Under the Lights Pub Day!!

I am incredibly blessed.

I am blessed to have had great CPs and betas and editors and designers for this book.

I am blessed to have the words of my friend Leah Raeder on this book.

I am blessed to have had the Fantastic Flying Book Club reach out to me to offer to organize me a blog tour.

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I am blessed to have had wonderful blog hosts, reviewers, interviewers, and artists make this past week – month, even – a truly beautiful and incredible one.

I am blessed to have amazing readers and fans and friends who’ve supported and advocated for this book in every channel possible.

I am blessed to have gone to Barnes & Noble and looked at the shelves and seen the first romantic, kissy f/f YA I ever have, and see my name on it besides.

I am blessed to have experienced this pride month, this SCOTUS ruling, this enormous outpouring of love and rainbows, and to release my super queer book on its final day.

I am blessed that you’re still reading this post when I’ve gotten sappy as hell. So I’m gonna stop with that, and move on to the logistical stuff.

Under the Lights is officially out today, and if you want to buy it, A) that would be awesome, and B) you can do so here: Amazon | B & N | The Book Depository. For a signed book, you can order at Oblong Books, one of the two places I’ll be doing panels with some other fabulous authors of LGBTQ YA.

LGBTQ Tour Graphic

Or, if you’d rather try your hand at winning a copy, you can either hit up one of the official blog tour spots to enter to win an annotated ARC (int’l), or check out this macaron-licious review+giveaway being hosted by the lovely Gillian Berry for a chance to win a signed copy (US only).

One last place to buy it: come see me and six other romance authors read scenes from our books at a special RWA edition of Lady Jane’s Salon on July 21st at 7 p.m.! I may or may not be reading a certain kiss aloud ;)

In addition to the blog tour, which has some amazing amazing interviews, dreamcasts, and playlists, here’s where you can find some scattered stuff on both Under the Lights and other books of mine from the last couple of months!

  • My dear friend and awesome author of Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Becky Albertalli interviewed me for the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog
  • This gorgeous fan art by Sil creates four Vogue covers – one each featuring Josh, Van, Ally, and Liam – and please excuse me while I wallpaper my entire office in it
  • She’s a Girl and So Am I – an amazing playlist by Sue at YA Hollywood inspired by Under the Lights
  • The ABCs with Vanessa Park from Under the Lights – I contributed to Andi’s super fun series and an ideal accessory, book, and clothing for Van
  • Summer of Series: Dahlia Adler Interview and Giveaway – talking about Behind the Scenes and Under the Lights with Lili of Lili’s Reflections, and giving away a copy of Behind the Scenes with its new cover!
  • Sophomore Spotlight on…Dahlia Adler – A great series highlighting authors of 2014 debuts with 2015 releases (including my accountabilibuddy, Lindsay Smith!), in which I got to talk about all three of my YAs with Kaitlin of Reading is My Treasure
  • Diversity in Books: What it Means and How Bloggers Can Contribute – an interview by the lovely Viv of Beaute de Livres
  • Mabuhay! – Wonderful bloggers Alexa and Rachel invited me to talk about writing Filipina-American character Lizzie in Last Will and Testament to help celebrate Philippine Independence Day
  • Her Story: Ladies in Literature with Dahlia Adler – I absolutely love this monthlong series created and hosted by Jen of Pop Goes the Reader, which featured some of my absolute favorite author friends. We each talked about a lady in literature who inspired and/or affected us, so go check it out and see who I picked!
  • Book and a Beverage Author Edition: Dahlia Adler – this is me taking part in The Book Addicts’ Guide’s supercute series, discussing my books, my writing, and of course, my beverages!
  • Making Choices in LGBTQ YA – A post I wrote for Gay YA about the choices we make regarding things like sexual content, self-identification, and more, and why I made the ones I did for Under the Lights.

Also, some cool places Under the Lights has appeared:

So, it’s been some wild times, and I thank everyone so, so much who’s helped me through them and supported this book. Thank you to everyone who’s reviewed it, who’s fallen in love with Josh, Van, and/or Bri, and who’s recommended it. Thank you for kind words, amazing f/f gifs, and tweets of excitement and general wonderfulness. You have made this release an amazing experience, and I am so, so grateful for you all.

If you haven’t yet read Under the Lights but plan to, I hope you enjoy. And remember:

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Top Ten Books On My TBR For Summer 2015

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Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish! Thanks to my job blogging for B&N Teens, my TBR is always shifting, but as of now, here are the top 10 books I definitely plan to read during the summer of 2015, in no particular order:

Slasher Boys and Monster Girls edited by April Tucholke. I usually save my Horror reads for October, but with a story by Nova Ren Suma, am I really gonna wait? Let’s be honest.

Paperweight by Meg Haston. When my picky contemp-loving friend Meagan says a book nails something like an eating disorder right, I make it my business to check it out.

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz. You didn’t miss the “Hannah Moskowitz” part, did you? Though this isn’t my usual thing, after how much I loved Not Otherwise Specified earlier this year, and how much I’m anticipating Your Machine Anatomy, there is no not giving this a try.

Not After Everything by Michelle Levy. Mea culpa because I requested and received this arc a billion years ago, but that’s just how blogging goes. But it’s an August release and August is fast approaching, so I’ll finally get to read this baby.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. I mean, this is basically on every YA reader’s TBR, right? If not, it should be, given all the praise I’ve heard of it! And now I have my very own pretty and personalized ARC from BEA <3

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham. This was a release day buy for me, because between that cover and the Veronica Mars comp, how could it not be? But I’ve been late to read, and it’s time to rectify that!

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith. Yes, it’s not out until October, but lucky for one of my Twitter followers, I’ve been charged with giving away a signed ARC as soon as I’m done with this baby, so you probably want me to read it sooner rather than later ;)

Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes. Another one I bought earlier this year and still haven’t gotten a chance to read, but I’m excited to change that! I’ve been on a solid thriller kick lately, and after Endangered I’m definitely interested in another that incorporates technology.

Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman. Hopefully and supposedly there’s an ARC coming my way, but it comes out in August, so either way, I’m reading it this summer!

Finding Center by Katherine Locke. Yeah, as if I’m not release-day buying the sequel to Second Position, my favorite NA debut of the year. OK.

So that’s my top 10 for the summer; what’s on yours?

Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For the Rest of 2015

Thank you, The Broke and the Bookish, for this topic of my dreams. LET’S DO THIS:

But first, today is June 9, which means my CP Gina Ciocca’s Last Year’s Mistake is out, which is one of my most anticipated release in the history of life, because I love G and loved this book and read it twice back when it was just a manuscript FOR FUN. I had literally no hand in betaing this book, but I feel enormously attached to it anyway, and HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, GINA!!!!! I LOVE YOU! <3

Before:
Kelsey and David became best friends the summer before freshman year and were inseparable ever after. Until the night a misunderstanding turned Kelsey into the school joke, and everything around her crumbled—including her friendship with David. So when Kelsey’s parents decided to move away, she couldn’t wait to start over and leave the past behind. Except, David wasn’t ready to let her go…

After:
Now it’s senior year and Kelsey has a new group of friends, genuine popularity, and a hot boyfriend. Her life is perfect. That is, until David’s family moves to town and he shakes up everything. Soon old feelings bubble to the surface and threaten to destroy Kelsey’s second chance at happiness. The more time she spends with David, the more she realizes she never truly let him go. And maybe she never wants to.

Told in alternating sections, LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE is a charming and romantic debut about loving, leaving, and letting go.

BUY IT: Barnes & Noble * Amazon

And now, on to the rest!

*Please note I’m only including books I haven’t read manuscripts/ARCs of yet; I’ve also read a lot of excellent fall books!

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith. A) Graceling meets Inception. B) Lindsay. C) THAT COVER. D) It’s 1/3 dedicated to me, which is just the greatest thing and basically made my heart explode with happy <3

Finding Center by Katherine Locke. I’ve already talked ad nauseam about how much I love love loved Second Position, so desperately wanting the sequel (and more Zaly) is a no-brainer.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore. I’ve been warned that this book is utterly gorgeous, and I happen to know personally that so is Anna-Marie (which sounds really superficially but I meant internally, but then again also externally? I’m gonna go now.)

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I’ve heard nothing but fabulousness about this book, and got an ARC last month, so I will be reading this one ASAP.

Deceptive by Emily Lloyd-Jones. Illusive was one of my favorite reads of 2014, and is one of my favorite YA sci-fis, period, so I’ve been dying for this one forfreakingever.

For the Record by Charlotte Huang. This one could not sound cuter; it’s exactly the kind of book I love and always want to see more!

Trust Me, I’m Trouble by Mary Elizabeth Summer. I loved Julep in the first book, and my body is READY to ship her super hard with teen Russian mafiosa, Dani.

Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman. I love love love historically inspired fiction, and cannot wait for this one!

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. Finally getting to meet Adi in person was such a bright spot of BEA last year, and hearing him talk about this book all the more so. I’m always dying for fun stories of friends hanging out, and this sounds like exactly my crack.

First & Then by Emma Mills. This just sounds so damn cute; how can I not??

Also, *coughs*, I have two more releases coming out this year, so, I’m pretty highly anticipating both Under the Lights (June 30) and Just Visiting (November 17), but, in fairness, I’ve read those, too.

I’m totally leaving out a billion more but if I also mentioned Dumplin’ and Blood and Salt and and and I’d probably go nuts, so I’m just gonna chill and read all of these ASAP! What’s on your TBR for the rest of the year?

