorting at the local brothels. Theo’s syphilis killed him, cruelly sending him into madness beforehand. But his wife, Jo, took over being Vincent’s advocate, and it is because of her dedication—a direct result of Theo’s dedication—that so much of Vincent’s work has survived. Theo and Jo’s son, who they named Vincent and who was still a baby when his uncle and father died, didn’t go into art, but he did help found the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Normally I don’t talk as much about an entire book when I review it, but I just found this story fascinating and full of things I didn’t know. But one of the things that makes the book stand out is how personal it feels. Obviously Heiligman doesn’t know with certainty how each of the brothers truly felt, but they sent heartfelt letters back and forth sometimes almost daily, and she worked off of those. Some purists may prefer to just read the translated letters directly, but I liked (and trusted) Heiligman’s interpretation. If you are wanting to understand more about who Vincent and the most important person in his life really were, and what they were like, this is a great book for that. It may technically be YA, but it will appeal to anyone interested in the brothers’ story. 

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy book coverJosie is one of those amazing characters who, like a handful of incredible people I’ve known in real life, wants more out of her life than what she’s been dealt as the daughter of a brothel narcissistic prostitute—and she’s willing to work for it. It’s the 1950s in New Orleans and life is hard for a lot of people. But Josie’s observant and smart (both academically and street-smart), and she has a great deal of self-respect. It’s virtually impossible not to like her and root for her. 

Josie’s mother couldn’t care any less about her, but fortunately there are some people around her who do care about her in their own ways. The woman who runs the brothel knows she’s smart and frequently helps her, and some of the other prostitutes appreciate her and treat her well. But the people that treat her best are Charlie, an older bookshop owner, and Charlie’s son Patrick, who’s only a little older than Josie. She sometimes spend the night in the loft of the shop to be somewhere other than the brothel. 

But Josie’s got a million things going against her. It doesn’t matter to most people who she really is, but only where she comes from. When she and Patrick manage to befriend a rich college girl who doesn’t know Josie’s past, Josie starts dreaming of going to Smith College. But her regular, everyday life is throwing obstacles up right and left, with things falling apart. But Josie is unflinching and resourceful, and although you have no idea how she could possibly make this all work, you have no doubt she’ll figure out a way. 

I read this book in the middle of my 2021 reading slump and still devoured it in three days—even though I’m not a big historical fiction reader. I loved this book, and really, despite the fact that Josie (fictionally) lived seventy years ago, she’s as strong a female character as in any modern YA story. 

Review: Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1) by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn book coverBree Matthews is a girl with a plan that will help her deal with her mother’s recent death. It also is academically sound and will help her in other ways, even though it will also unexpectedly lead to her getting involved in ancient lore she never knew was real. 

Bree and her best friend Alice begin a residential high school for high-achievers at a major university in North Carolina at the very beginning of the book, but things go awry on their first night when they accidentally witness some magic at an outside party they aren’t supposed to be at. By Chapter 3, they’re in a police car and in trouble with their program. Although Alice doesn’t remember it or know what happened, Bree does remember, even though she’s not supposed to, and she also isn’t supposed to know about the existence of a group called Legendborn.

“His mouth spilling words into the night like a cold wind until they swept away my intention to stay and replaced it with his command that I leave.”

Thus begins this urban fantasy full of excellent Arthurian mythology, which made me happy (I’ve always been a big fan of the Arthur legends for some reason and even took an Arthurian literature class in college). Deonn uses a lot of the existing mythology while not being afraid to shake some of it up. For one thing, Bree is Black, so she already doesn’t fit the very white world of the legendary (Celtic) Briton Arthur, who is purported to have lived in the middle of the first millennium and fought the Saxons off. So now, Bree has a lot more going on that trying to do well in her tough classes and deal with the casual racism all around her. She has to learn about the Legendborn and how she’s involved, and also some rather interesting stuff about her mother. Bree also finds out that some pretty bad stuff is going on with the world, and she has a role in fixing it but isn’t entirely sure she wants to.

The mythology in the book is really interesting, complex, and unique, and any fan of Arthurian lore will enjoy it, as will fans of urban fantasy in general.

