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Friday Reads: THE ONLY THING TO FEAR and WE ALL LOOKED UP

After skipping a week of Friday Reads to celebrate my good news, I'm back to recommend two more books you might enjoy! The Only Thing to Fear is by my fellow YA Buccaneer Caroline Tung Richmond. We All Looked Up is by my fellow Fearless Fifteener Tommy Wallach. Both are awesome people as well as being awesome authors, and I'm thrilled to share their books here.

the only thing to fear

The Only Thing to Fear is a sci-fi alternate history. The premise: the Nazis genetically engineered super-soldiers that helped them win World War II. In the present day, the former U.S. is divided into territories run by the Axis powers. Sixteen-year-old Zara is a half-Japanese, half-American living in the Nazi-controlled Eastern territories. With her mixed heritage, she's viewed as lower than low by the German upper class she serves. But she's hiding something: not only is she connected to the Resistance that wants to overthrow the Nazis, she has a power of her own that could help turn the tide. This book was a fast read, moving from the day-to-day struggles of living in the Nazi regime to all-out rebellion in under 300 pages. Once the sparks of revolution ignite, it's hard to put this book down. Yay, Caroline!

we all looked up

Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up is a different kind of page-turner. It's about four teens whose very different lives intersect when an asteroid threatens to destroy the earth in two months. In short, it's The Breakfast Club set at the end of the world. What I loved about this book was how rich and real each teen's response to the looming apocalypse was. Learning that the earth has a 66.6% chance of ceasing to exist makes some people jump at opportunities they'd never dared to pursue, while others fall victim to truly terrible decisions. Friendships and romances are formed and break apart. Dreams are realized. Lives are changed. I hope that doesn't sound vague or trite, because this book is not either of those things. It's moving and surprising, even as it hurtles toward some inevitable conclusions. Definitely recommend!

What have you been reading lately? :)

~Kathryn

So ... I Have News!

Perhaps you've been wondering what I've been up to lately. Why I haven't posted much about writing in a while. Why I've seemed unusually busy and flustered and fuzzy-headed and overwhelmed for the past month or so. Why I haven't been answering your emails and texts in a timely fashion. I've been hard at work on … *drum roll* … MY NEXT BOOK!! 

I sold my second book over the summer, and have been busy finishing and polishing my first draft to turn in to my editor. Which I did, on Wednesday.(Cue the fanfare and confetti and imminent collapse from exhaustion in my messy apartment.) Now that the first draft is in my editor's hands, I've been given permission to shout about the new book deal from the social media rooftops—and that's exactly what I intend to do!

This calls for a gif:

dancedanceHere's what you need to know about Book Two, which will be coming your way from HarperTeen in Summer 2016:

Everything's Beautiful is about a 16-year-old ballet dancer, Sam, who struggles with body image issues. After suffering a severe panic attack before her studio's spring concert, Sam is sent to an anxiety camp for elite teen artists and athletes to work through her issues with professional counseling and peer support. She initially resists treatment—in part because the camp conflicts with the summer ballet intensive she's supposed to be attending. Then she hits it off with Andrew, a former college football player who is one of her camp counselors. But is the connection between the two of them just about therapy, or could it lead to something more? And if Sam can't come to terms with the pain and anxiety she's been feeling, is her dance career over before it even begins?

I'm thrilled to have Alexandra Cooper as my editor once again! Alex helped make The Distance Between Lost and Found into a finished product I am so, so proud of, and I know she'll do the same with Everything's Beautiful. And of course I have to give a shout-out to my agent, Alyssa Henkin, who believed in this project from the first time I mentioned writing a book about a ballet dancer who didn't have the ideal body, and who encouraged me to discover the story I needed to tell.

So … that's the exciting news I've been keeping secret for a few months! Yay! :)

~Kathryn

 

Friday Reads: THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT and SPIRIT'S KEY

This was a good week for reading! And not only because I happen to know both of the authors whose books I read. Both The Girl at Midnight and Spirit's Key were fast and engrossing books, and I am excited to recommend them here.

the girl at midnight

The Girl at Midnight is by Melissa Grey, and is coming to shelves in April 2015! (Yes, I read it as part of the Fearless Fifteeners' ARC tour.) It's a fantasy set in the present day, where two ancient races are seeking an end to the ongoing war between them. The Avicen are birdlike people with feathers for hair who live beneath the streets of New York City. The Drakharin have scales and the ability to command fire. Echo is the human teenager who gets sucked into the middle of their war, via a search for the mythical Firebird. If it sounds epic and complicated…it is. But Grey juggles the multiple points of view beautifully. I don't want to give too much away here, but I will say, if you're a fan of recent YA fantasies like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and the Grisha trilogy (of which I admit I have only read the first book!), you should pick this one up. I am already dying to read Book Two, and that one doesn't come out until 2016!

Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn is a middle-grade fantasy/ghost story that has a classic feel. It's about a twelve-year-old girl, Spirit Holden, who comes from a family that can read people's futures by holding their house keys. When the book starts, Spirit hasn't come into her gift yet — but that's about to change. When the wild dogs that live on remote Bald Island start turning up dead, the superstitious islanders fear that they're next. Then Spirit starts seeing the ghost of her own recently deceased dog, Sky. With help from Sky and one of the island's few other preteen residents, Nector, Spirit attempts to solve the mystery of what's happening to her beloved island home. This book was a definite page-turner! I wanted to know what was causing the mysterious illnesses on the island — whether it would turn out to be supernatural or human in origin — almost as much as Spirit did, and I loved how the whole thing played out in the end. Another solid recommendation for anyone who loves middle-grade fiction.

That's all for now! Anyone else reading anything good these days?