Madcap Writing Retreats: Retreat to Advance (+Giveaway!) by Natalie C. Parker

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Back in 2013-14, before I was ever published, I clung to my debut group, OneFour KidLit, for dear life. And one of the people keeping it running super smoothly and making a massive difference in all of our experiences was the incredibly talented author Natalie C. Parker. (Seriously, if you love atmospheric reads, especially of the Southern Gothic variety, her Beware the Wild is so not to be missed.)

When Natalie asked if she could hop onto my blog to talk about her new business organizing writers’ retreats, I was thrilled to be able to do any little think in thanks for all she did when I was a newbie. Though I’m personally never able to attend retreats because of my dayjob, I’ve seen tons of evidence from mutual author friends of fabulous ones she’s organized; I’d hire her in a hot second. But anyway, this isn’t about me, so, voila – Natalie.

MCR_bannerNothing has changed my career so much as writing retreats.

In the winter of 2011, I was invited to attend a large retreat in Branson, MO at which there would be 25 established YA authors. I was unagented at the time and though I found the idea of joining such a gathering an intimidating one, I also found it was impossible to pass up.

The experience was a game-changer. Not only did I meet a group of authors who were as encouraging as they were successful, but I sat in a room in which those same authors opened laptops and worked quietly together. There were headphones and tea and snack breaks and chat breaks and there were word documents that looked much like my own, growing one word at a time.

I left the Branson Retreat with a new network of contacts who would guide my career in different ways, determined to repeat the experience as quickly as possible. Only this time I wanted to be the one issuing invites. One year later, that’s exactly what I did: I made my first retreat of 11 authors on the side of a mountain, in a house that also had a turret.

Since that time, I’ve hosted 1 or 2 retreats every year, always with the goal of bringing authors together to create the kind of community we just can’t get in 140 character bites. I’ve hosted authors in turreted mansions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in French Quarter apartments, in the Texas Hill Country, in historic Savannah townhomes, and in the sleepy Smoky Mountains. And here are the top three lessons I’ve learned from organizing retreats for writers:

  1. There must be internet. It does not matter if you write to your group ahead of time and say the words “there is no internet in this mountain chateau IS THAT OKAY?” It does not matter if they uniform answer is, “Yes, Natalie, we are not so addicted to the Modern Age that going without Wi-Fi for 3 days will kill us.” I promise you, none of that matters because when you get to the house someone will build an antenna out of aluminum foil and desperate tears and stand on the roof searching for a signal.
  2. Never underestimate the importance of every bedroom having its own bathroom. End of explanation.
  3. You may begin the adventure with plans of leaving the house, but trust me, this will not happen. To appease any group of authors, I advise picture windows and something that suggests power and mystery. Mountains are an obvious choice, but lakes work very well as do abandoned sugar plantations, rolling hills, and oceans. This way, even if you get snowed in after throwing out all the perishable food so that all that remains are Oreos and a handle of gin, no one will every complain about the view!

I love retreats. They’re fun and exciting and sometimes lead to creating things like Sh*t Writers Say. But I started this by saying that retreats have altered the course of my career in significant ways and that is absolutely true.

After Branson in 2011, I had half a dozen authors willing to weigh in on my query and help me cull my agent list.

After the Wi-Fi-less chateau in 2012, there were authors ready to blurb my first book.

After the Hill Country in 2013, I received crucial advice on how to develop a retreat business.

But more than that, I’ve seen anthologies born over the course of a retreat, I’ve seen mentor and critique relationships gain footing, and I’ve seen the direction of manuscripts shift dramatically and to great effect. And I know there’s even more I haven’t seen.

Like so many writers, my writing time is bound and hedged in on all sides. My writing time is also my “down” time, my “free” time, my “in between this and that” time.” It’s a challenge to find hours that flow from one into another with nothing binding them except the promise of words. Madcap is one way I can offer time and opportunity to myself and to others, and I’m truly excited to be able to do that.

Madcap is for writers at any stage in their career – aspiring, agented, and published. My goal is to continue what was done for me at that first Branson retreat and create the kinds of opportunities it’s nearly impossible to create for yourself. Welcome to Madcap Retreats, join us for an adventure.

MADCAP RETREATS: Web | Twitter | Tumblr

And now we come to the giveaway portion of this post!

I’ve asked a few amazing bloggers to help me spread the word of Madcap far and wide via a Blog Hop. Each participating blog will be giving away 2 e-copies of my debut novel Beware the Wild. And each of those winners will be entered to win one of two grand prizes! They are:

  • A $300 discount on the upcoming workshop – The Anatomy of Publishing: Story & Marketing, August 27 – 30. The workshop will be lead by Courtney C. Stevens and will feature a few fancy guest authors who will workshop pages and queries one-on-one! (More info can be found here).
  • A short stack of ARCs including: JUBILEE MANOR by Bethany Hagen, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, and THE ANATOMY OF CURIOSITY by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, & Brenna Yovanoff.

The contest is open to US/Canada ONLY. You may enter via each blogger if that pleases you. Contest closes at midnight on Sunday, June 7th. Winners will be announced by noon on Monday, June 8th.

Additionally! If you’d like to stay up to date on all retreat and workshop offerings by Madcap, you can subscribe to the mailing list by visiting this page. The first 50 subscribers will be offered a free download of either:

To enter on The Daily Dahlia, just tell me (either in a comment below or by tweeting with hashtag #MadcapNCP) your dream retreat destination!

Full list of participating blogs:

Blog tour: Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas (Interview + Giveaway!)

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So, it is 99% true that I only ever do blog tour stuff for really good friends. Today, I welcome you to the 1% – a book I was asked to feature because I tweeted about loving it so damn much, and I said yes because A) I loved it so damn much, and B) I’ve seen such sad little talk of it, despite the fact that my immediate reaction was “For fans of Mosquitoland who are also intrigued by the premise of Everything, Everything,” and those are two of the biggest debuts of the year. This book definitely leans more toward the sci-fi than either of those titles (think maybe double the sci-fi quotient of the fabulous More Happy Than Not), so, be prepared for that, but if you love the wonderfully weird and refreshingly different, I hope you’ll give this debut that strongly highlights physical disability and really unique voices a shot! So, full disclosure: These aren’t my questions, but I do love them, and I absolutely love the answers. And the book. So while the content here isn’t mine, the endorsement for it absolutely is. And now, because we’ve wasted enough time on me when you could be learning more about this beautiful (and strongly diverse, by the way) book, let’s get to it!

BYNMM CoverOllie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him. But when Moritz reveals the key to their shared, sinister past that began years ago in a mysterious German laboratory, their friendship faces a test neither one of them expected. Narrated in letter form by Ollie and Moritz—two extraordinary new voices—this story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances blends elements of science fiction with coming of age themes, in a humorous, dark, and ultimately inspiring tale is completely unforgettable. Buy it: B&N * Indiebound * Amazon

  1. Have you ever been in a long distance relationship/friendship?

Half-no, half-yes. Half-no because often I feel as though the phrase “long distances” has hardly any relevance these days. I mean, I can remember Skype coming into existence when I was growing up, and calling my family in the UK for the first time, and how after we hung up it seemed to me as though Star Trek technology was becoming a reality (but dang it, why aren’t we in deep space yet?). For the most part, in recent years we’ve seen the idea of “long distance” die at the hands of technology. Hooray! Hooray for that! But here’s the half-yes: while I can message my friends in Sweden and England and Taiwan in a heartbeat, there is something to be said for seeing people face-to-face. There is a distance that won’t budge. Regardless, I choose to see the upside. Some of the best friends I have are nowhere near me geographically, and still somehow close by. How wondrous is that?

  1. Have you ever met anyone you knew you’d most likely never see again and how did that influence your time together?

Oh, gosh. Yes. I’ve been here. I mean, we could even take this back to summer camp! More recently, I lived in Taiwan for a year or so to gain teaching experience. During that time I was aware, always aware, of the transience of living abroad. Some people would stay in Taipei for years, others only months, others a lifetime. There was something very tragic about that knowledge. I was very conscious of the strange wonder of my life in those days – yes, I’m meeting people I’d never have met otherwise, from so many places I’ve never been, and I’ve got the chance to see perspectives I’ve never seen before. But at the same time, there’s the weight: if you know you’re leaving in a few months, you put up barriers. You make this sort of unconscious decision not to fall too much in love with a place, though really you can’t help yourself. The way I see living abroad: it creates horcruxes. Every time you move away from a place you called home, you leave a tiny piece of your soul behind. And not in an evil Voldemort-y way, because leaving pieces of yourself doesn’t really make you less of a person. But it can make you very sad, very torn-up. I shudder to think how much worse this would be in the days before the internet. How would you ever piece your soul back together? I am grateful to be living in an age where distance is no longer a murderer of friendships, where goodbyes hold less water. (They’ll still make you sob, though, peering out rearview mirrors.)

  1. Do you think pen pal/long distance relationships are easier maintain when you’re a teenager, like Ollie and Moritz, or when you’re a bit older?