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd book coverMaddie has several things she’s passionate about, but none of them are the things she’s “supposed” to care about. She’s a cheerleader dating one of the school’s finest catches—the quarterback—and everyone has forgotten a disastrous incident in junior high, where she outed herself as a nerdy and very enthusiastic comic book fan and was laughed off the costume contest stage. The only thing she could think to do was pretend it never happened, and never, ever mention comics in front of anybody ever again.

This is fine except for the fact that she still loves comics, especially one she’s been following for years. After her safe, at-home acquisition of the final issue of her favorite one falls through, she’s desperate enough to head out to the local comic shop—in disguise, of course. But even this doesn’t work, as the shop is sold out of the last issue. Somehow she talks the high school kid—Logan—working the register to loan her his copy of it. She’s hoping he doesn’t recognize her. 

Turns out, Logan knew exactly who she was. And much to Maddie’s surprise, the two become friends, bonding over comics, and she feels the pull of the life—and the pop culture—that she genuinely loves. It distracts her from the friends and pop star she’s supposed to love. She doesn’t really know how to handle it all, afraid her world will come crashing down if she’s not careful. But treating your new friend like a dirty secret doesn’t go well, so she’s got some thinking to do. 

The book celebrates nerd culture and while the resolution didn’t read entirely believable to me (I’m just not convinced cheerleaders and LARPers can actually mix), it was still an entertaining light romance.

Review: Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

Enter Title Here book coverRahul Kanakia’s pathologically competitive and high-achieving teenager Reshma Kapoor may cause less bloodshed than a favorite literary psyche authors love to explore—the serial killer—but she’s a fresher voice and even more deliciously warped. Early on, Reshma ponders her social life, concluding that “Alexandra is probably the closest thing I have to a friend. Which isn’t that close, because she’s not actually my friend at all: she just sells me Adderall sometimes.” This is exactly who Reshma is. She’s laser-focused on maintaining a perfect GPA in order to be valedictorian so she can get into Stanford. She will stop at nothing to make that happen, and if drugs give her the edge she needs, so be it. It is a joy to watch her, waiting for the train wreck. 

On the opening page, we see an email to Reshma from a literary agent impressed with Reshma’s “brassy and articulate” voice in an article she wrote for The Huffington Post. The agent offers to read a novel if Reshma happens to have one. Reshma has never given fiction the time of day, but she seizes this opportunity to stand out from other Stanford applicants and claims she has a nearly-complete novel in progress. This is a tiny little fib, but she thinks two months is plenty of time to write one. Reshma’s literary pursuits don’t change her valedictorian goal, so we are still taken through the world of high school high achievers, which is complex and rife with emotional turmoil and questionable ethics. Although Reshma isn’t the exact stereotype of such a student, she is an extreme that anyone who’s been part of that world can believe. Kanakia makes her shenanigans fun to watch. 

You don’t have to like Reshma or people like her to enjoy this book. In fact, you may find yourself rooting against her, which I feel is fine. It’s still worth picking up. 

Review: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe book coverI lucked into finding this book to fulfill the “genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author” category for the Read Harder challenge (which I am so not going to finish—my reading has slowed so much this year). It definitely fits that bill, as an urban fantasy grounded in Apache and other native cultures. The characters exist in an unusual world where certain aspects of the supernatural are recognized and handled in different ways, but otherwise it is just like modern America, microaggressions and all. 

The somewhat light supernatural element is established early on, as the story opens with a plastic skull with googly eyes in the eye sockets, which scares the crap out of Ellie’s ghost dog, Kirby. We learn pretty quick that she’s the one who raised him from the dead, because she can do that. At the end of the first chapter, we learn that Ellie’s favorite cousin has been in a serious accident and probably won’t survive, and her mom forbids her from raising him if he does die. 