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD by Michelle Falkoff

Just a quick Friday Reads today, to give a shout out to another of my fellow Fearless Fifteeners! Michelle Falkoff's PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD comes out on January 27th, and I got to read it a week ago as part of the Fearless Fifteeners ARC tour. I really enjoyed it! playlistPLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD is about Sam, whose best friend Hayden commits suicide and leaves behind a playlist of songs that he says will explain everything. Of course, to Sam—reeling from losing his best (and only) friend and feeling tremendous guilt about what happened the last time they spoke—the playlist doesn't really explain much at all. That doesn't stop him from becoming obsessed with it. But when he meets a girl he didn't know Hayden knew, Sam starts to discover what life without Hayden might be like. He also learns that there are things Hayden wasn't telling him—and that Sam isn't the only person feeling guilty and responsible for Hayden's death. This book is part mystery, as the events that led up to Hayden's decision are gradually revealed. But it's also a portrait of grief and recovery. It's a story of how you can be best friends with someone and still not know everything about him or share everything about yourself, and it's a story about how you can learn to move on when that person is gone.

To keep things light (haha!), I picked up Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT next, and I spent the week marinating in his prose. I'd seen and loved the movie, so I knew the plot; I just wanted to read it in his words. And wow, this book did not disappoint. Its glacially paced, artfully rendered opening chapters. Its raw, visceral depictions of a world at war. Its unflinching portrayal of a young girl's lie, and the pain and loss that result from that lie. And its ending, with that young girl now an old woman reflecting on the past and still trying to atone for the trouble she caused. If you haven't read ATONEMENT yet (or, I suppose, seen the movie…), definitely pick it up.

Are you reading anything good right now? I want to hear about it! :)

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES and WHEN REASON BREAKS

Happy Friday! After a brief blog hiatus (I have been revising my new book like a fiend, y'all!), I am back to recommend two absolutely wonderful books. worse than witchesLauren Magaziner's middle-grade debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES is a hilarious, magical read. It's touted as being reminiscent of Roald Dahl, and that's completely accurate. A young boy, Rupert, is being tormented by his evil teacher, Mrs. Frabbleknacker. When he sees an ad in the paper to become a witch's apprentice (his town is famous—and infamous—for the witches that live there), he can't resist applying for the job. But his new boss, Witchling Two, is barely older than Rupert, and is pretty much hopeless at magic. I know this phrase is overused (including by me…), but: hijinks ensue. And they are so, so funny. Lauren's writing, like Dahl's, is made to be read aloud. I know several middle-graders and soon-to-be middle-graders in my life who will be getting this recommendation.

when reason breaksOn the opposite end of the spectrum is Cindy L. Rodriguez's Young Adult debut WHEN REASON BREAKS. (I read Cindy's book as part of the Fearless Fifteeners ARC tour. This book comes out February 10, 2015—one week before mine!) WHEN REASON BREAKS is about two girls who are both having a hard time dealing with what life throws at them. Goth-girl Elizabeth has anger-management issues and a problem with authority. Popular and sweet Emily is struggling to balance friendships, a new boyfriend, and her overbearing conservative politician father. By the end of the book, either Elizabeth or Emily will attempt suicide. Both are in Ms. Diaz's English class, learning about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson, and one of the things I loved most about this book was how Dickinson's work and life reverberate through the text. The book handles tough and sensitive subjects with compassion and care, and the writing is beautiful.

Have you read anything great lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

It's the end of the summer! (Boo, hiss.) And I completed the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge! (Yay!) I did it by the skin of my teeth. But I did it! Over the past two weeks, I reread Jane Austen's PERSUASION—my favorite Austen novel—to fill the "classic" category. Then, I beta-read a friend's middle-grade manuscript that happened to be set on Sanibel Island, in Florida, which counted as my book set at the beach. And finally, this week I worked my way through ADAM OF THE ROAD, to fulfill the "book I disliked as a kid" category. Honestly, I don't remember reading ADAM OF THE ROAD, much less disliking it, but when I asked my mom for recommendations, this was the one that came to her mind! So how did it hold up? It was a bit slow, and you can definitely tell it's 70 years old…but I didn't hate it. Would I recommend it to a kid today? Perhaps, if the child in question was really into history, especially medieval history. Would I read it again? Probably not. Can't win 'em all.

Summer Reading 8-29

Here's the final rundown, with links to my original post about each book:

Biography or memoir: WILD by Cheryl Strayed

Non-YA book: LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

Classic: PERSUASION by Jane Austen

Debut author: BEHIND THE SCENES by Dahlia Adler

Book with 'summer' in the title: THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME by Jessica Verdi

Book published the year I was born: THE BFG by Roald Dahl

Male protagonist: VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab

FREEBIE: FIRE WITH FIRE by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, THE STORYSPINNER by Becky Wallace, SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo, and many more!

Book I disliked as a kid: ADAM OF THE ROAD by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Old favorite: THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Strauss

Book that's been on my TBR a long time: OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu

Printz Award winner: JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta

Book set at the beach: TURTLE TRACKS by Stefanie Wass (read in manuscript form)

Book with LGBT characters or themes: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

Book of poetry or novel in verse: CRANK by Ellen Hopkins

In total, I've read 26 books since we kicked off the Summer Reading Challenge! Not bad at all. As we go into the fall, I'm going to shift back into writing about and recommending books on a less formal schedule—but I promise not to stop Friday Reads entirely! And who knows…maybe I'll find time to blog about some other things, as well...

Hope everyone has a lovely Labor Day weekend!

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: "In a World Just Right," "Written in the Stars," "Jellicoe Road," and "The BFG"

I feel like I read ALL THE THINGS this week! I can't remember the last time I plowed through four books in seven days. But they're all awesome books, all page-turners…and having sent my new manuscript off to its first few beta-readers, I had a little more time on my hands than usual. Here's the scoop:

In a World - Written in the Stars

I ended up with two more Fearless Fifteener ARCs this week: Jen Brooks' IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT and Aisha Saeed's WRITTEN IN THE STARS. Both were wonderful, and you should buy them in 2015. (That's going to be a theme whenever I comment on upcoming Fearless Fifteener releases going forward: buy them! Support talented debut authors!)

IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT is about a boy, Jonathan, who can create new worlds at will. As a high school senior in the real world, Jonathan is a loner, disfigured by a facial scar and generally ignored by his peers. In his favorite alternate world, he still has the scar, but he's dating the most popular girl in school, runs track, and has friends. One day he accidentally tries to kiss the real Kylie Simms, instead of the version that's his girlfriend, and the two Kylies begin to merge, taking on each other's characteristics. In order to save them both, Jonathan has to figure out the truth behind his world-building abilities. This book has a plot that twists and turns, keeping you guessing until the very end. Great for fans of sci-fi/fantasy and contemporary stories alike!

WRITTEN IN THE STARS is about a Pakistani-American, Naila, whose parents want her to have an arranged marriage. The problem is, Naila has fallen for a classmate, Saif, and she's been hiding her relationship from her parents. When they find out about her boyfriend, Naila's appalled and disappointed parents whisk her off for a "vacation" in Pakistan—and it soon becomes clear that they have bigger plans for her. I couldn't put this book down. Naila's journey from fairly typical American teen (despite being the child of conservative immigrant parents) to unhappy seventeen-year-old bride is wrenching and powerful. The ending made me cry. I highly recommend this book!

Next, I crossed two more books off my YA Buccaneers Summer Reading Challenge bracket:

Jellicoe - BFGThey're both rereads: Melina Marchetta's JELLICOE ROAD for my Printz Award Winner and Roald Dahl's THE BFG as my book published the year I was born! I read JELLICOE ROAD several years ago, and I have to confess that I found it hard to get into at the beginning. Then, the ending blew me away. Upon rereading, I was hooked from page one. The story is really two stories intertwined: in present-day Australia, Taylor Markham is competing in a territory war at her boarding school against the local Townies and the Cadets who visit each summer. Taylor was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother years ago, and was raised by Hannah, a mysterious and sad woman who lives near the school grounds. Hannah, meanwhile, is writing a novel that tells the story of five friends dealing with heartbreaking loss two decades prior: Narnie, Webb, Tate, Jude, and Fitz. I don't want to spoil the way these two tales intersect, other than to say that if the start of the book doesn't hook you, keep going. It's well worth it.

THE BFG was one of my absolute favorite books as a kid. I have vivid memories of reading favorite passages over and over and laughing until I cried. The snozzcumbers! The whizzpoppers! The way different people from different countries have different flavors! (People from Turkey taste like turkey, while people from Greece taste greasy and people from Panama taste of hats.) When I discovered that this book was first published in 1982, and thus fit into one of my Summer Reading Challenge categories, I knew I was due for a reread—and rereading just cemented how much I can't wait to share this book with my own kids one day.

Summer Reading 8-15

Only three squares to go! (I still can't think of a book I disliked as a kid… I remember devouring just about everything! Mom? Help!)

What are you reading this week?

~Kathryn

 

Friday Reads: Heavy Issues Edition

I didn't plan this, but the past week's reads all ended up being about heavy subjects. In a nutshell: September 11th, depression, suicide, and meth addiction. But don't run away yet! The books that covered these dark topics ranged from compelling to uplifting to heartbreaking to downright beautiful. 20344662I received two Fearless Fifteener ARCs at the end of last week, both very high on my "can't wait to read this" list. Kerry O'Malley Cerra's JUST A DROP OF WATER is a middle-schooler's-eye-view of the events surrounding September 11th. As the school year starts, Jake's biggest worry is beating his cross-country rival and securing a coveted Team Captain armband. But after September 11th, everything changes. Jake lives in Florida, far from the attacks, but he feels the repercussions in a very real way. His mom becomes fearful and paranoid. His best friend, Sam, gets beaten up for being Arab-American. Sam's father is detained and questioned by the FBI. Jake struggles to determine what's right in an incredibly hard situation. He doesn't always make the right choices, but he learns a lot. His story will give today's middle-schoolers insight into a historical event that happened just before they were born and shaped the world they live in. Although the descriptions of the day itself were hard to read, as someone who remembers that day all too well, the rest of the book was a compelling page-turner. I highly recommend this one, which comes out in just a few weeks.

18336965Right after that, I started Jasmine Warga's MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. This book is about a depressed teen, Aysel (pronounced like gazelle), who enters into a suicide pact with a boy who's wracked with his own grief and guilt. But as Aysel gets to know Roman and finds herself opening up to him, she discovers that she wants to live. The concept might sound dark and sad—and it is. But this book is also profoundly hopeful. Aysel's journey is heartbreaking and difficult, and yet it also manages to be uplifting without minimizing the serious issue of depression. Part of what keeps the book from feeling unrelentingly bleak, especially at the beginning, is Aysel's wonderful voice. She's funny and snarky, and she peppers her narration with references to physics, her favorite subject. As she finds herself falling for Roman, there's a sweet vulnerability, as well. Really, I can't say enough about this book—and I don't want to say much more, for fear of spoiling the experience of reading it. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES comes out a week before my own book, in February 2015, and you should definitely buy it.

270730For the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge, I read Ellen Hopkins' CRANK, a novel-in-verse that's based on Hopkins' daughter's descent into meth addiction. Hopkins is well-established on the YA scene at this point, and I'd never read any of her books (which are all written in verse), so this seemed like the time! What I liked most was the verse itself. Hopkins is a skilled poet, crafting poems within poems that contradict or elaborate on what's being said on the surface. She lays the words out on the page in ways that enhance the text, as well. And by telling Kristina's story in verse rather than using traditional narration, Hopkins is able to keep the story focused on raw, visceral emotion. My criticism would be that Kristina's voice didn't always feel authentic to a teenaged girl fighting a losing battle against "the monster" of meth. There were times I felt Hopkins—the adult author and mother of a girl very much like Kristina—intruding into Kristina's thoughts. But if you're interested in seeing how verse can propel a story forward in nontraditional ways, check this one out.