Nowadays, I don’t think teenagers think twice about having long distance relationships or online friendships. I think that’s a wonderful evolution. It’s completely natural that you’d have a best friend who blogs from Malaysia or games in Austria. For my part, the friends I knew in my youth: if I’m honest, I really failed to keep our closeness intact when distance split us apart. It was hard. I mean, who doesn’t have yearbooks full of “friends forever” and at some point, the certainty that friendships can withstand anything? You take it for granted, when you live next door to people, that they’ll always be a part of you. Maybe that’s the case for some friendships, but it’s one heck of a burden to place on others. And at the same time, friends I’ve never met – or met only rarely – have remained friendly, because proximity was never essential to the friendship. Those friendships grew from mutual interests, shared love of movies or books or television, kinship in fandoms and fun in conversations. I think for a lot of young nerds (oh, my people!), this is friendship, no bones about it. I’m going to give the points to the youth on this one. J The next generation doesn’t see the need to qualify these things. Near or far, those friends are real.

  1. A lot of YA novels feature female friendships. What drove you write BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME from the perspective of two male best friends?

Oh, okay. I want to be careful with how I answer this, because we need diverse books, and starting any answer with a statement about how I chose boys over girls for a YA series would just make me gag a little (I certainly didn’t sit here and think, “Gosh, we need more angsty white boys in literature!”). For me, it’s more about subverting expectations of what two male friends can be. Hyper-masculinity is daunting to me, and it’s an aspect of culture that I think sometimes puts a damper on a lot of male-male friendships in western societies. Why can’t guys say they love each other? Why can’t men be weak or feminine without being labeled? And why were those considered negative traits in the first place? (I can see a positive change in this area, but we’ve got a ways to go.) But more than this. I am very determined to increase visibility of characters with disabilities. It’s at least in part a side-effect of my upbringing by social workers, but also a result of teaching middle-schoolers. So while Oliver and Moritz identify as male (although not necessarily as cis), that’s secondary to where they stand in the world: where they stand is apart from the world. And their unusual friendship humanizes them, makes them part of it, helps them overcome what others might call weaknesses. People identify themselves as so many things, in so many ways, and there are so many great words for those things, and I…well, I didn’t want gender to define this story, unless I was subverting some of those expectations. I’m trying to reclaim the bromance, thank you very much. And witnessing this strange friendship – a friendship that may not be so strange after all, when we look at the world and the progress we’ve made against stereotypes – can hopefully help us rethink what the “norms” for growing up in the modern world should be.

  1. If Ollie and Moritz were real and you could tell them anything, what would you say?

Um. Ollie and Moritz are totally real. Just because they’re fictional doesn’t mean they aren’t real. But okay, okay, I’ll play nice. Ahaha. I guess I would tell them what I’m trying to tell everyone by sharing this story: we all mess up. It’s inevitable. It’s human, and it’s necessary, and it can be ugly. But what makes our lives worthwhile is overcoming the trials that lay us low, especially when the trials are our own regrets. I think Moritz and Ollie spend a lot of time feeling worthless because they make mistakes, but our mistakes help make us. So I’d say the usual: Stand up, Ollie. And Moritz: Cheer up; soon be Christmas. :)

**Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for the book!**

Leah Thomas Leah Thomas frequently loses battles of wits against her students and her stories. When she’s not huddled in cafes, she’s usually at home pricking her fingers in service of cosplay. Leah lives in San Diego, California, and Because You’ll Never Meet Me is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter @blunderkinder.

Macarons: a Brief BEA 2015 Guide

macaronsHey, city-bound fellow book lovers! I’m sorry I couldn’t make this the beautiful, glorious post I had dreamed, but I have been super swamped lately and while macarons are my top priority, none of my bosses/editors seem to share that, oddly enough. So, pardon the quick and photo-less rundown; I’ll beautify it at some point if I can find the time.

Please note that there are many places in Manhattan that serve macarons, and branches of some of the places I’m listing to which I haven’t been. I can only work with what I know. Also, please note that while I do admittedly eat macarons that don’t officially have kosher supervision, I don’t eat them from anywhere that has a bacon-flavored macaron; you’re on your for those.

Also, you’re responsible for your own nutritional information details. Macarons are naturally gluten-free, but not everywhere that serves them is. They’re by and large made from almond flour, so mind any allergies you may have. Nearly all fillings all dairy (either buttercream, caramel, or chocolate) so if you can’t have that, seek out ones with jelly fillings – almost any place will have raspberry at the bare minimum. As for kosher supervision, the strongest is what I think are originally Dana’s but are actually served at several places, including the coffee shop across the street from The Strand and all branches of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. (You’ll recognize them by that there’s a “fruity cereal” one – it’s my favorite.)

And now, onward.

The most common question I get is “Where are the best macarons in NYC?” but unfortunately that can’t really be answered that simply, because there are really a whole bunch of factors there. Since I’m writing this post on a time crunch, instead of waxing poetic on it all, I’m just gonna lay out the important stuff:

Single best macaron: obviously this is going to be very personal taste, but my favorite is the milk chocolate-banana macaron at Sugar Plumm in SoHo. (Or I guess it’s just outside of SoHo? Ugh, I don’t know.) It has real banana inside – not fake banana flavor – is covered in yummy milk chocolate, and gleams a little with gold dust.

Best salted caramel macaron: Salted caramel is the best universal flavor of macaron, obviously, so this is an important question. In my opinion, the best is at Bisous Ciao, which is half a block from Sugar Plumm. So, obviously, if you’re taking a macaron journey through NYC, this block of Bleecker Street is very important.

Best overall macarons: I wouldn’t say they do the best of every flavor (see above) but I think the most reliable best comes from Macaron Cafe. They’re also the closest I know of to the Javits Center, somewhere like 37th and 6th-ish? But that’s a really crowded space. If you want a nicer Macaron Cafe experience with the potential for sit-down, hit up the one on 60th and Madison. (Macaron Cafe does have the best pistachio macaron in the city, though, just FYI.)

Best macaron salon experience: If you wanna sit somewhere gorgeous and eat your macarons, nothing compares with Laduree on West Broadway in SoHo. Honestly, I find the macarons whatever – fine but nothing special, despite that they’re supposed to be the best – but the entire restaurant is gorgeous salon after gorgeous salon leading out to a beautiful garden in the back. It’s delightful.

Have any burning questions about macarons in NYC? Hit me up!

Minority Religions Chat, Take Two

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As some of you may know, I was asked to participate in a Twitter chat on being a member of a minority religion in America the other week. As some of you may also know, that chat kinda got cluttered by people confusing what it means to be in a minority religion with “Not everyone in my vicinity is religiously or atheistically like me.”

Since chatting in a public sphere didn’t really work, we decided to take it to a private one, which, frankly, is a pretty massive expression of what being in a minority religion is in America; being insular and being able to practice in peace tend to go hand in hand. I asked the chat’s original participants, as well as some new ones, to join me in a discussion, and voila.

As a note, although LDS/Mormons are Christian, we did ask an author of that faith to participate, as media representation there has historically been pretty horrible, and they face plenty of bigotry both within their greater religion and without. So, before you chime in with “But they’re Christian and they were allowed to participate,” just hit that X in the upper right hand corner.

More technical notes – a few things have been explained via green text in brackets that were not part of the original chat, for those who may be less informed on those religious details. Any errors in that text are mine alone. This chat was conductive via private FB group, so a couple of things have been shifted around for ease of comprehension and less relevant portions of the chat have been trimmed, because, well, it’s already really long.

And now, onward to the participants, who each shared his or her affiliation:

  • Meagan RiversHi! So I am involved in Santería, aka La Regla de Ochá.
  • Me (Dahlia Adler) – Modern Orthodox Judaism
  • KayeSunni Muslim from the Hanafi madhab (school of thought)
  • Rick LipmanMy affiliation right now is sort of somewhere between Reform and non-denominational Judaism, since I am ethnically and culturally Jewish but not halakhically. It’s a huge part of my life and identity, though, and I was in the process of converting Reform to be More Official~ but it didn’t feel right, and once the grad school thing is over and done with I will probably convert to Conservative.
  • KK Hendin – Orthodox Judaism
  • Heidi SchulzI’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), commonly known as Mormon.
  • Katherine Locke – Reform Judaism
  • Aisha Saeed – Muslim

And now, to the conversations!

Q: So, everyone here writes MG, YA, and/or NA – what were your childhood years like from a religious perspective?

Dahlia: I went to Jewish schools my entire life, up until seminary in Jerusalem the year between high school and college. My family is all Modern Orthodox Judaism as well, and so were all my friends, so it was really my whole world. There were definitely parts of it I didn’t appreciate – not being able to watch Saturday morning cartoons because of Sabbath observance sucked – but my father worked really long hours every night, and I definitely learned to appreciate that Sabbath (aka Shabbos, when we don’t work) meant I’d see a lot of him for 24 hours, no matter what.

Katherine: I went to JCC preschool, but was pretty areligious for most of my younger years. We celebrated Hanukkah and Passover and went to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also went to Easter Mass with my mom’s family (My mom was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, my dad is Jewish). Neither of my parents are particularly religious. Religion wasn’t a part of my Judaism until I was 10 and started at Hebrew School and Sunday School (at the synagogue. Jewish Sunday School. This confuses lots of people). I had my Bat Mitzvah. I had a HUGE falling out with religion/God after September 11th. So during HS, I was culturally Jewish but not particularly religious until I went to college. College and onwards has been a steady trajectory back toward the religious aspects of that identity.

Kaye: The local Islamic school in our area didn’t start until around 2003. I’ve been homeschooled all of my life, for non-religious reasons, and have attended classes in memorization and other areas of faith at the local masjids.

KK: I went to Jewish schools from nursery to high school, and then two years after high school, too. Kindergarten and on were in all-girls schools. I live in a predominantly Orthodox neighborhood, so being Orthodox wasn’t so odd for me.