That night, Trevor comes to Ellie in a dream and begs her to avenge his murder, even though everyone will think it was an accident. Soon afterward, Ellie and her dad follow her mom to Texas, where they are helping Trevor’s family. Ellie begins trying to figure out what happened to Trevor and how he could have been murdered. In the process, she uncovers the centuries-old secret of the town of Willowbee and its rather “special” inhabitants. She enlists the assistance of an old friend of hers, Jay, who helps from afar and then in person, and also brings along several other useful people (including a vampire). 

I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the world-building is great, as it gives you just enough info to know what’s going on without overwhelming you with details. And Ellie’s raise-the-dead gift isn’t as simple as you might think, leading to several interesting situations. The native aspects of the tale are woven in tightly and couldn’t be removed without totally changing the story. There is some mythology (I guess that’s what you call it) and old family lore (Ellie feels a big connection to her quietly heroic sixth great grandmother, whose name she bears), but there’s also some of the day-to-day crap that indigenous and other people of color have to deal with from a lot of white people, who are still the majority of the cast in this book. There’s enough of this last stuff to make it realistic, but not so much that it distracts from the fact that this is a book meant to entertain. So I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for an urban fantasy that’s fresh and interesting. 

Review: Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

Indestructible Object book coverThis is my third McCoy book, and one thing I think is cool is that they’ve all been fairly different from each other. Though this one and I, Claudia do share some similarities, in that both protagonists are recording their experiences (I, Claudia in an epistolary fashion, and Indestructible Object as within-the-story podcasts). 

This book opens with Lee and her boyfriend, Vincent, breaking up on the last episode of their own podcast (“Artists in Love”) not long after graduating high school. The conversation in the podcast is interspersed with Lee’s narration and reflection. They live in Memphis and Vincent is moving to Washington D.C. for an internship and then to start college at Howard, and Lee isn’t going with him. It’s a bit of a system shock to Lee, who’d been thinking things were going to continue as they had been for two years, only to discover that everything is changing. 

She tries to carry on with other aspects of her life, especially her job as a sound technician for music and poetry readings at a coffee shop, until that falls apart, as well. And all the while she is also watching her parents’ marriage dissolve. Her parents have an eclectic set of friends dating back to their college days, and two of them and their sort-of-adopted son, Max, who Lee has grown up with, come for a visit. 

Lee explores her own love life while ostensibly hoping to get back together with Vincent and soon she, Max, and a new friend embark on a project: a podcast again exploring love but focusing on her parents’ relationship this time. Because Lee has stumbled across a few things that have shaken her understanding of her parents and their history. 

Lee is a great but quite flawed character. She doesn’t know what she wants and is having trouble identifying that, though not for lack of trying. But it turns out that investigating other people’s relationships is not a bad way to shed light on your own—and your feelings about love. The book takes Lee on a satisfying journey of understanding what exactly she wants and why that matters. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this book.

Review: Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

I enjoyed one of Perkins’ earlier books, which I reviewed here. Forward Me Back to You is another winner. 

The book is about “Robin,” a teen boy born in India and raised—and renamed—by basically decent but clueless white parents. The parents have a lot of money and Robin is set to inherit it, but he’s not very interested in that. He’s also very Christian and involved in a weekly youth group whose members he’s close to. But Robin really doesn’t know who he is. And he doesn’t really know that he doesn’t know. He’s very meek and lets other people define him and make decisions for him. It bothers him, but he doesn’t know how to do anything about. 

Kat is a teen girl with a black father who’s been raised by her white mother. She’s also a very accomplished martial artist. But after an assault at school, she’s plagued by nightmares, self-doubt, and the fact that of course the piece of shit got away with it. Her mother decides to send her across the country to a close family friend’s friend, who she ends up calling Grandma Vee. Grandma Vee sends Kat to the youth group because she thinks Robin and Kat have a lot in common.