That's all for now! Next week, I'll have to try to read something a little more upbeat… Anyone have any beach book recommendations? :)

Summer Reading 8-8 ~Kathryn

Friday Reads: "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and "Eren" by Simon P. Clark

Happy August! I don't know about you, but it seems like July simply flew by. I can't believe we're on the home stretch of summer—and of the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge! Here's what I read this week: UnknownCheryl Strayed's memoir WILD has been on my list for a while, and I'm glad I finally checked it off! Once I got into it, I had a hard time putting this one down. WILD follows Strayed's 1995 hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, from southern California to the Oregon-Washington border. She was 26. Her mother had recently passed away, and Strayed was in a downward spiral. She cheated on and then divorced her husband. She tried drugs. At the point when the memoir begins, she's a broken shell. She thinks that maybe going into the wilderness alone for a few months and doing this impossible hike will be what heals her. And it does, to an extent—though it also breaks her down a lot along the way. Strayed is a woefully unprepared backpacker, which gives some levity to what is otherwise a fairly somber book. I also read reviews stating that Strayed was a frustrating narrator, too self-centered and self-flagellating to spend time with. What kept me pushing forward at the start of the book was how unflinchingly Strayed writes about her past. She made a lot of mistakes, and she admits them. And, moving forward, she works to overcome them. I definitely recommend this book.

imagesI also got yet another Fearless Fifteener advance copy: Simon P. Clark's EREN, which releases this September. (Yes, we have a few Fearless Fifteeners who are actually 2014 debuts; it's too complicated to go into here!) This book doesn't fit into the Summer Reading Challenge categories I have left, but I was too fascinated by it not to tell you a little about it here. This book is middle grade fantasy marketed to fans of Neil Gaiman. It's about a boy, Oli, who discovers a creature in his attic—Eren—who seems to feed on stories. Oli has a lot going on in his real life, and talking to Eren feels like an escape. But there's more to the sinister Eren than Oli realizes. This book is about the stories we tell, and it's written in a format that tells stories within stories within the main story. It's a slim volume, but not a fast read; the pace is deliberate, forcing you to savor each story as it unfolds. And where it ends up is unexpected—at least, it was for me. This is a thoughtful, slightly creepy meditation on the power of storytelling, and if you're a Gaiman fan, you will probably enjoy this book as well.

Here's where my Summer Reading Challenge bingo board stands as of today, August 1:

Summer Reading 8-1

Until next week… Happy Reading!

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: "Landline" by Rainbow Rowell (Plus Some Mortal Instruments…)

This past week, I plowed through two *very* different books. One was written for adults, the other for teenagers. One was (mostly) realistic, the other the height of urban fantasy. One was fairly concise—I read it in a single evening—and the other was more than 700 pages long. And, um, only one counted toward my Summer Reading Challenge goals. Summer Reading 7-25

So we'll start there. I read Rainbow Rowell's Landline as my non-YA book because, well, I love her work, and I couldn't wait to read this one—which came out in early July—and that's where it fit on the bingo board. And it did not disappoint! Landline is about a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Georgie knows things aren't good between her and her husband, Neal, but she doesn't know how to fix them. When she gets a great career opportunity that happens to conflict with a long-planned trip to see Neal's family for Christmas, she chooses her job—and Neal takes their daughters to Omaha without her.

UnknownAnd then she can't reach him. At all. He either doesn't pick up when she calls, or he's just stepped out, or it goes straight to voicemail. Wracked with guilt as the days pass, she finally gets through on the landline, calling from her old bedroom at her mom's house to his parents' home phone. The catch: the Neal that answers the landline is Neal from 15 years ago, right after the first time they almost split up. What I loved about this story is that it isn't really about the supernatural element at all. It's about the relationship between two people who have lost each other and want to find each other again. In speaking to past-Neal, Georgie remembers what brought them together in the first place—and realizes everything she has to lose if she doesn't fight to get him back. But she also knows how much she's hurt him over the years. Would it be better and kinder to save him from all of that by breaking up with him before they get married?

Truly, I can't recommend Landline—and all of Rowell's books—enough. Go buy them. I'll wait.

Unknown-1When I finished that one, I picked up Cassandra Clare's MASSIVE City of Heavenly Fire, the sixth and final book in The Mortal Instruments series. I raced through the first half of this series a little over a year ago, and so I was definitely excited for this last book. And it (mostly) lived up to my expectations! What I loved most was seeing all of the threads Clare introduced in TMI books one through five—and in her prequel trilogy, The Infernal Devices—come together in this finale. I love big, epic, sprawling stories where the world keeps growing, many different characters get to have their say, and small details and characters that were introduced in book two or a prequel become important players in the plot later on. Clare does that well, and it's what will most likely make me pick up her next series. (Especially since she basically set up the premise for the next set of books at the end of this one!) Are The Mortal Instruments books great literature? Nope. Do the characters sometimes behave in truly frustrating and irrational ways? Yup. But they're pretty addictive books nonetheless.

Now I've started Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which will be my Summer Reading Challenge memoir. More on that next week…

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: "The Summer I Wasn't Me" and "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda"

Another week, another two books checked off the Summer Reading Challenge bingo board! This week I took care of "Read a book with 'Summer' in the title" and "Read a book with LGBT themes or main characters." (Though really, both books I read fit into the latter category…) Check out my previous Summer Reading Challenge posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Look! I'm one non-YA book away from getting a bingo!

Unknown-5Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't Me isn't your typical summer camp story. It's about a girl, Lexi, who gets sent to a camp that promises to change her sexuality. Finding out Lexi likes girls practically destroyed her mother, who was already fragile after the recent loss of Lexi's father to cancer. To try to make things right—to rebuild her broken family—Lexi agrees to give "de-gayifying" a shot. But of course, once she gets to New Horizons, it's not as easy as she'd hoped. The camp's views seem antiquated at best, and harmful at worst. And there's the matter of Carolyn, the gorgeous blonde who's in Lexi's support group…

This was a fascinating read. Verdi does a great job of showing the various motivations behind the campers' desire to change (or at least to try), even while condemning the camp directors' delusional and occasionally cruel methods. The most interesting point to me was that, unlike in the other book I've read with this setting (Emily M. Danforth's The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Lexi goes to New Horizons genuinely wanting the treatment to work. Her inner conflict kept me turning the pages.

