My Favorite Reads of 2018

I considered waiting until next week to post the list of my favorite reads of 2018, but my kids will be home, so I really don’t think I’ll get much more reading done. I’m only at 79 books completed, down from 100 last year, but I read quite a few adult books this year (still trying to weed out some books from my shelves downstairs to make room). Interestingly, I did reread a few old favorites I decided not to keep, but most of the adult books I reread this year were ones that ended up staying on my shelves.

Without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. (It seems the most fair way to do it 😀). Most of these actually were published in 2018, but a couple are books I just got around to this year.

Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterNOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter – This book had me from the moment Ally Carter posted the deal announcement on Twitter with the blurb that it was a gender-swapped YA Romancing the Stone set in Alaska. I mean, how could that not be amazing? But then Ally Carter came to St. Louis, and I got to hear her talk about the book and started reading it while I waited in line for her to sign it, and I’m pretty sure I finished the rest of it within a day because it was so high-stakes I couldn’t put it down. Plus, the banter between the Maddie and Logan was so perfect. Basically, the more I’m writing about this book and remembering it, I’m pretty sure it was my favorite read of the year. Funny how that happens.

My Plain JaneMY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – Despite the fact I’ve never read JANE EYRE (ducks away from Charlotte Brontë scholars and fellow English majors), I anxiously awaited this book because MY LADY JANE was my absolute favorite read of 2016. MY PLAIN JANE lived up to the previous collaboration by The Lady Janies, with a crazy mix of ghosts, pop culture references, author asides, and extra romance thrown into the classic JANE EYRE. I can’t wait to see what they do for MY CALAMITY JANE, and I hope their collaboration won’t end there!

Royals by Rachel HawkinsROYALS by Rachel Hawkins – I love to laugh, and this book had me laughing out loud throughout, plus I had a huge smile on my face at the end. Daisy’s voice was so spot-on, and that led to amazing banter with all of the characters, but I also just wanted all of them to keep talking. It was that sort of witty dialogue throughout. While this was a huge part of what made the book funny, the humor was also situational, so bonus points for putting the characters into crazy hijinks. And then there was the romance–just perfect!

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanCRAZY RICH ASIANS trilogy by Kevin Kwan – So I’m totally breaking my tradition here by including an adult series, but I have good reason. It’s been years since I’ve read anything new by an adult author. I read new middle grade and young adult authors all the time to stay abreast of the market, but the only new books I read by adult authors are by my old favorites, and I’ve even stopped reading some of them. But when I saw the preview for the movie version of this book, I thought it looked great, and as everyone knows, the book is always better than the movie. That definitely holds true in this case, although I loved the movie too. I had to keep reading through the rest of the series to see what happened to all of the characters, and I found it highly entertaining. It sort of reminded me of reading historical romance set in regency England, with all of the class differences, but a very different setting and a lot of emphasis on food. I am maybe the least adventurous eater on the planet, but I do love to read about it :). Also, if you have only seen the movie, I recommend you do read the books.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughBLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough – I read this book in a single day and then was so compelled by the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a girl who lived in seventeenth century Rome, I had to go look up more about her life. The verse, the art, the structure, the important message–it all merges together to make this book a must-read. Obviously many others agree, as it is winning and being nominated for awards left and right!


Story Thieves: Worlds Apart by James RileySTORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley – Do I have a book by James Riley on my list every year? Pretty much and for good reason. Every single one of them is amazingly creative, hilarious, and leaves me wanting more. Sadly, WORLDS APART was the finale of the STORY THIEVES series, but James Riley has a new series coming out. I’m sure it will be equally fantastic. If you haven’t read the STORY THIEVES series, WHY NOT??


Fearless by Kristin SmithFEARLESS by Kristin Smith – This third installment in Kristin Smith’s Deception Game series is a fast-paced read that kept me anxious to find out how Sierra, Trey, and Zane would survive–and who they would end up with. If you haven’t read this series, start at the beginning with CATALYST and move on to FORGOTTEN before you pick up FEARLESS. Kristin writes jaw-dropping twists, swoon-worthy love interests, and page-turning action.