The initial meeting doesn’t go great, as Kat is prickly. But eventually Kat, Robin, and another member of the youth group, Gracie, decide to go with the youth pastor on a service trip to Kolkata, India, which happens to be where Robin was born before being abandoned at a hotel and landing in an orphanage. They will be helping with an organization that rescues trafficked girls. The trip is eye-opening for everyone, even though we only get Robin’s and Kat’s perspectives. But before they even leave, Robin reclaims his true name—Ravi—before going and abandons a long-time “friend” who constantly belittled him. So we can see Ravi begin to change even before they get to Kolkata. He spends some of his time trying to learn about his past and the results aren’t what he hoped for, and his friends have to help with the fallout. Kat went to Kolkata with a mission to empower the girls she was going to be helping, and her own efforts don’t go as planned, either. Gracie helps her deal with the consequences, and Kat eventually comes to understand things on a deeper level than she ever would have expected. 

There is a lot going on in the novel, and it’s longer than most contemporaries, coming in at around 400 pages. But the story warrants the length, and it’s wonderful to see these characters come to terms with the harsh world and learn to deal with it in healthy ways. I really enjoyed this book, especially with its diverse cast of kids (Gracie is Mexican-American, as well) dealing with so many complicated things. Highly recommended for fans of Perkins and readers of contemporary in general. 

Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie book coverI’ve been in the worst reading slump lately. From early March until a couple weeks ago, I read only one novel, and it was really hard to get through (not the novel’s fault—it was all me). But I’ve been wanting to break out, so I picked up Caletti’s newest. I started it on Friday and was so sucked in that I finished it the next day. It may have broken the slump (I’m hoping), as I’ve read another book since then, too.

So what made One Great Lie a reading-slump-breaker? Well, obviously it was good, which isn’t surprising given Caletti’s strong track record. This one starts in Seattle, too, with a girl, Charlotte, who has ancestral ties to a Renaissance poet named Isabella di Angelo. Her family had held on to a published book by the poet for centuries. Charlotte herself is a passionate writer and is a little fixated on understanding Isabella, whose association with a much more famous male poet overshadowed her own work. Charlotte’s trying to write a paper about Isabella for a class, but can’t find any information about her. 

This quest is important, but the story really gets started when Charlotte somewhat impulsively applies for a summer multi-week writing workshop in Venice with a very well-known author everyone, including Charlotte, admires. To her shock, she gets in and even earns a scholarship, the only way she could go. 

But things do not go quite as she expected. As one of the youngest there, she still befriends several of the other participants and they all learn that the author is … let’s say he’s complicated and very flawed. But she has an equally important other task while she’s in Venice: she is set on finding out more about Isabella, who was from the city. As the story unfolds, there’s a clear parallel between the horrible historical treatment of women and the gender-based challenges that Charlotte and other girls and women face nowadays. 

Caletti tackles another feminist issue in this book without sacrificing story in any way. I loved watching the tale of Isabella unfolding, and Charlotte’s friendships with local Dante and the other workshop participants are great to see. She had no idea she’d have to step up and do something really difficult and face unfair consequences, but she rises to the challenge and I enjoyed seeing how that happened. 

I loved this book, as I’ve implied, and highly recommend it if you like quality contemporary YA that addresses social issues. 

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

The Weight of Stars book coverThe premise of this quiet book is really interesting. A couple of decades earlier, a private space company send a bunch of young women on a one-way trip out of the solar system. While I do not in any way see the appeal of this, it is an interesting concept and I’m sure there are people who would sign up.

Alexandria, the daughter of one of them—born right before they left and given to her surprised father—appears at Ryann’s school one day. Ryann is sort of a tough girl, and sort of a peacemaker. Early on, she’s tasked with befriending Alexandria. She doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot, but after Alexandria gets injured in an accident sort of indirectly caused by Ryann and her friends, Ryann figures out a way to make it up to her, and they eventually work out their differences. Their friendship develops in some complex ways.

There are some really interesting diverse representations in the book: lesbians, Black and Sikh characters, and polyamorous parents. And Ryann’s younger brother has a son. So there’s a good range of characters in here, as everyone in Ryann’s friend group is different from each other. The only thing I should mention is that I did have trouble with some of the characterization. There were several times in the books where the characters would do things that I didn’t expect and that didn’t quite seem to make sense, based on what I knew of them. So there were decisions made that seemed jarring to me. 

However, a lot of people really love this book, so I think the characterization must not have bumped for everyone. So if you’re looking for a quiet book with a variety of different characters and a unique space theme, check this one out.  