Unknown-6Book #2 this week, Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (a spring 2015 release that I got to read as part of the Fearless Fifteeners ARC tour), was charming, sweet, funny, and hopeful. With this one, the reason I kept turning pages is because I so badly wanted Simon to get his happily ever after! The book is You've Got Mail for the modern age, with two smart, articulate boys. Simon has been corresponding over email with a boy he knows only as Blue when another boy, Martin, sees their emails on a school computer. Martin likes Simon's friend Abby, so he blackmails Simon into helping him score a date. Anxious about being outed, and even more about outing Blue, Simon agrees. Hijinx ensue.

Simon is a great narrator, quippy and snarky and heartfelt. He wears his heart on his sleeve in his emails with Blue—the first guy who's really made him want to open up. I definitely don't want to spoil the surprise of who Blue turns out to be, but I will say that I was smiling pretty much nonstop near the end of the book. The romance is that sweet. Add this one to your TBR for 2015! I can't wait to buy my own copy and read it again.

That's it for now… what are you reading this summer?

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: Summer Reading Challenge, Freebies Edition

Over the past week and a half, I've read three books…and none of them fit any of the specific categories I have left on the Summer Reading Challenge bingo board, so I'm calling them all Freebies! 1402966739620But before I dive in, here's what I've accomplished so far, with links back to my posts about each one:

Read a book that's been on your TBR a long time: Corey Ann Haydu's OCD LOVE STORY

Read a book with a male protagonist: V.E. Schwab's VICIOUS

Read a book by a debut author: Dahlia Adler's BEHIND THE SCENES

Re-read an old favorite: Nicole Krauss's THE HISTORY OF LOVE 

Since rekindling my love affair with THE HISTORY OF LOVE, I managed to finish FIRE WITH FIRE by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, which I had out from the library; read Becky Wallace's THE STORYSPINNER as part of the Fearless Fifteeners' ARC tour; and race through Leigh Bardugo's SHADOW AND BONE, which people have been telling me to read for what feels like forever. I really enjoyed all three, and for very different reasons!

YAB freebie books

One thing all three of these books have in common is that they're not the end of their story! FIRE WITH FIRE is the middle of a trilogy—and I swear, I thought the third book, ASHES TO ASHES, was already out. Imagine my disappointment to find that it won't be available for me to read until September! Meanwhile, THE STORYSPINNER is the start of a new fantasy series—and given that the first book doesn't hit shelves until March 2015, I know I will have a long wait to find out what happens next. Luckily, I waited to read SHADOW AND BONE, which is the first book in the Grisha trilogy, until the third book is out. I plan to buy and race through the next two as soon as possible.

So, what are these books about?

In FIRE WITH FIRE, three girls are plotting to right the wrongs people have inflicted on them. Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan. (This edgy series started with BURN FOR BURN.) This is a Young Adult revenge thriller, with a supernatural twist that I don't want to give away.

In THE STORYSPINNER, a young storyteller finds herself at the center of a power struggle between the rulers of her kingdom and their magical neighbors. The thing that impressed me most about this book is that the story is told from many different perspectives, so it has a truly epic feel.

And finally, SHADOW AND BONE is a fantasy set in a Russian-inspired world where a magical upper class, the Grisha, wield power and influence. Alina, a young peasant, discovers that she herself may be a Grisha, and gets sucked into a dangerous power struggle led by the mysterious and alluring Darkling, the most powerful Grisha of all.

And now, on to the next books! :D

What are you reading? Anything blowing your mind?

~Kathryn

 

 

Friday Reads (on Thursday): The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

1402966739620 I mentioned last week that this week's contribution to the YA Buccaneers Summer Reading Challenge was going to be one of my favorite books. I'm pleased to report that I found Nicole Krauss's THE HISTORY OF LOVE every bit as lovely and thought-provoking and heartbreaking the fourth (or fifth?) time around as I did on first read. If you haven't read this book, go get it now! It's a relatively slim novel that is so packed with beauty and meaning that you'll want to read it again and again—like I do.

Unknown-1THE HISTORY OF LOVE is a book about a book, also titled The History of Love. The novel-within-the-novel is magical realism, full of love stories that always come back to a single girl: Alma. Krauss tells her story from multiple points of view: a lonely old man, Leo Gursky, who escaped from the Nazis and made his way to New York City; a teenager from Brooklyn, named Alma after the character(s) in The History of Love, the book that brought her parents together; Alma's little brother, Bird; and a third-person narrator who gives more detail about The History of Love's author, Zvi Litvinoff. Each voice is unique and flawless.

I don't want to reveal all of the ways in which these stories intertwine, but everything starts with the book. For instance, Alma's father has passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving her mother a shell of her former self. When her mother gets a commission to translate The History of Love into English, Alma decides to learn more about the man asking for the translation, and then to learn more about the book and its author. THE HISTORY OF LOVE twists and turns, bringing its characters together in unexpected ways and giving new meaning to seemingly inconsequential details right up to the end. And that ending…the last few pages make me cry every time. They're just so lovely.

Since this book is a reread, I have to mention how the story opens up more with each pass through it. One new facet that became more clear to me this time around is the way Jewish culture pervades the story. Leo uses an array of Yiddish expressions. Thanks to my husband and his family, I now understand those terms and their emotional interpretations much better than I did the first time I read the book. Similarly, Alma's mother and father met in Israel, and thanks to my trip to that country a few months ago, I felt like I could visualize and understand those references better, as well. Each time I pick up THE HISTORY OF LOVE, it's like I uncover another layer, and this time, with the Israel trip still fresh in my mind, I couldn't escape the spiritual and secular Jewish themes.

I don't know what else to say, other than: Read this book! 