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillHERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill – It’s tricky to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Cristin Terrill does it masterfully. In fact, the main character in this book flat out says he’s a liar, and I still wanted to believe he was telling me the truth. The mystery, the twists, the family dynamics, and the ending–this book kept me clicking through pages non-stop, thinking I knew how things would go but not entirely sure and not entirely right either. I’m pretty good at figuring things out, so I love it when an author can fool me.

Nothing But Sky by Amy TruebloodNOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood – I love it when a fantastic story merges with learning something I never knew. That’s what happened for me with this wonderful historical. I can’t even imagine these young women who dared to walk along the wings of planes to entertain crowds in the 1920s with death-defying stunts. Amy Trueblood tells the story of Grace Lafferty gorgeously, with interesting historical tidbits sprinkled into her quest to reach the World Aviation Expo. Plus there’s romance. It’s one you don’t want to miss!

Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerEARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer – I loved this story of friendship and family set in futuristic Earth. More than anything, Jameson longs for a best friend, and when Astra moves in, he has that opportunity. I also love how well this book captures the feeling of maybe that’s so vital for middle grade readers. There’s an ever-present hope within the book, even when Jameson and Astra are facing some very tough truths. So well done.

So those are my ten favorite reads this year–so far :). Of the 79 books I’ve read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 38

Middle grade: 18

New adult: 1

Adult: 19

Non-fiction: 3

I can’t believe I read more adult books than middle grade! But unsurprisingly, the bulk of my reading remains young adult.

What were your favorite reads in 2018? Do we share any of the same? I’d love to discuss them with you!

Movie Musings, Writing


Writers are always talking about play lists for their manuscripts, but with one exception, that’s never been my thing. (That exception would be my violin story, which totally has a play list, but it’s mainly classical music :)). I just find music too distracting while I’m writing. However, I’m a major movie buff, and so I often find inspiration from movies. As I was thinking about my current manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, it occurred to me there are quite a lot of movie references included in it. So I thought it would be fun to put together a watch list.

1. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

I mean, it’s just the obvious one. I use it as a comp title for the manuscript, but if you read my Pitch Wars interview, you’ll know my inspiration actually came from the setting featured in the middle of the book rather than this movie. Still, I enjoyed re-watching it as I was drafting. Yes, it’s a campy movie, and you have to suspend belief, but that’s the vibe I’m going for :).

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

2. Star Trek

Really you can choose any Star Trek since my main character’s best friend is an all-out Trekkie and has brought her along for the ride. I think every one of my previous manuscripts has included a Star Wars reference, but I also grew up watching all of the Star Treks, and we own all of the new versions (love how they rebooted them!). I thought it was time I gave another corner of the sci-fi world some love!

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer

Confession: I’ve only seen this movie once, and it was when it first came out, but I remember the gist of it. Anyway, there’s a text that goes around in my manuscript that was inspired by the girls watching that movie. See, the main character’s best friend’s mom has all of these old movies from the eighties and nineties sitting around, so they’ve watched them all :).

4. Annie

Random, right? But my main character feels a close affinity for Annie once she meets the babysitter, who shares many evil personality traits with Miss Hannigan.

5. Adventures in Babysitting

There’s such a quick reference to it anyone who hasn’t seen it will miss it, but there actually was a reboot on the Disney channel (with Sofia Carson of Descendants fame), so maybe younger readers will still get it :). Basically the main character’s friends are teasing her about her parents hiring a babysitter and bringing up every babysitter reference they can think of, from the Baby-Sitters Club book series to movies.

6. Looney Tunes (Okay, it’s not a movie, but still …)

In particular, I describe the babysitter’s smile as a Sylvester-eating-Tweety smile. Don’t worry. He always escapes :).