Meagan: I didn’t know much of anything, sadly. I only connected with it a few years ago. I was really afraid of religion as a child.

Dahlia: Meagan, what made you connect with it later?

Meagan: I started doing my own research and learning on my own terms. When I started keeping altars in my home, that’s when I really started to connect. I needed something physical to remind me of it all.

Kaye: Meagan, I forgot to tell you, but I loved your post explaining your connection and how it makes you feel.

Meagan: Thank you!! That post was incredibly hard to write so I am so glad it’s been so well received.

Rick: Confusing, in a word. Like Katherine, my mother was a lapsed Catholic and my father is Jewish. I was baptized, went to JCC camps, celebrated Christmakkah before The OC made it a thing, went to church regularly, and did Passover at my grandmother’s. My mom was intent on my attending services at church with her regularly not because she was religious (neither of my parents are) but because she thought it was important to try to raise me with SOMETHING, and my dad was like “ok u can do that”. Eventually I entered my raging agnostic phase, and by high school I was like “I don’t know what I believe in but it’s not this and also they kicked me out of Sunday School for asking too many questions, so I’m going to sleep in from now on.”

Dahlia: RICK LIPMAN = THE ORIGINAL SETH COHEN. THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.

Katherine: Rick, I was kicked out of confirmation class for my political views on abortion! We should totally swap stories haha.

Heidi: I didn’t feel all that different than most other kids when I was younger. I do remember certain revelations, like being shocked to find out that other people didn’t consider us Christians even though we identify that way, or when I realized that other Christians didn’t use both the Bible and the Book of Mormon like we do.
There were a few kids that weren’t allowed to have me over because their parents didn’t like my church.

And I remember being at at birthday party and hearing some kids say, “Good thing no Mormons are here. They don’t celebrate birthdays.” (We do.) I was so scared to tell them that I was and they were wrong, but I had been taught that I always needed to be a good example and stand for my faith. I don’t remember what they said, but I remember feeling like I just HAD to set them straight or I would be doing something wrong.

Aisha: Growing up Muslim was hard. I was in 5th grade when the Iraq War started [the first one] and people asked me to explain Saddam Hussein’s stance… they asked if he was my uncle, etc. I would get asked if I had a pet camel. I got called a rag-head. Asked if I bathed in sand. It wasn’t innocent questions because it all culminated in severe bullying. So for me it was a tough struggle and because my family were immigrants they didn’t realize how bad it was and that me crying when it was time to go to school wasn’t normal so I had no one to really help me out.

Q: Has anything about your religion made the publishing world particularly tough?

Kaye: In what way? I mean, I’ve gotten used to gagging every time I see a book announcement in Publishers Lunch that goes along the lines of, “[Implied] Muslim kid turns out to be with The Bad Guys. [Implied] Other Muslim kid seeks to help them turn back to good.”

Dahlia: Haha well, that counts, Kaye. I imagine it can be tough when considering who you trust with your work to consider agents and editors who acquire that sort of thing.

KK: Besides the “Frum girls don’t go into publishing” nonsense I got as a kid? Um. Almost every signing is Friday night or Shabbos.

Dahlia: For me it’s the obvious thing I talk about constantly – SO MANY BOOKISH EVENTS, including diversity ones, on Shabbos. I’ve had to say no to participating in so many events, and missed so many fantastic ones as a spectator, because they’re on Friday nights or Saturdays. (I can’t travel, handle money, or write on those days.) I did get to go to one this year, though, because it was in my hometown. I stayed at my parents’, a friend staying with me walked the two miles to the event [riding in a car/public transportation is forbidden], I pre-signed books [as is writing], and I hid anytime someone walked by trying to get everyone to sign their tote bags. It was an adventure.

Katherine: Eh. This is where I shuffle my feet and say no, not really. Perks of Being a Reformed Jewish Wallflower?

Kaye: That does sound like an adventure, Dahlia. And hugs, KK. I get that in a way, too – “Why do you want to work in publishing??” Also, yes, one aspect is definitely wondering which agents and editors are going to be good or accept that. One prominent agent that works with WNDB and I met last year at the panel was selling one of those problematic titles. So I was like, “There it goes.”

Meagan: I don’t think so. There aren’t that many rules involved in Santería that would keep me from anything, unless I was formally initiated, which I can’t be.

Dahlia: Meagan, what would theoretically make you able to be formally initiated? I’m definitely a Santeria novice! *preorders your book*

Meagan: Well, I started the process about a year or so ago and in the beginning you have to consult the Orishas, who are the equivalent of saints to most religions. I was crowned Oyá, meaning that Orisha is my mother saint basically. But the person who was sitting with me told me I can’t go further. The Orishas said no, at least not for now.

Aisha: The only tough thing is I have some events in June during Ramadan so it’s fasting time. The events are important to me and I’m grateful for them but then baby care falls on my hubby while I’m away and with 16 hour fasts it’s just rough. Nothing to be done about that though!

Kaye: Aww, Aisha. Hugs. That is going to be rough, I know. I had to say no to some events last year because they were so close to Iftar time or else at a point during the day when I was wiped out.

Heidi: There are always events on Sundays. Sometimes I’ll do one, if I feel like it’s really important and I can’t schedule it on another day, but I’d rather not. I avoid that as often as I can. I won’t attend anyone else’s events on a Sunday though and that sometimes sucks. Especially if they are coming in from out of town. I often feel torn. Maybe it would be easier if I didn’t make exceptions for myself. If I said, Sunday is my sabbath, period. I probably need to do that, but I’m weak!

I’m also a bit of a literary prude. I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of swearing or descriptive sex. But I want to read and promote my friends’ books. It’s a balancing act that I haven’t quite mastered.

Aisha: I can relate to that but from a writing POV. Like, I don’t mind reading swearing and sex scenes in books at all but I don’t like writing sex in my books. That doesn’t mean I’m against it in YA or in books in general just to be clear, but since my characters usually have at least one MC who is Muslim it just doesn’t feel comfortable to me. That doesn’t mean Muslim teens don’t have sex of course but it just makes me uncomfortable personally to write about. There’s a story I’m writing where it’s an Afghan refugee and his relationship with a girl he works with, and its hard because the story seems to want to go towards them becoming intimate and yet it’s not something I wanted to do so I’m considering making them friends and platonic. It’s a tough line to balance personally with wanting to write in a way that is true to me but also how the story wants to be written.

Dahlia: That’s a big part of why I don’t want to write Jewish characters, Aisha. I feel a responsibility to take certain things into account that as an author I don’t want coloring my story. I’m terrible at deviating from how a story wants to be written, for better or for worse, and I’d rather just avoid that struggle entirely.

Aisha: That’s a good point, Dahlia. It would be a lot easier if the characters weren’t Muslim. Like you said, just writing about ones own faith or people in the faith, I feel it comes with a heavy responsibility.

Heidi: (I just want to clarify that I am glad there are all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. I’m not against any kind of content in YA, even if I choose not to read every kind.)

Q: From a cultural, communal perspective, what’s your favorite thing about your religion?

Katherine: Two things. We’re always watching out for each other. You, KK, and I all have very different faith traditions despite being part of the same religion, and we’re still reaching out and sharing common traditions, common experiences, protecting each other when it comes to hurts.
Second thing. Food. Everything is beige.

Kaye: A friend on Twitter actually said this first, but I love the optimism inherent in Islam, and the quiet devotion to God. Even when you see something pretty, or something that makes you happy, you praise God.

I also love the communal aspects of holidays, and especially Hajj, the pilgrimage. When I went in 2012, it was like the United Nations. I made friends with three sisters from Kyrgyzstan. If we ever get to Egypt again, we have some people there who made sure we have their address. We bumped into some Japanese Muslims who were super welcoming and friendly. It was so heartening that, even though a lot of people didn’t know English at all, the greeting was universal and a smile was always understood.

KK: What Katie said :) (PS potato kugel is being made as I type.) Jewish Geography has saved me more times than I can count. Plus also I would probably not be a sane human being without Shabbos (Sabbath).

Dahlia: Kaye, I love that. I think the idea of the Hajj is so, so cool, and the idea of making friends with people along the way is such a beautiful one and so exactly the kind of thing I think religion is about. I’m actually surprised there aren’t any YAs about a Hajj, because that pretty much sounds like the best road trip story possible.

[at this point the rest of us gently bullied Kaye into writing this book for about an hour, so let’s just move past that]

Dahlia: My favorite thing is sort of a combination of all these things – the way it sort of crosses boundaries, and how someone in your religion anywhere in the world is like family. It really struck me when I was traveling on my honeymoon how every kosher restaurant or synagogue felt like a Jewish Embassy. Even though the first stop on our trip was Prague, and I’m half-Czech, the city itself didn’t feel like “home,” but the Jewish sites did, and that was amazing to me. Ditto in Istanbul.

Katherine: Dahlia, that happened to me when I was in Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. I felt extremely like an outsider except for when we went to visit Jewish sites. Even in places where there isn’t a Jewish community anymore, like Novi Pazar in southern Serbia near Kosovo, it was such a flood of *home* to step into Jewish spaces. to see Hebrew on stone.

Heidi: I love my religion’s commitment to family, how our history—while relatively recent—is important to us, and how I can walk into any church building, anywhere in the world, and instantly feel at home.

Aisha: For me it’s what you touched on once, Dahlia, it’s the community. I have a lot issues with my local community (off the record) but at the end of the day they’re there for you too.