(And yes, the first chapter, from Leo's point of view, can be a challenge. Push through it. I promise, you won't regret it!)

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab and BEHIND THE SCENES by Dahlia Adler

It's the end of week two of the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge, which means it's time to check in! This week, I crossed two more books off my list: Vicious by V.E. Schwab and Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler. 1402966739620

HERE, you'll find what you need to know about the Summer Reading Challenge. Last week, I wrote about a book that had been on my TBR list for far too long. This week, I've got my debut taken care of, in Behind the Scenes, and I have…a bit of a wild card. Vicious could count as a non-YA book. It's also got a male protagonist. (Actually, two.) So I might cheat a little and see where it needs to fit in as I move forward with the challenge!

UnknownV.E. Schwab's Vicious was a really interesting read. It's the story of two men, Victor and Eli, who start researching EOs—or ExtraOrdinary people, those with unique abilities—in college, only to become EOs themselves. They also become mortal enemies. The book opens with Victor having just escaped from prison, after a decade behind bars. His mission: find his former friend…and kill him. But the cool thing about Vicious is that even though this is a story about people with the kinds of abilities you see all the time in comic books, the lines between hero and villain are truly blurred. Victor is ostensibly the villain of the piece, but he's more sympathetic—and maybe the evil things he's done are justified. Eli is ostensibly the hero—but he's killed more people than Victor, many of them innocents. Does it matter if he believes he's on a righteous mission? I don't want to spoil anything else, so I'll finish by saying: if you enjoy seeing superhero tropes subverted and reaffirmed and subverted again, don't miss this book.

behind-the-scenes-adler-coverAfter Tuesday's post, I hope you aren't tired of hearing me talk about Dahlia Adler and her debut Behind the Scenes, because I'm going to gush about her book now! I started reading it on the ride home from Dahlia's launch party on Monday night, and was finished by Tuesday evening. I won't recap the plot—you can learn more about that on Goodreads. What I will say is, how delicious is this book? I laughed, I swooned, I felt all the feels. Ally is a fun, snarky, maddening, and moving character, and Liam is…well, pretty much perfect. (Seriously, does that boy have a flaw?!) I also enjoyed getting a glimpse into the life of someone on the Hollywood fringes—BFFs with a rising star, and yet treated like a complete nobody in Hollywood circles. Ally's insecurity about her place in that world—in Liam's world—was as believable as it was heartbreaking. This is a fast, fun, sweet, and sexy read.

More books next Friday! As for what I'm reading now, I'll give you a teaser: It's in the "Re-read an old favorite" category, it's adult literary fiction, and it's one of my absolute favorite books. I'm loving it just as much this time, and I can't wait to share it here.

~Kathryn

Going Behind the Scenes to Celebrate BEHIND THE SCENES!

  BehindtheScenesBlogTour3DahliaAdler (533x640)I'm excited to be part of the blog tour celebrating Dahlia Adler's YA debut Behind the Scenes, which releases today! I met Dahlia online (through my friend Ghenet), and I can honestly say she is one of my social media idols. Not only are her tweets constantly cracking me up, she's also a passionate and prolific blogger and a die-hard advocate for YA literature and its authors. I was able to attend her super-fun book release party last night, and I am now the proud owner of my very own autographed copy of Behind the Scenes! I started it last night, and so far, I'm in love.

Learn more about Dahlia on her website and blog.

Here's what you need to know about Behind the Scenes:

behind-the-scenes-adler-coverHigh school senior Ally Duncan's best friend may be the Vanessa Park—star of TV's hottest new teen drama—but Ally's not interested in following in her BFF's Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father's mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van's on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she's capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can't play by Hollywood's rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

GOODREADS | AMAZON | B&N | THE BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND

In honor of her book's release, Dahlia has asked a bunch of people to give a "behind the scenes" glimpse into our own lives. All of the YA Buccaneers are sharing info about our writing spaces and routines this week. (My post is HERE! Read about the other Buccaneers' writing spots HEREHERE, and HERE.) So, I figured for my personal blog I'd branch out and take a look at the other big passion in my life: dance!

I've written a little bit about being a contemporary dancer, and have shared some recent performance photos (for instance, HERE and HERE), but I haven't gotten down to the nitty gritty. And before you freak out and run away at the idea of seeing my dancer-feet up close and personal, I promise that I'm keeping the calluses and bunions under wraps! There are a few things that just don't need to be photographed and shared on my blog. :)

Let's kick things off with a shot of me sophomore year in high school. This is from an outdoor performance my ballet company did at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. (It ended up pouring down rain, thus the tent.) We were dancing to a selection of choral pieces by Brahms, sung live. Even (*ahem ahem*) years later, this is still one of my favorite performance memories!

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Flash forward: I haven't taken a ballet class in a couple of years, and I keep meaning to get back to the barre. I do, however, take between two and four modern/contemporary dance classes a week, depending on my schedule and my mood. (I also take a yoga class or two a week, and all of that plus writing books and writing for work equals a pretty packed schedule.) Why do I keep at it? It isn't just that I love to perform, and need to stay in good shape to look my best onstage. It's also that I'm more productive with my writing if I take a break to fit in movement at some point in the middle of the day. Dancing takes me out of my head and puts me in my body. When class is over, I'm able to sit back down at the computer exhilarated, refreshed, and ready to focus. (And sweaty. Sorry, fellow coffee shop patrons!)

One of my favorite teachers, with whom I've been training pretty regularly since 2008, is Diane McCarthy. She was kind enough to let me take some photos in her class at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Yes, they're a little blurry. But this is behind the scenes, after all!

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The new book I'm working on is about a teen dancer, which means all of my professional worlds are finally coming together. I'm drawing on my own experiences in the dance studio—especially my teen years performing with a regional ballet company—as well as things I've learned as a dance magazine editor and freelance dance writer over the past decade. I can paint my character's emotions, her physical sensations, and her studio environment on the page, because I've been there—and because I'm still there, as often as possible. Despite everything the character is going through in the book, I hope my love for dance shines through.