7. The Bourne Identity

My MC feels like a spy when she goes to buy a burner phone while they’re hiding out–not that she racks up a body count like Bourne (OR DOES SHE??). Just kidding.

8. The Princess Bride

There’s a point where the MC and her brother yell out “Inconceivable!” together, but it’s actually in regard to a plot point even more pertinent to a storyline in “The Princess Bride.” I’m not going to say what it is because it would give away a twist :). Also, when giving examples of perfect couples similar to her parents, my MC lists Westley and Buttercup.


9. Star Wars

Did I say I was letting Star Trek have this manuscript? Well, despite the work of the reboot, which has added multiple romance storylines, it doesn’t have anything epic yet. So the other epic romance my MC brings up is Han and Leia. But hey, if there are any Trekkies out there who disagree and want to give me a Star Trek pairing people will recognize, I’m game!

I feel like I should have some specific horror movie in here with a cabin in the woods, but while my MC’s brother makes several references to feeling like he’s in a horror movie, he doesn’t say anything about a particular one.

So that’s my watch list for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. Do you have a watch list for your manuscript?

As I was scanning through my manuscript, I realized I also have a lot of food in there. Maybe I should make a menu next! Although it would heavily feature Girl Scout cookies :).


Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: JUST LIKE THE MOVIES by Kelly Fiore

I read Kelly Fiore’s first book, TASTE TEST, and really enjoyed it, but when I saw the description for her second book, it was like she’d decided to write a book just for me :). I mean, have you read the part of my bio where it says I watch too much TV? I should probably clarify that a lot of that TV is actually re-watching my large collection of movies, which consists mainly of romantic comedies. Anyway, here’s the description for the book.

Just Like the Movies by Kelly FiorePretty and popular track star Marijke Monti is confident about almost everything – she’s got good friends, a great family, and she’s on her way to the State Track Championship. In fact, the only thing Marijke isn’t confident about is her relationship with hometown hottie Tommy Lawson. Lily Spencer has spent her entire high school career preparing for the future, but she’s about to graduate and still hasn’t even had a boyfriend. The only thing she has had is a long standing crush on motocross team captain Joe Lombardi, who she is sure doesn’t know she exists.

When both Marijke and Lily end up alone at a late night showing of Titanic at the local revival theater, the girls find themselves admitting their troubles to another person for the first time. “Why can’t things be like the movies?” Marijke complains to Lily. “Why can’t you just hold up a boom box or set up a flash mob to get the guy of your dreams?” Which gives Lily an idea – why can’t life be like a movie? Why can’t they set up their perfect romantic situations, just in time for their senior prom, using inspiration from their favorite flicks?

Marijke and Lily brainstorm movie-inspired ways to attract, attain, and enrapture the boys of their dreams, then they commit themselves to being secret cohorts. But, unlike the movies, life isn’t perfect – sometimes it takes more than a script and a spotlight to find your happily ever after.

And here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The premise – You probably already gleaned that from my intro, but it bears repeating. I mean, why hadn’t someone already written this book?

2. The movie scenes – Sure, this goes with the premise, but a novel is more than the premise–it’s also the execution. I loved seeing which movies the girls used to try and win their boys. And yep, I’d seen every one :). I bet there will be a number of girls downloading/renting/whatever some of the movies mentioned in this book to see just how romantic these scenes are.

3. The prom proposals – Is this a thing? Do boys don armor or rent semis to ask girls to prom? If so, I really missed out in high school! In any case, it made for some very fun elements in the story, although I would have liked to read Lily’s exposé rating the prom proposals …

4. Marijke’s growth – Both characters have something to learn in this story, but to me, it seemed that Marijke had the farthest to go, and I was glad to see her take the journey. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t go into it here, but it’s an important one.

5. The friendship – At first glance this story is about love, but the friendship between Lily and Marijke was the true heart of the story. It might sound odd that two high school senior girls don’t already have a best friend, but the reasons each of them needed a friend rang true. I enjoyed the way their friendship developed.

