Don’t worry if you can’t get enough of these book recs from Dallas Woodburns because she’ll be on the Booked All Night podcast on May 7th. Until then, enjoy her guest post and a GIVEAWAY of her upcoming title The Best Week That Never Happened.
Emerge by Tobie Easton
Actually, I would recommend this whole series, The Mer Chronicles, of which Emerge is the first book. This romantic page-turner reimagines the world of The Little Mermaid, but takes it in entirely new directions. Main character Lia is a mermaid who lives on land with her family amidst a small, secret community of Mer people—ever since The Little Mermaid unleashed a curse, the Mer lost their immortality, and the ocean has been plagued with war. When Lia begins to fall for a human boy, everything she knows and loves is put to the test. If you’re into high-stakes, fantastical romance, you will fly through this book and promptly dive into the next two in the trilogy, Submerge and Immerse.
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
When I was reading this book, I felt like I was having an affair. Loveboat, Taipei was all I could think about. I would grab it and flip it open any little chance I got throughout the day, eager to see what would happen next. I stayed up way too late reading, even though I knew I would have to get up early to take care of my baby daughter the next morning. This book centers around Ever Wong and her transformative summer experience in the Chien Tan educational summer program in Taipei. My favorite parts of the book were Ever’s path of self-discovery and her intensely satisfying romance with a fellow Loveboat student. (Not saying who, so I don’t give away the plot twists!) This was the perfect escapist read for these anxious days of quarantine: filled with romance, rebellion, and character-driven emotion.
10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac
It has been a couple years now since I first read this novel, but I still find myself thinking about it—which, to me, is a sure sign of a great book. The story centers around Maeve, a girl who struggles with severe anxiety and is sent to Vancouver to spend the summer with her dad and her stepfamily. The romance between Maeve and free spirit Salix is heartwarming and refreshingly realistic, and I love how Salix doesn’t try to “fix” Maeve’s anxiety. Instead, both characters find new layers of freedom and joy both in and outside their budding romance. Side note: I adore the relationship between Maeve and her stepmother in this book! We could use more books depicting close teen/stepparent relationships.
Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen
Calling all Jane Austen fans! You must get your hands on Dangerous Alliance immediately! This Regency-era historical romance is the perfect novel to sink into as you relax with a delicious baked good and a mug of tea. Lady Victoria Aston is on a time crunch to find a husband in order to secure her family’s estate. In addition to the romantic twists and turns, there is also a murder mystery woven into the plot that kept me riveted. The writing style is warm and witty, and I loved the way Vicky’s character develops through the course of the book. And as a writer myself, I was so impressed by the extensive research Cohen must have done—the world is so vividly portrayed with details and descriptions. I can’t wait for her next book!
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
I am a huge Sarah Dessen fan—her books were a true comfort to me during high school, and I have continued reading and loving her work ever since! It is difficult for me to pick just one Sarah Dessen book to include on a list like this, but I am going with The Truth About Forever because it is definitely one of my favorites, and the theme of letting go of perfection is really resonating with me these days. (You should see the disastrous state of my house; my 16-month-old daughter’s favorite game is to pull items down off shelves and dressers and scatter everything onto the floor.) While I love this book’s slow-building romance between Macy and Wes, perhaps even more satisfying is the way that Macy comes to terms with her grief, moves past her perfectionism, and takes control of her own future.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon is another one of my favorite authors. I especially adore her nuanced, complex, multifaceted characters, and the way her love stories have high stakes. In The Sun is Also a Star we meet Natasha, a science-loving girl whose family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica, and Daniel, who has always been “the good son” and “the good student,” pushing aside his own dreams to please his parents. When Natasha and Daniel’s paths collide on a crowded street in New York City, we get to experience their quickly unfolding romance over the course of a single day through their alternating perspectives. I first listened to this novel as an audiobook, and I loved it so much that I bought a print copy when I finished listening so I could read it through again on the page. And every time I read this book, even though I now know how it ends, I cry the best kind of happy tears when I get to the final page.
When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
This is one of the most beautifully unique books I have ever read. I have a hard time capturing in words how this book made me feel and how much I adore it. McLemore writes with gorgeous ethereal prose about Miel and Sam, best friends who everyone else considers odd but who find solace and redemption in each other. If you are a fan of magical realism, emotionally resonant stories, and characters who are radiantly filled with light and life—you will fall in love with this book. It might even change your life.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
I recently re-read this book after watching the movie on Netflix, and oh my heart. Violet and Finch have to be two of my all-time favorite characters, and their romance is so deeply felt. Reading this book is like falling in love for the first time… and getting your heart broken for the first time, but in a way that makes you hopeful about falling in love again. This is an intense, poignant novel about how the people we love simultaneously change us while also allows us to be our deepest, most authentic selves. And while I was captivated by the film version of this story—and highly recommend watching it on Netflix—I have to say that the book is even better.
The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
This book drew me in with its stunning cover, and the evocative storytelling and lush prose had me hooked from the first page. Epic love story? Check. Mystery and suspense? Check. An ending that will knock your socks off? Check. As soon as I finished reading The Love That Split the World, I immediately wanted to turn back to page one and read the whole book all over again! I also have a fond spot in my heart for this book because I was reading it when I got the lightning-bolt idea for my novel The Best Week That Never Happened. I like to think that something about this story opened the floodgates for my own creativity!
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
I love all of David Levithan’s books—in fact, I almost put Boy Meets Boy on this list instead, but I ultimately went with The Lover’s Dictionary because it is so incredibly unique and thoughtfully done. I am a sucker for creative structure, which is perhaps why I was so blown away by this book. The narrator (who remains nameless, increasing the feeling that this is a book about anyone and everyone) has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Instead of a typical narrative structure, we get short entries organized alphabetically about the events, details and occurrences—both large and small—that come with being in love and being a couple. This is a book that could easily be read in one sitting, or doled out slowly over many days. I first read it years ago, before I met the man who would become my husband; rereading it recently, the entries only struck me as more true and beautiful and moving.
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This is a book that gets under your skin and becomes part of you. It tells the story of two teenagers, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana and takes place in Texas during the 1980s. The short, poetic chapters follow Ari and Dante over the course of two years as their tentative friendship evolves from a random meeting at the swimming pool into a powerful bond that will change them both forever. My favorite thing about this book is the lyrical prose—it is a quietly strong story that gently builds and builds into a force of nature. The ending initially took me by surprise, but after reflecting on it for a while, it seems like the only ending this book could have had. This is a stunning, heartrending narrative about the family we create for ourselves and how love can astonish us in the best possible way.
Dallas Woodburn is the author of the YA novel The Best Week That Never Happened and the linked short story collection Woman, Running Late, in a Dress. A former John Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing and a current San Francisco Writers Grotto Fellow, her work has been honored with the Cypress & Pine Short Fiction Award, the international Glass Woman Prize, second place in the American Fiction Prize, and four Pushcart Prize nominations. She is also the host of the popular book-lovers podcast Overflowing Bookshelves and founder of the organization Write On! Books that empowers youth through reading and writing endeavors. Dallas lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her amazing husband and adorable daughter.