So there's your glimpse behind the scenes! Buy Dahlia's book!

And who am I kidding? It's not a behind-the-scenes-in-the-dance-studio post without a picture of my feet. But because I love and respect you all, I kept the socks on.

This is what I do to socks.

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu

I'm kicking off the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge by finishing a book that has been on my to-be-read list for WAY too long: Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story. Corey is a fellow New School MFA grad, albeit a few years after me, and I think this book, her debut, has been out for just about a year. From the first time I heard about it, it seemed like something I'd be interested in: a girl struggling with newly diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder starts to fall for a guy in her OCD therapy group. So why didn't I pick it up sooner? The short answer is: too many books, too little time.

51C3FHrW5lLBut I'm so thrilled I finally got to it, because it was fabulous! Bea's voice was so raw and real. It was fascinating to be inside her head, to read her internal monologue and experience her compulsions as they popped up and became more difficult to ignore. Her growing frustration and desperation were palpable as her problems started to snowball completely out of her control. It's interesting that one of Bea's compulsions has to do with safe driving, because as the book went on, it started to feel like she herself was a vehicle hurtling down a highway toward an imminent crash. After a certain point, it was pretty much impossible to put the book down.

One of the things I loved most about this book was Bea's complicated relationship with Beck, the boy she first meets during a blackout at a school dance and who then appears at her new OCD therapy group. The way they carefully navigate each other's compulsions is surprisingly sweet. Bea's relief at finally being understood by someone who is going through something similar is both beautiful and sad. At the same time, her worry that if Beck gets better, he'll no longer want to be with someone crazy like her is an undercurrent in all of their scenes together. Getting all of those emotions to coexist, especially alongside Bea's various internal and external OCD symptoms, was a true feat. Well done, Corey!

I'm not sure what's next on the reading docket, but as I mentioned on Tuesday, I plan to check in each week with my progress toward getting a Summer Reading Challenge bingo! And as we get into some of the harder categories, I may ask for recommendations (favorite novels-in-verse, anyone?), so I need you to be ready in the comments.

Happy Friday!

~Kathryn

Summer Reading Challenge!

When I was a kid, summer vacation didn't just mean time away from school. It also meant having time to read even more books! And needless to say, my parents supported that endeavor wholeheartedly. Summer vacation involved weekly trips to our local public library, as well as to our favorite local chain bookstore (RIP, Davis-Kidd Booksellers)—and both places offered summer reading challenges for kids in our area. We'd receive a treasure map marked with different pieces of treasure to collect—aka types of books to read. We'd be handed a jungle safari guidebook listing genres instead of animals, or a map of the solar system with books on each planet. The challenge: read a book in each category in order to win a prize at the end of the summer. The prize, of course, was usually a gift certificate to buy more books. And so it goes. :)

Anyway, when the YA Buccaneers team started talking about doing our own Summer Reading Challenge, I was in 100%. And not just because the idea is giving me major nostalgia for those long summer days where all I had to do was sit under the big tree in our backyard and read. I love challenges where you're asked to read outside your comfort zone. How easy is it to get stuck in a rut, reading only things you know you like? Why not explore other genres, or pick up a book by a new author, or re-read one you didn't love as a kid to see how you feel about it as an adult? This challenge will ask participants to do just that:

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Check out our introductory blog post HERE to learn more about the challenge! I'm really looking forward to broadening my reading horizons this summer, and I'll be sharing the books I read here as I cross them off my list. Who's with me?

~Kathryn

Friday Reads: Playing Catch-Up

It looks like my last Friday Reads post was in early April, so it's definitely time to play catch-up! I'll keep the intro short and sweet and get right to sharing a few of my recent favorites:

Panic — Lauren Oliver

UnknownI tend to like just about everything Lauren Oliver writes (and I can't wait for her first adult book, Rooms, which comes out this fall!), and this book was no exception. The story follows two small-town teens as they play Panic, a dangerous thrill-ride of a game that consumes the town's graduating seniors each year. The game: face your fears in a series of ever-crazier stunts and challenges. The last person standing takes home a pot of cash collected from students over the course of the previous year. Heather is playing Panic for the money, to try to make a better life for herself and her sister. Dodge is in the game for darker reasons—including revenge. They both find their strength and their resolve put to the test, as it seems like the game is getting out of control fast. This book is a page-turner—I had a hard time putting it down!

Midwinterblood — Marcus Sedgwick

Unknown-1I only read Midwinterblood a little over a month ago, and I'm already tempted to give it a reread. This book surprised me in so many ways. It's made up of a series of interconnected stories, all set on the same mysterious Scandinavian island, with each story going back further in time. The stories are told in wildly different voices and styles, and yet they still feel like part of the whole. The second story (the only one set in the present) is about an archaeologist, and the book truly feels like an excavation, with each story revealing more clues until you finally discover the whole truth. And that truth…well, without spoiling too much, it involves Vikings, and ghosts, and magical orchids, and blood sacrifices, and a love story that transcends time. I highly recommend this one.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — Benjamin Alire Sáenz

AristotleDante_PuraBelpre1-397x600Two Mexican-American boys—loner Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza and sensitive know-it-all Dante Quintana—meet one summer and forge an intense friendship…and then something more. That's the book in a nutshell, but it's so much more than that. Ari's voice is so authentic and unique. He's sad, angry, confused, frustrated, sullen—and funny. His brother is in prison, and his parents won't talk about it. His dad is still haunted by the Vietnam War (the book is set in 1987)—another thing no one will talk about. Ari has few friends and no outlet for everything he's feeling—until he meets Dante. Where Ari is closed off, Dante is open. Where Ari has no idea who he is or who he wants to be, Dante is self-assured and comfortable in his skin. This is a beautifully written, heartfelt coming-of-age story about two boys who save each other.