Meagan: for me, it’s the mythology and the stories of the orishas. and i love finding out who different santeros are crowned under and how they fit into their lives. because for me, it was like “oh wow, duh.” and for some others, it’s not like that.

Q: Without stepping too much on stuff you’ve already said, what are some common misconceptions about your religion?

Kaye: Muslims are this monolithic bunch of war-mongering, women-hating, outsider-loathing beasts that are living in some backwards, barbarian time period. Oh, and did I mention Muslims hate women?

Dahlia: One I think is a misconception about any religion that’s heavily law based is that we accept it all without thought or exception, and all think exactly the same way. Which…is not a thing that happens. We grow up thinking about these things so much, and we’re human beings: I’m capable of having the thought “Well, there’s a verse that seems to be anti-homosexuality, but…I’m not anti-homosexuality, and I’m not okay with calling it an abomination.” Yes, I see the words; no, I don’t have to accept them. Yes, I can still accept other words. I don’t know why people make it so very all-or-nothing as if that’s how life is, especially when the world’s majority religion was founded on the principle of “Let’s prioritize the things that matter to humanity and stop keeping the laws that get in the way.” Judaism isn’t prioritizing laws over kindness; it’s thinking you can do both. And I like to think I do. When I’m not being a bitch.

KK: What both of y’all said. Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion. You are actually physically incapable of keeping all 613 mitzvot. Nobody is asking you to. Including God.

Kaye: So this lady came to my school a few months ago and I had to attend her lecture for a class, and she started tugging out the Islamophobia – Muslims are backwards, Muslims need to calm down, Muslims follow every outdated law, etc. I raised my hand and seriously told her a thing. My professor was proud.

I mean, one of our leading scholars (at least, one of my favorites) wrote an article last week about how this argument that Muslims follow every outdated law is…not true? Islamic laws are constantly abrogated depending on the situation. There are some things that were crossed out, were no longer appropriate, were even just meant for one situation.

Rick: There are a lot of things that bug me – a particular strain of anti-Semitism I’ve encountered often lately has been this weird attempt to try to just flat-out deny Jewish history and identity. Claiming we’re all descended from Khazars or European converts is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion, apparently.

Also, the thing that bothers me to no end – TO NO END – is when people are talking about the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and really Jews/Muslims as a whole, this attempt to pit us against one another and the dismissive handwave of “Well, Those People have been fighting with each other for thousands of years.”

Like… no? Crack a history book? If you told me I had to go back to medieval times and pick between living in the Islamic world or Christian Europe, like, that shit ain’t even a QUESTION. But anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are very, very often two sides of the same coin, tossed by the same people, and each of them is used to feed the other.

And like, as someone who has a very, very close friend who is an Arab Muslim and has had many Arab friends whom I love dearly, I get offended on BOTH our behalves. Mama takes that shit personally.

Heidi: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask how many wives my dad had. (The answer is two, but only one at a time.) People still tend to equate LDS people with polygamy even though it hasn’t been a part of the mainstream church since 1880—my great-great grandfather was the leader of the church at the time and wrote the manifesto ending it.

People also assume I’m either dissatisfied or oppressed because currently only men hold the priesthood. I’m neither, tbh.

And people don’t understand the diet restrictions. Yes, it’s weird that we don’t drink coffee but most religions do have dietary restrictions. It’s not that hard to avoid coffee and alcohol. We’ll always have our ice-cream!

KK: *agrees with everything Rick said* Those are the same people who forget about Sephardic Jews, who, HELLO, lived in Muslim countries for hundreds of years.

Dahlia: Rick, you don’t even know how much I’m loving you right now. Someone recently RTed a quote by Arthur Koestler on Twitter (nothing to do with his Khazar thesis on Judaism, but just the sight of his name makes me bristle) and it just made me snap, even with no malicious intent. And SO MUCH YES re: Jews/Muslims. We have SO MUCH IN COMMON, and in so much of history we played together so. Much. Better. than any of us did with Christians. Just shut it.

Rick: Even just seeing the word “Khazar” makes me want to punch people in the family jewels like EVERY PIECE OF WRITTEN DOCUMENTATION, ORAL HISTORY, SCHOLARLY ARTICLE, AND GENETIC TEST DEBUNKS YOUR STUPID RACIST BULLSHIT THEORY PLEASE DROP DEAD FOREVER NOW

KK: Also, because obvs: we don’t have horns. We don’t have sex with a sheet in the middle. We don’t sit around all day and pray piously. My brothers are not mama’s boys who never pick up a finger to work. Women are not just babymakers. Etc, etc, etc, etc.

[insert some Lena Dunham ranting from the Jews]

Heidi: KK, weirdly, Mormons get the horns thing too. Like, even now. I don’t understand how ignorant and backwards people have to be to think other humans have horns. It’s terrifying, actually.

When I was about ten, my next door neighbor’s grandma cornered me on my driveway and asked if, as a Mormon, I believed that if she were to cut off my arm, God would make it grow back. I ran in the house, but yelled at her through the screen door that she had us confused with starfish. I have no idea where that idea came from, but I hear those weird theories from time to time.

Aisha: I nearly snorted out my water at this, Heidi. What sort of question was that for her to ask!!

I think the biggest misconception is that all Muslims practice the faith the same way. We are not a monolith and it bothers me when people presume I’m less faithful because I don’t cover my head. Or other such assumptions on outward appearance to judge what’s within.

Aisha: Heidi, Just out of curiosity did you ever watch Big Love? How did you feel about it? I watched a few seasons and I always wondered how people belonging to the faiths depicted felt about it. It felt sensationalized and I wondered if it was upsetting to the LDS community.

Heidi: I didn’t watch it, mainly because the entire premise was wrong. If I remember correctly, the family was being presented as mainstream LDS but we don’t practice polygamy and haven’t since the late 1800s. Polygamy is kind of a sore spot for many of us because it’s often one of the first things people ask about when they learn our religion.

Meagan: there are some misconceptions about santeria that involve magic and satanism. a lot of people attribute any kind of african-derived religion with omG satan because it’s not something they’re familiar with. and they assume that any of the magic or spells involved is “black” (or bad) magic.

i’ve gotten guff from well-meaning pagans and wiccans especially who believe that their rules apply to my religion. they have rules about “do no harm” and that is THEIR religion and what they do. it has nothing to do with santeria. so if i say to someone “i did a Xango ritual to get rid of the bad person in my life,” they might:

1.) jump to the conclusion that it’s dark bad evil awful magic
2.) tell me that it’s Against The Rules.

in reality, most of the spells and rituals that are performed are for the personal benefit of the person doing them. to open doors to them, to bring in money, to bring in love. we aren’t just sitting around trying to cast darkness on people who look at us wrong.

Heidi: Meagan, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. How frustrating! (By the way, I loved your blog post.)

I wonder, if in a way, we can all relate to having someone outside our religion telling us we are doing it wrong. That seems to be a common thread.

Aisha: Meagan and Heidi, I get that too, that I don’t know my own faith properly but they do. Honestly the conversation we were having on twitter that prompted Dahlia to create this secret group had a lot of that going on. I remember Sona Charaipotra [Sona, sadly, was unable to join us for this chat, but did have some really excellent things to say about the intersection of her race and religion, and in particular how her skin color makes people assume she’s more religious than she is] was talking about some experiences and how she felt her faith and relationship with it was complicated and others just talking over her about their own mainstream faith experience. Perhaps it was being done so they could say they related to her but it came across as taking over. I don’t know why that is the case. It’s frustrating to say the least.

Heidi: My wedding cake was made by a Christian woman who had a small, home-based business. It was so good, I started having her make birthday cakes for my family. Several years after working with her she told me, “I used to refuse to make cakes for Mormons and Jews because they aren’t saved and are going to hell, but then I realized I could use this as a chance to get to know them and one day witness to them, in the hopes of saving their souls.” She then proceeded to tell me all the ways my religion was wrong (getting many things wrong herself) and fervently plea for me to change my ways.

I mean, I guess her intentions were good. She honestly believed my very soul was a stake, but she wasn’t willing to listen or learn from me. And she wasn’t able to consider that she might be wrong. It was a very frustrating experience.

(I would have just left, but she was holding my cake hostage. It was a really good cake.)

And I already mentioned this on twitter, after our chat, but when I was a teen, I took my little brother to the state fair. He was nine. There was a booth giving out free coloring books, and he walked over to get one. Before giving it, the women in the booth asked him some religious questions. When he told them he was LDS, the told him he was going to hell and refused to give him a coloring book.

I can’t understand that kind of cruelty. Like, even if they believed that was true, how is that helping anyone? At least the cake lady tried to “save me.”
The amount of times I’ve casually been told I’m going to hell in my life is astounding.

Q: Is your religion something you’d like to write about someday, if you haven’t already?

KK: Religion *and* religious affiliation. I’m working on two books now that involve Orthodox Jews, and I have a future one that involves an unaffiliated Jew. It is both terrifying and also awesome.

Katherine: Both magicballoonbook and Sad Book have Jewish MCs. MBB’s character is a Conservative Jewish character though I wish I had shown that a little more. Sad Book’s Jewish character is more culturally Jewish because she grew up in a Communist country. The next historical YA series I want to write also has a Jewish MC (pre Holocaust so yay, I’ll get to play without that looming overhead). My YA contemporary has a MC raised in a Jewish family (mixed identity, he’s a foster kid) but he’s not the narrator. Basically the balletbooks are the only ones without Jewish MCs and Aly was in my first drafts :P

Meagan: I’m writing one now in which a character’s grandma was in the religion. It involves some old Mexican folk magic and hoodoo as well, but it’s slow going because it’s scary to write this stuff and feel like people are going to mock it. And because I’m white and don’t want to pretend like I’m some huge authority.