Review: Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Dear Rachel Maddow book coverThis is a book I picked up for one of my reading challenges, but I was looking forward to it even though I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels. But I like Rachel Maddow and she always reminds me of an old friend, so I figured it would be a good read. 

Brynn has become an under-achieving student since her older brother died and left her alone with her weak-willed mother and horrible stepfather. On top of that, she was dumped by her girlfriend over the summer. She’s in remedial classes despite being smart and eloquent because she can’t muster the will to do anything better. The one thing she loved was being on the school paper, but she was kicked off when her GPA slipped too low. She wants back on the paper, but not quite enough to do anything about it. When something happens at school that finally gets her riled up enough to do something, she surprises everyone—but she surprises herself the most. 

There are a lot of great characters in the book, some good, some bad. Brynn’s ex-girlfriend Sarah is stuck-up, her tutor Lacey is a great friend (and in a wheelchair), Justin from the paper wants her to figure out how to come back, Michaela the hot new girl has a secret past, and Adam is the school’s resident nasty and entitled future politician. Her mom and stepfather are easy to dislike and her new older friends are easy to like, even if they don’t feature in the story too much. 

You might wonder where Rachel Maddow fits in. Brynn watches the show every night since getting started with Sarah, and she admires Rachel. Brynn writes to Rachel for an English assignment and when she gets a response, her teacher encourages her to write back. Instead she starts writing Rachel long emails, saving them all in her drafts folder rather than sending them. Some of them also get turned in as assignments, and her teacher’s comments are hilarious. The book is entirely told through Brynn’s emails, with a few emails from other people thrown in to liven up the mix. 

I mentioned that I don’t generally love epistolary novels, but I feel like this one worked. It was basically just a first person novel with a slight frame around it. Brynn’s emails are clear and full of details that tell the real story from her perspective. And although I was never super-into student government (too cynical), it’s interesting to see Brynn navigate that world. Brynn’s voice is great—funny and snarky, but not too much. 

Overall, I think a lot of people will like this one. It’s got a heroine that seems to be stuck getting herself unstuck, and a sweet romance. 

Review: Hanging Around for You by Stacia Leigh

Hanging Around for You book coverHanging Around for You is a YA romance set in Leigh’s biker world in the mountains of (I think) Oregon. The first two books were clearly tied together, but this third one’s connection is much looser, though it’s there. Pinecone, the heroine, made an appearance in Leigh’s second book (Burnout, previously reviewed here). 

Fifteen-year-old Pinecone has a terrible, narcissistic mom named Twyla who abandons her in the first chapter, leaving Pinecone with Twyla’s biker boyfriend, Ham. Both of them are upset by the abandonment, but what’s worse is what Twyla does after stealing Ham’s truck, which brings the police sniffing around, making both of them very nervous. Still, they make do, with Pinecone going to school while working at the Powerhouse Inn, which Ham owns, and avoiding her best friend, Dawn, because of the awkward situation of her missing, criminal mom. One day, Smiley walks into the inn’s lobby, and Pinecone is struck by his looks, but very much turned off by his interest in joining Ham’s biker club, the Pulver Skulls. 

But Smiley’s on a mission. He’s not just a hang around; he’s looking for info. But it’s important that no one figures that out. Still, he thinks Pinecone might be a way into some crucial intel. Soon, he finds that he genuinely likes her, despite the fact that Ham doesn’t want him around.

At a pivotal Halloween party, Dawn finds out that Pinecone lied about where her mom was and she and Smiley make out. The fallout is dramatic: Dawn pulls completely away from her and Smiley friend-zones her at school soon after. It takes a while for those things to turn around, but fortunately they do. Just in time for quite the confrontation in Ham’s basement. 

This romance may deal with the biker world, but it’s not gritty like you might expect, even though Smiley is really dealing in danger. Pinecone and Smiley make a great couple you’re rooting for, even though Smiley’s shady dealings are a little problematic. I suspect we’ll need a sequel to find out where things really truly land. But this book still makes for a nice story that fans of light YA romance will enjoy.