We Were Liars — E. Lockhart

Unknown-2This book has been heavily hyped on Twitter over the last few months, so I was excited to pick up a copy when it came out. And it didn't disappoint! I bought it in the Nashville airport, after my visit to my family in May, and I'd finished it by the time I landed at BWI for the next round of family visits. I definitely don't want to give too much away about this one, because true to the title, not much is as it seems. The story centers around a wealthy, privileged New England family, the Sinclairs, who summer on a private island. The (unreliable) narrator is Cadence, who is suffering from amnesia and severe headaches after something happened two summers ago. Now, she's back on the island, and starting to remember the truth. If you like plots that twist and turn, pick this one up.

I'll Give You the Sun — Jandy Nelson

Unknown-3I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this book, which goes on sale in September. Jandy Nelson's debut, The Sky is Everywhere, was captivating and heartbreaking—and gorgeously written. So obviously I couldn't wait for her follow-up to come out! I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by twins in alternating chapters: Noah tells the story from when they're thirteen, while Jude's half is set three years later. The difference in the twins in those three years is striking, and Nelson takes her time explaining what happened in between. The twins have distinctive voices, and both characters jump off the page. Whether she's writing about grief, art, or physical/emotional attraction (and there's plenty of all three in this book), Nelson's prose is vivid and explosive and exuberant. She really is a spectacular writer.

Whew! That's all you get for now—five great books. But stay tuned, because I have more great reads to share coming up!

Happy Friday,

~Kathryn

End of May, End of Bootcamp, Start of…?

I can't believe it's almost June! I also can't believe that the three-month-long YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp is coming to a close. Wasn't it just yesterday that we were dividing into teams and setting goals? I wrote last week that I'd pretty much accomplished my Bootcamp goals, and so there's nothing new to report on that front; I just wanted to acknowledge one more time how awesome it was, and how much the format pushed me to accomplish. I'm proud to display my survival badge: I Survived2

Since I'm taking a brief writing break before diving back into revising my various projects, you might not hear about writing for a bit—but that's probably fine, since I've written about almost nothing but writing during the Bootcamp months! Instead, I want to try to do some Friday Reads posts in the coming weeks, to catch you up on some of the amazing books I've read. And of course I'll share any other exciting news that happens in my life...

Such as how this week has been chock-full of writer-friend get-togethers. It's BEA week here in NYC (that's Book Expo America for you non-publishing folks), which means a lot of writers are converging on Manhattan to visit the Expo and sign books and do promotional appearances and such. On Wednesday evening, I went to the Teen Author Carnival, where my friend Lauren Morrill was on a panel with a bunch of other YA Contemporary authors. I may have mentioned before on the blog that I've known Lauren since high school, and that we reconnected when we both ventured into the YA author world. It's always great to see her and catch up! (And it doesn't hurt that I got to attend two fab panels at the TAC, and connect with a few published authors, and buy some books, and get those books signed…)

And then, last night, the Fearless Fifteeners had a group dinner. There were about 16 of us, some New Yorkers and others who are in town for BEA. I definitely met six or eight new faces! We talked and talked and had a blast. As I inch closer to my pub date (and I promise I'll be able to tell you when that is very soon!), I'm so thankful for all of the networking I'm able to do and the friendships I'm developing—with published, soon-to-be-published, and aspiring authors. I can't say it enough: It's so good to be reminded that we're all in the same boat. Or have been in the same boat. Or will be in the same boat.

More soon!

~Kathryn

YAB Bootcamp Update — Awesome Things Edition

I'm home in Brooklyn after my week with family, and it feels great to be back in my routine today. I slept in my own bed, sat at my own desk with coffee brewed in my own coffeepot and drunk out of my own mug, took a lunchtime dance class, and now am at my new favorite post-dance-class cafe. Life is good! And being back to my normal life isn't the only reason life is good. Things have been pretty awesome since I checked in last week.

Awesome thing #1:

I finished my first draft of EVERYTHING'S BEAUTIFUL! I think that means I officially WON Bootcamp. :D I wrote the last chapter on Wednesday morning, at which point I did a happy dance in my sister's apartment. (Her cat was not amused at my antics…) I haven't looked at the manuscript since, and that's on purpose. I'm taking a break from this book for a few weeks so that when I am ready to revise, I'll be approaching it with fresh eyes. But it's perfect timing for me to be on a writing break because of...

Awesome thing #2:

galleys

I received my galley pages for THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND! I can't express how amazing it is to see my book laid out like a *real book,* with a font and chapter headings and section divisions and, you know, all the things actual books have. It looks so different than the Times New Roman MS Word doc I've been staring at for so long! Anyway, I have the next week and a half to scan the pages for errors, and knowing me I'll need to do more than one thorough read to feel at ease about sending the book to the printer, so… as I said, good thing I finished the new book's first draft last week.

Awesome thing #3:

Clockwise from top left: Newborn, 16 months old, 7 years old, 4 years old.

Or, if I'm being honest, awesome things #3, 4, 5, and 6: my fabulous nephews. As happy as I am to be home now, it was wonderful spending the week with all of my boys. (Plus the rest of my family: my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my sister, my husband's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and even brother-in-law's parents! Whew.) Here's just a little taste of what I was up to over the past week: snuggles, block towers, baby pools, baths, runny noses, dirty diapers, pajamas, picture books, storytime at the library, train sets, Legos, Spongebob Squarepants, Nintendo, laser tag, chicken fingers, sticky fruit bits (and sticky fingers!), cheese pizza, birthday cake, and the list goes on and on. I'll take my award for Super Aunt now, thanks. :)

So as Bootcamp winds down, I'm pretty much done with my writing goals. These three months have been a kick in the pants and a great morale booster. I've gotten so much done! Thanks to all of the YA Buccaneers—and everyone who participated in the Bootcamp—for giving me the encouragement I needed to push through. And here's one more shout-out to my splendiferous teammates: Winter Bayne, Riley Darkes, Emma L. Adams, Kate Scott, Angel Leigh, and Tonette de la Luna! I look forward to seeing what all of you accomplish in the future! Go Team Mazama!

team mazama final

~Kathryn