Dahlia: It’s such a tricky thing, I think, to write Orthodox Judaism in kid lit, because by design, it’s so insular. A fish out of water story doesn’t really fly, because we basically pack in tightly with other fish. We live among other Jews; a lot of our laws require certain communal aspects. So either you kinda bend over backward for an unlikely scenario, or you write a book where basically everyone’s Orthodox Jewish and then it feels weirdly unmarketable.

KK: *looks at WIPs* Yup. One book has the LI’s dad and stepfamily Orthodox (happened after LI was born), the other has an Orthodox MC & a Muslim MC and that may be too diverse for publishing but I hope not.

Kaye: I have…a lot of Muslim girl characters lining up to be written right now. I used to be apprehensive of writing Muslim girl characters, as I’ve explained/ranted about before, and then last year I went through this period where I was like, “PEOPLE WILL WONDER WHY THIS GIRL IS PUSHING MUSLIM GIRLS ALL THE TIME.”

But at the same time, I just love aspects of my faith, I love the girls I know in my faith and how strong and diverse and varying we can be in our passions, and I just want to show that. In times of doubt, I think of some great YA authors who had a large consensus of stories that pushed forward their ethnicity or marginalized background. If anything, I want to be able to help the narrative be whole and balanced in the way I can, and encourage others to add their voices, too.

Katherine: I worry about that ALL THE TIME, that if ALL of my main characters are Jewish, then I am That Author Who Writes The Jewish Historical Books. And I worry, a lot, that publishers will think my audience is limited because I write Jewish MCs (and almost all girls. Because fuck yeah girls.). But honestly, I can’t imagine writing these books without my girls being Jewish so…I’ll have to handle however that’s received. Also, I’ve swallowed a lot of non-religious/areligious/Christian MCs. ;) People will survive a couple of Jewish MCs.

Meagan: Katherine, what made you change Aly later on?

Katherine: I felt like if I was going to have a Jewish character, I should actually include aspects of Judaism and it wasn’t in the book (nor did I feel like there was room for religious angst in that book. There was angst enough). It was cut pretty early, prior to subbing/querying it.

Kaye: That’s a good attitude to have, Katherine. I’m going to adopt that. Also, I think I’m making up for a childhood where I wanted to see Muslim girls in all the genre things? So.

Heidi: I’ve thought about writing about the Mormon trail, specifically the exodus from Missouri after the governor issued an extermination order (all Mormons must leave the state or be killed), but it’s just a sort of vague, future idea.

Dahlia: That sounds cool, Heidi! (Not the extermination order, but the book idea, obviously.) I’m one of those jerks who knew nothing about Mormons until Big Love, so I would so, so welcome a book like that as a great window. It’s actually interesting to me how little Mormon kid lit there is considering how many Mormon MG and YA authors there are.

Heidi: Well, there are LDS publishers and bookstores, so I think most people that want to write about the religion publish there. But I’d love to see something mainstream, if done well.

Dahlia: Ah, good point! I think specialty/niche/religious publishers get overlooked a lot in the diversity discussion, because what we’re all really fighting for is to be included in the mainstream.

Heidi: Our twitter chat last week led to an epiphany for me. It’s the whole, “if done well” part. I’d be wary about someone outside my faith writing from an LDS’s character’s perspective. Would they put in the effort to do it well? It could be done, but it would take a lot of research and talking to LDS people. Thinking about it makes me feel a little protective.

It made me better understand other marginalized people feeling that way about just anyone writing their experiences.

Q, from Kaye: I’m just tossing out this question, because I was wondering for myself: Does anyone ever worry, when they are writing about their faith, that they are not doing justice to it? For ages, I worried over writing about Islam because my family and my experience are unique, in the way that any other Muslim’s interpretation and personal practices are unique, and I didn’t want to offend other Muslims by implying that my understanding was the only one.

Aisha: I think because of that same worry I write about Muslims but not about Islam. So my characters might pray or wear head covering or not eat pork but I don’t get into deeper aspects because I just don’t feel comfortable especially since people can disagree on some aspects, etc. That being said, Alif the Unseen is a great book to read if you want to see how to write about faith and do it justice!

Meagan: YES. i worry about that so much that’s probably the #1 reason i’ve hesitated to incorporate both the folk magic/hoodoo stuff i do, AND the santeria involved stuff. because i’m just some baby in this world and i still don’t know what’s what. i don’t want to speak over people or misrepresent something because of the way i’ve been taught.

KK: Alllllllllll the time. Because there are so many differences, even within Ashkenaz Orthodox Jews. My family may do one thing and so I’ll write something based on that, and it would be completely weird for someone else. Not to mention the levels of observance, even within the same group.

Q: What’s your association with how your religion is depicted in the media, and in kids’ books in general? Are there books you’ve seen do it really well? Books that stand out as harmful?

Katherine: I don’t actually know if any standout as harmful, but there are very few books where Reform Jews interact with Judaism beyond Hanukkah or the Holocaust. Really, books with Jews of any denomination not about the Holocaust are few and far between.

Dahlia: Definitely true, Katherine. I see the occasional one in YA and it’s nice when they pop up – The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider and obviously Like No Other by Una LaMarche. I think it’d be cool to see more observant Jews, but I like seeing them at all. The one portrayal I personally had really mixed feelings about was in Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. I love that Josh was Jewish and that Sukkoth, which is a big holiday for us but virtually unknown to the rest of the world, got a shoutout. But knowing how much we struggle at secular schools and jobs with the perception that our holidays are sorta “made up,” the propagation of the idea that people use Sukkoth as a way to get out of class made me wince HARD. When I was in college, some teachers actually required notes from the Orthodox rabbi at the Hillel that Sukkoth was a real holiday, and it really brought me back to that and how Othering it was.

Katherine: Yeah, exactly. We had to have notes EVERY single time and EVERY time a teacher would say, “You know I still expect you to have the homework done. Call a friend and find out what it is.” Like I was lying on my couch and watching Country Music Television all day. (I was really into country music in HS, okay.)

Kaye: Well, I think I’ve spoken on this before, but when it comes to my faith being depicted in the media…it’s never fair, it’s never true and it’s never balanced out. Harmful titles…my mind is currently a blank. I think I covered the titles that I think do it really well in the FSYALit guest post.

Dahlia: Kaye, I love that post heart emoticon And I didn’t know the MC of Scarlett was Somalian; I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere except for side characters in Sister Mischief by Laura Goode! Now I’m extra looking forward.

Kaye: Thank you, Dahlia! Jenn DM’d me earlier to clarify that Scarlett is biracial: half-Somalian, half-Egyptian. But it is still awesome and that side of her heritage is the one that is being the most emphasized. I also saw that Steve Brezenoff has written a MG book with a Somalian hijaabi on the front? I really want to find that.

[Found it!]

KK: Mainstream publishing does not really have any Orthodox characters. The ones I’ve seen are Ultra Orthodox, which I’m not, and 98% of the time hate their religion, which I don’t. So like Dahlia said, any small positive mention of Judaism makes me really happy.

Meagan: As far as I know, there are no books in kid lit about or involving Santería. Sadly. Media loves to vilify it though. I learned a long time ago to steer clear of any news stories or anything. They always involve murder cases and “satanism.”

OH and the only thing anyone will ever say is something from that awful Sublime song.

Rick: I have seen books that I definitely did not feel were… necessary, strictly speaking. There’s the infamous one Dahlia has heard me rant about often (Hitler’s niece falling in love with a Jewish boy in late-1930s Germany, subtitled FUCK THAT NOISE) but I also remember seeing a book years back about an Israeli girl who survived a suicide attack and developed superpowers or some shit , and it was… very obviously written by somebody who should not have been writing about that subject matter, to put it kindly.

Mostly, I see books where characters are tangentially Jewish in a passing reference, but it never really impacts their character or background or informs anything about them. I call this Felicity Smoak Syndrome.

Dahlia: OMG, Rick, I know which book you’re talking about w/the suicide attack (OK, wait, I think we may have talked about on GChat at the time and that’s why). Yeah, that’s one of those where I read the blurb and my brain was just one big NOPE NOPE NOPE gif. And as for that other one I have indeed heard you rant about, that’s literally the only YA that’s ever triggered me badly enough to DNF it in the first chapter. I could not read about a Jew being beaten to death during the Holocaust in that detail knowing my grandfather watched his brother die the same way.

Rick: Yes, I am certain we have talked about suicide!superpower book, because how could we not, tbqh.

And yeah, I just. That book makes me pretty angry that it even got published, which may or may not be a fair reaction. Like, that’s the story you really needed to tell? Of all the things, that’s what you thought was missing in YA? Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you HAD to roll into that one?

KK: I’m still just… no, y’all. No. When I was in Israel (2009-11) there were suicide bombs. I went to school with girls who lived through the Intafada, and the stories they told would give you nightmares. I just…I don’t even know.

To quote a friend of mine, “You left the house in the morning to go to school and you never knew if it was the last time you were going to see your family.” I have all the feelings, too.

Dahlia:

Kaye: Rick, I feel like I know the title you’re talking about with Hitler’s niece. Is that the one that came out last year?