Have you read JUST LIKE THE MOVIES yet? If you were going to recreate a romantic scene from a movie, what scene would you choose?

Character, Movie Musings, Reading

Thoughts on Movie Adaptations and THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS in Particular

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” movie, I read CITY OF BONES. I loved it and couldn’t wait to get CITY OF ASHES. I’m still waiting on CITY OF GLASS, but the fact that I’ve only read the first two is an important point in this post.

Anyway, because I loved the books, I went into the movie expecting to like it. And I did, even though it was quite different from the book. But I’m ok with that. Movies are a different medium. You’re experiencing the story in an entirely different way–watching the characters go through the plot rather than going through it inside their heads. So here are a few things I think affected the way this particular movie was adapted, with some general thoughts on adaptations as well.


If I hadn’t already read the second book in this series, I would have thought the writers had taken a lot more leeway with the story than they actually did. In order to explain the world, the writers revealed a number of plot points in the “City of Bones” movie that don’t happen until at least CITY OF ASHES. Even without having read CITY OF GLASS, it was clear to me from where things were going at the end of CITY OF ASHES that some of the things revealed from the very beginning of this movie are actually things you find out in CITY OF GLASS.The Mortal Instruments Sorry if that sounds vague, but I’m trying not to include any spoilers.

In any case, I can understand why they did it this way. When you’re reading the story, you want that tension to get to the end, but in a movie where the viewer hasn’t been gently grounded in the world, it could just end up a confusing mess. Did the writers have to do it the exact way they did in the movie? I don’t know. They might have been able to come up with a way to avoid spoiling a couple of those plot points, but maybe not. It will be interesting to see how they handle those things if they move forward with adaptations of the later books.


As an avid reader, I’m willing to sit through a four and a half hour miniseries (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) or a two-part movie (BREAKING DAWN, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS) for a book I really love. But for a book I probably wouldn’t read? Like THE HOBBIT? (Sorry, just not my taste). Nope. I’ll go for the only slightly long version, like “The Lord of the Rings” non-extended version, but I’m not going to sit through something I anticipate being too convoluted for a movie. Even if it’s not true, I expect it to be slow-paced and possibly boring. So, that’s the dilemma film-makers have when they decide to adapt a book. There’s no way they can include the whole story, so they cut scenes and plot points and condense it down to what they anticipate viewers will connect with best. I understand that, and I don’t mind that they had to cut quite a few non-action scenes to make this movie work.


There’s a lot of scrutiny on YA books made into movies, particularly because TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER and HUNGER GAMES were so successful. Not every book adaptation is going to bring in those numbers, but the comparisons will still be made. I could definitely see the effect budget had on this adaptation. Cassandra Clare created numerous creatures you’ve never heard of before. While there were some great special effects in this movie, there definitely was room for more with the demons. They chose to simplify in that area, and since the box office numbers didn’t reach the TWILIGHT levels (which, let’s face it, would have been unrealistic to expect), I think it was a wise decision. Who knows? If the numbers improve, they might do more with book two.


How the characters will translate to the big screen is probably what I’m most anxious about when I go see a movie adapted from a book. If I love a book, it’s because I care about the characters, and I want to love them on the screen, too. For the most part, it’s about the way they act rather than appearance. Sure, I want them to look the way I pictured them, but the only way the actor’s appearance is going to really bother me is if some physical characteristic that’s intrinsic is off–for example, the MC is touchy about being short but the actress is 6 feet tall. That’s a lame example, but hopefully you get the idea. The thing is,  that character doesn’t exist in real life, so there’s never going to be an actor who fits exactly. In “The Mortal Instruments,” I was fine with all of the main characters. The only one who stood out as being very different from what I expected was the antagonist, Valentine, who didn’t look or act the way he’s portrayed in the books. But even here, I can understand why they went for the more flashy/unhinged bad guy. It certainly plays better in a movie.

I’m sure there are other things I could point out, but these are the points that stuck out to me most. What are your favorite movie adaptations? Or least favorite? What did you think of this one?

