Friday Reads: Catching Up!

It's been (gasp!) several weeks since I posted a Friday Reads, so I have a lot of catching up to do! And I've read a lot of great books in that time. So rather than write in depth about one book, I'm going to do a quick roundup of awesome things I've read lately. Ready? First up, I read all three Infernal Devices books by Cassandra Clare. This series is the companion series to the Mortal Instruments books, which I blogged about HERE. I actually read the first Infernal Devices book, Clockwork Angel, more than a year ago, before reading any of the Mortal Instruments books, which was a mistake. At the time, I didn't love it—and I think that's mostly because I didn't understand the world Clare had set up as well as I could have had I read the Mortal Instruments books first (that series started first). But anyway—I picked up Clockwork Angel again, ready to give it another try...and got completely sucked in. So sucked in that the day I finished it, I squeezed a visit to The Strand into my schedule so I could buy the next two in the trilogy, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess.

Love these covers!

The Infernal Devices series is set in Victorian London, and one of the things I loved about it was that the whole magic element includes automatons (the "infernal devices" of the series' title). The danger felt all the more terrifying because these characters had seen just about every kind of demon and monster imaginable—but now they're fighting machines the likes of which they could never have imagined, given the technology of the day. The romance, meanwhile—ignoring the slightly frustrating love triangle that only redeemed itself fully at the VERY end of Book 3—was steamy and dramatic despite the constraints of the Victorian Age. And it was great to see all the ways in which these prequels tie in to the modern-day series.

Two thumbs up! (But read The Mortal Instruments books first!)

After that, in the mood for something pretty different, I picked up Melissa Walker's Small Town Sinners. This book is YA contemporary set in a conservative Christian community, and the action centers around a Hell House—an evangelical version of a haunted house showcasing various sins along the road to hell. The narrator, Lacey Anne, is a good girl who finds herself falling for a new boy in town—a boy her parents don't approve of. At the same time, events are leading her to question some of the truths she's been raised to believe, and she's wondering what her faith means in the face of truly difficult circumstances. And one of the things I loved about this book was that Walker let Lacey Anne ask those questions without preaching, on the one hand, and without condemning faith, on the other.

Love this cover, too!

I've been interested to read this book for a while now, in part because my debut novel, The Creation of Hallelujah Calhoun, is set in a southern Christian world. Though the plot is very different, my characters grapple with some of the same issues that Lacey Anne finds herself struggling with. I wanted to see how another author handled setting her story in that world, complete with youth group drama, adults who don't "get it," and the occasional prayer. That said, I didn't want to read Small Town Sinners until I'd figured out the story I wanted to tell in my own book, so I waited to buy it until a few weeks ago. I went to an event at Powerhouse on 8th bookstore in Park Slope featuring Walker, Barry Lyga, and Michael Northrop, and ended up buying lots of things—and getting Walker to sign my copy:

This makes me so happy!

Two thumbs up, again!

After finishing that book, I picked up Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans. I'd heard great things about this book, and it was on my to-read list, so imagine my excitement when during my meeting with my editor at HarperCollins, Alexandra Cooper, she handed me a copy from her stash! Level 2—soon to be retitled The Memory of After—is about Felicia, who died and has found herself in a sterile white version of the afterlife where everyone plugs into a network to view and relive their memories of life. Her routine is blown to pieces when one of her few friends in this strange place goes missing—and no one else remembers she existed. Then she is "rescued" by a boy from her past, a boy she thought she'd never see again...

This cover will soon be a collector's edition! :)

To say much else about the plot would be giving too much away! I have to say that this book surprised me several times, both in the world that Appelhans created and in how events played out. The characters Felicia meets in the afterlife are all fascinating mysteries, while the characters in Felicia's former life, who we meet through her memories as she watches them on the 'net, feel real and difficult and sympathetic and flawed. And unbeknownst to me until Alex handed me the book, a lot of Level 2's flashback action takes place in church youth group settings—another chance for me to see how another writer tackled this world and its beliefs in a compelling way.

Another two thumbs up!

Finally, I just finished another recommendation and gift from my editor Alex, Morgan Matson's Second Chance Summer. This book was already on my radar—Matson is a New School MFA grad, and I loved her debut, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour—so I was pretty sure I was going to love this one when I got around to reading it. And I completely did! Even though I cried and cried at the end, and then wanted to go hug my dad (and my mom, and my husband, and my siblings...).

second chance summer

Second Chance Summer is about Taylor, whose father has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. There's nothing the doctors can do other than try to make him comfortable, and so the family returns to the lake house where they used to spend every summer—until five years ago, when life started getting in the way. They'll have one last summer together as a family. But upon returning to Lake Phoenix, Taylor discovers that it's not so easy to pick up where she left off. Her childhood best friend Lucy won't speak to her, while Henry, the boy she shared her first kiss with (and maybe still cares for), is chilly, at best. As her father gets sicker, Taylor has to face up to her tendency to run away when things get tough and learn how to seek support through hard times, rather than pushing it away. Even though you know from the start where the book is headed, at least in terms of Taylor's father, it's a beautifully written, heartwrenching, powerful read.

Two more enthusiastic thumbs up! (But bring the Kleenex...)

That catches you all up on my reading habits, which is a good thing because my thumbs are getting tired!

What are you reading? Any recommendations? With some travel on the horizon, I'm always looking for the next great read...