Rick: Yep. Prisoner of Night and Fog, I think it’s called, which I had blocked from my mind but had to look up again last week to mortify other people with.

Kaye: YES, I READ THAT ONE. Even as a non-Jewish reader, I…didn’t know what to say about it. It felt very…blargh.

Q: Five sensory images relating to your religion: GO.

Katherine: Oh fuck. This is hard. um. Lit candles, for sure. Fried food.

Dahlia: I am such a cliche because the first one that comes to mind is potato kugel, but…it’s delicious, and I don’t understand why everyone in the world isn’t eating it.

Katherine: I have a really deep emotional attachment to the Amidah [the holiest prayer included in each of the services]. Can that count? Okay. Thanks :P

Dahlia: Oh, lit candles is definitely good – I think people definitely have that image because of Chanukah, but we also light two candles for Shabbos every Friday night. (Some people light more – an extra one per kid.)

KK: My family does that. My mom lights ten candles every Friday night.

The smell of challah. The stones of the Kotel. Um… This is hard. (POTATO KUGEL FOR LIFE.)

Meagan: Ooo, I love this one.

The smell of clay pots. I know that’s a weird one, but it has a real smell.

The sound of rumbling thunder from Oyá and Xango, the Orishas of storms.

The visual of flickering candles in a dimly lit room.

The scent of tobacco smoke. Cigars and cigarillos are used a LOT.

The feeling of tiny beads between my fingers, too. Seed beads and other small beads.

Katherine: The Shabbat candles stick out in my head the most, actually, because the girls lit the candles in JCC preschool so it was one of the first ‘religious’ things I did. (There’s an adorable photo somewhere of me learning this. I’ll try to dig it up this weekend at my parents’ house!)

Kaye: Hmm. The warm blend of pakora (vegetable fritters) being mashed into crunchy, oil-fried rice for a snack blend to break fast in Ramadan (courtesy of my Bengali aunts); the strong smell of different perfumes in the women’s section; the sight of bright silks and dresses at Eid prayer; the sea of backs lowered in prayer, with one or two lone children either hopping on their parent’s backs or else tapping them; and the soft sensation of lifting a prayer rug off the stack we keep on the bookshelf.

Meagan: I like that candles are almost always a cross over.

Kaye: Oh, this is a bonus, but WEDDINGS are the best sensory overloads ever. African-American Muslim weddings, Desi weddings (of which I’ve seen a bit more), Moroccan weddings – which are A NIGHTMARE for so many reason, even if they are gorgeous…

Dahlia: OMG, yes WEDDINGS. Upbeat music with trumpets always reminds me of the band playing the groom in to see the bride.

KK: WEDDINGS OMG. SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF WEDDINGS. I’ve been to Ashkenaz (mainly Polish/Russian/Lithuanian descent) weddings, Persian weddings, Syrian weddings, Bukharian (from Uzbekistan) weddings, Israeli weddings, Hasidic weddings (so many kinds)… all Orthodox. All crazy.

Meagan: Ohh I have to add one. Or just. THIS IMAGE. It is absolutely burned into my mind. I think Santería, this IS the image. It is the 7 African powers and it carries so much power with it and says so much about the history of it all.

SanteriaKK: Dahlia, in my community, there’s slow music played when the groom first sees the bride.

The sound of the entire synagogue praying together on Yom Kippur. Shofar blowing. Kaddish. Blessing food before eating. The feel of a wig. Velvet of yarmulkas.

Fire: my friend sent me this picture last night. Bonfire for Lag BaOmer [Wikipedia link mine] by the Kotel (western wall)

WWDahlia: I’m sad I’ve only been to Ashkenazi Jewish weddings; the only Persian friend I’m still really in touch with married my Ashkenazi friend and their wedding had no Persian-ness. And I would loooooove to go to a Bukharian wedding, or even just engagement party. My best friend’s brother married a Bukharian girl and the outfits everyone’s wearing in the pictures are so colorful and gorgeous.

Katherine: I’ve only been to super reform weddings actually. I wasn’t able to get out to my (hippie version of Orthodox) cousin’s wedding in Denver. The other weddings I’ve seen were all on my mom’s side so Catholic, Quakerish, and Methodistish.

Dahlia: Various songs are big ones for me. The two we sing before Friday night dinner, especially – “Shalom Aleichem” (lit. “Peace be upon you,” but used to mean “welcome”) and “Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor,” which is directly from Proverbs), which is something men sing to their wives, though often you just kinda join in because why not.

KK: SONGS! “HaMalach HaGoel,” which is one of the prayers we say before going to sleep. “Ani Ma’amin,” one of the 13 principles of faith formulated by the Rambam (famous commentator on Torah).

[Video insert of “HaMalach HaGoel” mine, in case anyone’s curious what it sounds like. This particular video is a performance in memory of a close family friend]

Aisha: Sensory: the adhan, call to prayer. Samosas with mint chutney after a day of fasting. Red and gold lanterns lit with tea candles. Soft stitched prayer rugs. Water against the skin as I do my ablution for prayer.

Heidi: White clothing. My husband and I were married in an LDS temple and our guests dressed all in white.

Listening to the children sing. Every year one service is the children’s service and they share what they have learned in their Primary classes (ages 3-11) that year. They talk too close to the microphone, sing too loud, pick their noses, and say the most wonderful (and sometimes hilarious) things. It’s my favorite service.
Every church building I’ve ever been in has smelled exactly the same. I don’t know what it is, but it’s there.

The taste of sacrament bread.

Casseroles—nearly every serious illness or difficulty I’ve ever had has been met with someone at my door, bringing dinner. In fact, someone brought my family dinner, out of the blue, last year when I was on a super tight deadline for The Pirate Code.

Q: What depictions of your religion are you still waiting with bated breath to see?

Kaye: I still want to see…so many things. I listed a bit on the WWC mod wishlist, but I want to see a lot more diversity within Islam, because it is a diverse faith. I want to see more stories involved with peace and fun, instead of constant struggles over hijaab or facing Islamophobia – although, I do want to see more accurate depictions of Islamophobia, too, because so many people seem to think it’s all in our heads!

KK: ANYTHING. I mean, really. Anything well researched. Please please please.

Kaye: What KK said. I feel that so much.

Meagan: Anything that does involve OMG HUMAN SACRIFICE or killing goats or anything. Basically ANY representation.

Katherine: I’d super like to see a MG with a Bar/Bat/B’nai Miztvah because that basically sucked up all of my time, social life, energy, and thought in seventh grade. It was a huge part of my life and I never see that reflected anywhere.

Heidi:  You know, this question actually makes me sad because I have so rarely seen anything about LDS people that wasn’t there specifically to make fun of us. I can only think about what I’d like to see less of.

KK: Jolene Perry has a few LDS books, I think. She writes them as Jolene Betty Perry. I think there are three.

Heidi: Really? I’m going to have to look for those. I should qualify that the worst of it is on TV. I don’t think LDS people are mentioned much at all in books, unless it’s a book about LDS history. Mette Harrison’s adult thriller The Bishop’s Wife is a recent exception.

Rick: p much any that doesn’t suck tbqh

lmao i just saw KK said the exact same thing first

KK: great minds, Lipman. Great minds.

Thanks for joining us, and please note that comments will be moderated heavily without apology!

Ten (Okay, Eleven) Authors I REALLY Want To Meet

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This is an extra fun Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and The Bookish for me because, well, I’m an author as well as a blogger and some of these are just friends I really want to hang out with and also to have sign my damn books already! I’ve been pretty blessed to meet a lot of my favorite authors already, but here are 10 I still haven’t and am dying to, in no particular order:

(Also, I’m sticking to authors who are already published, but I am very much dying to meet several of my friends in person who are debuting in 2016-17, including Emily Henry, Audrey Coulthurst, Paula Garner, Ashley Herring Blake, and Jeff Zentner, just to be clear. Get their books on your radar!)

1. Melina Marchetta. There is a terribly sad story in which one of my best friends moved from NYC to Atlanta, and I attended his goodbye party at a bar on 17th street. The next day, I found out Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Gayle Forman had been doing an event I could’ve easily gone to from there just a few blocks away. Saddest thing ever.

2. Courtney Summers. In truth this would be horribly embarrassing from a “Years of fangirling” perspective, but Courtney is blessedly cool and pretends I’m not tremendously awkward, which is great. That would probably last…until we met.

3. Christa Desir. Christa is a lovely friend I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with on the phone, speaking with via email, speaking with via Twitter…and yet, still no in-person. I AM DETERMINED TO CHANGE THIS, especially since my copies of Fault Line and Bleed Like Me are begging to be signed.

4. Tess Sharpe. Another lovely friend with a fabulous book I am just impatiently waiting to come east…

5. Trish Doller. Trish is fabulous and I’m a huge fan of her books and she was kind enough to blurb Behind the Scenes and I’m so, so excited this is one that’s actually happening in the near future!

6. Abby McDonald, aka Abigail Haas. (See Courtney Summers.)

7. Hannah Moskowitz. This almost happened recently but alas did not, but I got all excited about it and now I’m just impatiently waiting for us to actually cross paths.

8. Justina Ireland. Justina’s just a badass, and someone I’m so happy is in my Twitter-life. I hear she’s equally fabulous in person and I am eager to put this to the test.

9. Anne Ursu. (See Justina Ireland.)

10. Sarah Ockler. You know the thing about Sarah Ockler? She’s pretty quietly written some really great marginalized characters and it really doesn’t get talked about, but I would so very much love to sit down and talk to her about someday. And maybe weep a little bit about Twenty Boy Summer.