Movie Musings, Writing

Story Lessons from Pirates of the Caribbean

My husband and I decided to do a “Pirates of the Caribbean” marathon this week, which is appropriate since we just returned from the Caribbean. As you can see, our ship was a little bigger than the Black Pearl. This view is from an outlook on St. Thomas.

As we were watching the movies, I had several thoughts about things that worked really well and could be applied to writing. For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the first three movies, as the last one stands alone in many ways.

It’s all in the execution. Most people out there agree that Johnny Depp stole the show as Captain Jack Sparrow. He took the character and turned him into an icon. He’s so identified with Pirates of the Caribbean that they added his face to the Disney World ride that inspired the movies. Would another actor have had the same impact? Certainly not in the same way. It’s something important to remember as writers. It’s more than the idea–it’s how we execute it. No one else can write the same story we can, just as no one else would have been the same Jack Sparrow.

It’s all in the details. While the focus is of course on the main characters, there are all these little details that recur in the movies. The dog with the key–who comes from the ride–is in the first three movies (the jail, the island with the cannibals, and the Brethren Court). Jack’s hat and compass also get time in the spotlight. Then there’s the sword that Will made. It almost becomes a character, starting with Will presenting it to Gov. Swan. In each movie, we’re reminded about the sword, until Davy Jones uses it to fatally impale Will. Details are important. If you plant something in your story, make sure it has a purpose. And if it’s something vital, remind the reader about it so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when its big moment comes. If the sword hadn’t been highlighted in each movie, its significance would have been lost in the climax.

It’s all in the characters. From the moment we see Elizabeth protect Will as a child, we care about the characters. We expect to see that bond grow, and we hate all the circumstances that keep them apart, even in the end. Then there’s Jack. What a fascinating character study. Is he good or bad? He’s never totally bad–he doesn’t kill like the other pirates, but he’s never totally good either–his schemes always have his ultimate interests in mind. But then, in the third movie, he does something selfless. He’s the kind of guy you’re interested in watching but wouldn’t necessarily want as a friend because he’d probably double-cross you. He was intriguing enough he got his own movie once the first story ended, so that says it all.

It’s all in the strategy. If you’re interested in writing a series, you can learn a lot from these movies. The first movie stands alone. It wraps everything up nicely. If they’d never made another movie, you wouldn’t feel cheated. That’s exactly how you should approach a series as an unpublished writer. Even if you see possibilities for a series, the first book has to be a complete story. Publishers are less likely to take a chance on a new author if they have to buy in to multiple books as part of the initial deal. Once your audience is hooked, you can use those cliffhanger endings. The second and third Pirates movies are so wrapped up in each other you want to watch the third one right away. I’d classify the fourth movie as a spin-off. The initial story was complete, but fans still wanted more. It worked because viewers loved the world so much.

Will there be more movies? I did a quick search online, and it’s a possibility. The lesson for us, then, is to create characters that readers don’t want to let go.

Anyone else have other thoughts on these movies or others that have taught you a lesson?

Movie Musings

My Thoughts on SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Spoilers!)

Yesterday was my ninth wedding anniversary, so my husband and I took the day off. We made it a movie day, with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN in the morning and MEN IN BLACK 3 in the afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed MIB 3. From the moment the credits came up with the same funky font used in the first movie, it was exactly what we expected. It lived up to MIB (let’s not go into MIB 2), and we’ll definitely add it to our collection.

I’m not so sure about SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. If you haven’t seen the movie and intend to do so, stop reading now because this post has spoilers.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN had something entirely different to live up to than a previous movie–a fairy tale that was immortalized first by the Brothers Grimm and then Disney. I’m not intimately familiar with either version, but I know them both enough to expect her to get her prince in the end.

But let me back up. I liked many things about the movie–the cinematography, the action, Charlize Theron’s chilling performance. I even like Kristen Stewart. But I expected there to be a love story, and I didn’t buy the one the movie seemed to be selling.

I say “seemed” because it was never resolved. At the beginning, the movie clearly sets up William as Snow White’s prince. They’re best friends with a truly deep connection. When Ravenna’s army attacks, William’s father has to tear him away from her. Later, when William’s father finds out Snow White is still alive, his simple question about where his son is makes it clear that William continues to carry a torch for her, even believing her dead. The movie cuts to a scene of his heroics and I thought, yes, this is her prince. Who cares that the huntsman is in the title? Snow White and William are meant to be together.

Then there’s the huntsman. He’s a drunk widower sent to retrieve her for the queen. When he discovers the queen can’t deliver on her promise to bring his wife back from the dead, he decides to help Snow White instead. When that happened, I leaned over to my husband and said, “I hope they’re not going to put those two together.” He replied, “No, he’s too hung up on his dead wife.” I wish they’d left it at that.

The huntsman (I don’t even remember his name) leaves Snow White with some women, but when Finn, Ravenna’s brother, attacks–with William pretending to be one of them–he finds her just after she has a moment staring at William across the fire. They meet the dwarfs, and after a night of revelry, Finn’s men find them again. This time, William reveals himself, killing off the other men while the huntsman takes on Finn. I expected there to be a bigger reunion with William–at least a hug–but the focus turns to the dwarf who jumped in front of Snow White to save her.

The group travels on together, with Snow White shown between the two men. Then there’s a scene in the snow with just Snow White and William, and I thought, finally we get the reunion scene. They talk about old times, and then there’s a kiss. But. It turns out it’s really the queen in disguise, and she gives Snow White the poisoned apple. When William kisses her, nothing happens. That’s when I knew this story was going somewhere I didn’t want it to go.

They take Snow White back to William’s father’s castle and lay her out as though dead. The huntsman comes in, says her spirit reminds him of his wife, and kisses her. He walks away and doesn’t see her wake up. Cut to William arguing with his father about carrying on Snow White’s legacy. Even here, I still love this guy. When Snow White strides into the crowd with renewed purpose, she goes straight to William and takes his hand. She doesn’t even look for the huntsman, and it’s never clear if she knows he’s the one who woke her up.

They go into battle with William and the huntsman on either side of Snow White. She defeats Ravenna, and the final scene is her being crowned queen. William and his father stand off to the side, along with the water women, and you even see one of the girls whose youth Ravenna drained back to her normal self (I’ll come back to that). Snow White stares at the doors in the back, and I kept wondering what she was waiting for. Then the huntsman steps out and smiles at her from the back of the room. That’s it. The movie’s over.

What?? I really wanted something more here. I think what the filmmakers were going for was more of an empowerment story. Snow White doesn’t need a prince. Ok, but if that’s the case, why did they go to so much trouble to set up two potential men for her? And if the look at the end is supposed to imply that she loves the huntsman, I don’t buy it. That kiss she gave William was real. There was no attitude toward the huntsman that made me think she loved him, more that she came to appreciate him or value him as a friend.

Then there’s the girl going back to normal. If that was the case, where were all the other girls Ravenna drained over the years, including the huntsman’s wife? The interchange between the huntsman and Finn made it clear that’s what happened to her, and based on this other girl, the process didn’t actually kill her. So what really happened to the huntsman’s wife?

After discussing our frustration with the ending, my husband and I decided that maybe the huntsman’s wife was standing behind him in the back and they just didn’t show her. It’s not like Snow White could end up with him anyway. And I wouldn’t want her to. I still think William’s her prince. Oh well, I saw somewhere that they’re thinking about a sequel, so maybe I’ll still get the resolution I want.

I think that’s what it comes down to. I felt cheated out of a solid ending. The story left me hanging, and if I don’t know another one’s coming, that frustrates me. It’s something to remember as I’m writing. Don’t leave readers hanging. It will only leave them unsatisfied and maybe a little angry.

Anyone else have thoughts on this movie? What other movies have left you feeling cheated at the end?