11. Francesca Zappia. Just to give her a hug and make her skin crawl. It will be the best thing. Someday.

Blog Tour: The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

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SUMMER blog button3

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I only take part in blog tours when I super, super adore both author and book. I have to cop to the fact that I am supremely behind on my non-YA reading thanks to blogging responsibilities, but A) I adored book one in this series, All Four Stars, enough to be fully confident in its sequel, The Stars of Summer, which just came out yesterday and B) I adore Tara a whole lot too ;) (Come to think of it, it seems I do blog tour stops strictly for macaron buddies. Huh.)

Some proof of my macaron-centric love, and please excuse my horrible phonetography:

IMG_1405 IMG_0230 Left: At Tara’s launch party, with Lauren Magaziner, and me in my awesome shirt.

Above: Me and Tara at Sugar Plumm

 

So, what else makes me so confident in this book? Well, duh, it’s a foodie book, and knowing that Tara writes with so much respect for kids and produces books that are fun and delightful and foodtastic without writing down to the reader was honestly my first big MG revelation. So, yeah, much positivity toward these books!

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman CoverThe_Stars_of_Summer_CVR_LIB

In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley.

As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper and sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when it turns out her hot dog assignment was a dirty trick by a jealous reviewer, Gladys’s reviewing career may be over forever.

Penguin * Indiebound * Powells * Amazon * B&N

In honor of the fact that Gladys goes hunting for New York’s best hot dog, Tara asked if we’d share our favorite hot dog recipes. I…have no hot dog recipes, but I do know what I like in a condiment, so, let’s talk about this!

1. Mustard. You might think ketchup, but it turns out you’re actually wrong. Please don’t argue with me; this is science.

2. Barbecue sauce. If a sauce in the red color family is gonna go on your hot dog, there really is only one choice. It’s still not ketchup.

3. Chipotle sauce. My husband and I have a policy of buying literally every product we see that both mentions chipotle and has kosher supervision. As a result, we have a very weird number of chipotle sauces/mayos/whatever, but on the bright side, they’re good on hot dogs!

4. Onion jam. This is the new love of our home. My husband made it to go in a gift basket for a holiday, and we’re kind of addicted to eating the leftovers on our hot dogs. NO REGRETS. Personally, I have zero patience to make anything at home that doesn’t say Duncan Heinz on the box, but thankfully, he’s not the same way, so if you’re feeling adventurous or at least a little curious, here’s the recipe he made that we now swear by: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2009/08/seriously-italian-onion-and-rosemary-confiturra-recipe.html

YUM.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare for Tara’s next visit to NYC; we have some macaron shopping to do.

Tara Dairman headshotTara Dairman is the author of ALL FOUR STARS, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Website: http://taradairman.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaraDairman
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor
Instagram: http://instagram.com/allfourstars/

Author photo credit: Tiffany Crowder @ Crowded Studios: http://www.crowdedstudiosphoto.com/

Top Ten Books By People I Adore That Rocked April 2015 (+Giveaways!)

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This was a very cool month for me in both YA and NA, which had nothing to do with me and everything to do with how many authors I adore and admire released really, really excellent books. I tried to talk about them as much as I could, but there was just so much, I don’t know what got lost in all the amazingness. So, I figured that for my Top Ten Tuesday post today (i.e. the last release day of April), I’d do a recap on Ten Titles released this month that are books I really enjoyed by people I’m lucky and honored to call friends. And yes, the fact that there are ten of those (more, actually, but let’s not even go there right now) to discuss this month totally blows my mind. I also have a few things to give away, so, look for what says +GIVEAWAY+ underneath and then scroll to the bottom of the post to see how to get it.

*Giveaways are US only unless you want to pay the difference in shipping. Sorry, but these add up waaaay too fast.

So, working backward from today’s releases:

1. Black Iris by Leah Raeder.

11032-9781476786421It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.

If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.

She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.

But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.

Which was the plan all along.

Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.

She’s going to show them all.

This is the easiest one for me to talk about in brief because I loved it so much that I blurbed it:

BI blurb

“Raeder masterfully weaves a dark, twisted, dangerously sexy quest for revenge with a raw, honest search for kinship and self-acceptance. Black Iris demands your attention, your heart, and an immediate reread.” (Dahlia Adler, author of Last Will and Testament)

 

 

You can (and should) also check out this interview I did with the author here, and this interview in which she acknowledges I was actually right about something.

AmazonAudibleBarnes & NobleGoogle PlayIndieBoundiTunesPowell’s

+GIVEAWAY – paperback+

2. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

GIRLMIDNIGHT_5_6Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

I was part of the blog tour for this one, so you can read about my love for it (and Melissa) and the foods mentioned within here!

AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, Indiebound, Powell’s, Goodreads, Books of Wonder

3. Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Sonny Ardmore is an excellent liar. She lies about her dad being in prison. She lies about her mom kicking her out. And she lies about sneaking into her best friend’s house every night because she has nowhere else to go.

Amy Rush might be the only person Sonny shares everything with— secrets, clothes, even a nemesis named Ryder Cross.

Ryder’s the new kid at Hamilton High and everything Sonny and Amy can’t stand—a prep-school snob. But Ryder has a weakness: Amy. So when Ryder emails Amy asking her out, the friends see it as a prank opportunity not to be missed.

But without meaning to, Sonny ends up talking to Ryder all night online. And to her horror, she realizes that she might actually like him. Only there’s one small catch: he thinks he’s been talking to Amy. So Sonny comes up with an elaborate scheme to help Ryder realize that she’s the girl he’s really wanted all along. Can Sonny lie her way to the truth, or will all her lies end up costing her both Ryder and Amy?

Just got to celebrate this launch last night, which included me acting out the part of Amy alongside Danielle Paige’s Sonny and Adam Silvera’s Ryder. Let’s…not talk about that part. But you can see LOL featured in my BN Teens post April Contemporary YA Romances to Love

+GIVEAWAY – signed ARC+

4. 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

You can find my thoughts on 99 Days in the same April Contemporary YA Romances to Love post as above, and in my Goodreads review. I was also lucky enough to be at Katie’s NYC Epic Reads tour stop last week, to get to see her in person and get a signed copy. More on that soon when I finally start my Dahlia’s Awesome Shelves series!

AmazonBarnes & Noble, Powell’s.

5. Play On by Michelle Smith.

In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.

Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius; she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek — he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.

As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the façade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.

Ditto April Contemporary YA Romances to Love, though the most important stuff I have to say about it is really here.

6. All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

I have so. Many. Thoughts on this book, and have had so much to say about it, so I won’t say any more here. I’ll just direct you to:

My Goodreads review

An interview I did with Courtney for BN Teens

A BN Teens feature on all five of Courtney’s full-length novels

+GIVEAWAY – hardcover+

7. Second Position by Katherine Locke.

Four years ago, a car accident ended Zedekiah Harrow’s ballet career and sent Philadelphia Ballet principal dancer Alyona Miller spinning toward the breakdown that suspended her own. What they lost on the side of the road that day can never be replaced, and grief is always harshest under a spotlight…

Now twenty-three, Zed teaches music and theatre at a private school in Washington, D.C. and regularly attends AA meetings to keep the pain at bay. Aly has returned to D.C. to live with her mother while trying to recover from the mental and physical breakdown that forced her to take a leave of absence from the ballet world, and her adoring fans.

When Zed and Aly run into each other in a coffee shop, it’s as if no time has passed at all. But without the buffer and escape of dance—and with so much lust, anger and heartbreak hanging between them—their renewed connection will either allow them to build the together they never had… or destroy the fragile recoveries they’ve only started to make.

Not only did I love love love this character-driven NA – my very first read by my dear friend Katie – but I got the honor of revealing the cover of its follow-up just a few days after this one’s release. See more of my thoughts on Second Position and the details of Finding Center here.

The District Ballet Company Series
Turning Pointe (District Ballet Company #0.5—free novella)
Second Position (District Ballet Company #1)
Finding Center (District Ballet Company #2)

8. Skandal by Lindsay Smith.

The dramatic sequel to Sekret, this psychic Cold War espionage thriller follows Yulia to Washington, DC, where she fights to discover the truth about her family without losing control of her mind.

My mind is mine alone.

Life in Washington, D.C., is not the safe haven Yulia hoped for when she risked everything to flee communist Russia. Her father is reckless and aloof, and Valentin is distant and haunted by his past. Her mother is being targeted by the CIA and the US government is suspicious of Yulia’s allegiance. And when super-psychics start turning up in the US capitol, it seems that even Rostov is still a threat. Ultimately, Yulia must keep control of her own mind to save the people she loves and avoid an international Skandal.

Loved both book one of this duology (Sekret) and this one, and I got to interview Lindsay about them for BN Teens, which you can read here.

Sekret: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Chapters | The Book Depository

Skandal: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Chapters | The Book Depository

9. Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

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

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

This is yet another book you can read up on in April Contemporary YA Romance to Love, but I also highly recommend reading Becky’s guest post for BN Teens on Why Coming Out Stories Still Matter.

10. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio.

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

I shared my (very positive) thoughts on this one here, and was also lucky enough to get Ilene to share some facts and myths about intersexuality on BN Teens.

Powell’s | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

To win any of the giveaway items, just review any of the above books on Amazon or B&N (crossposting from Goodreads is more than welcome, but a Goodreads review alone is not enough), and tweet me a link with hashtag #AprilYA and what prize you’re entering for!

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