Dallas Woodburn’s 11 Favorite YA Romance Books + A GIVEAWAY

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

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.

ENTER TO WIN AN E-BOOK COPY HERE!

The Abyss Surrounds Us

24790901If there’s anything that can be said for me, is that I love my fiction to have a hearty dosage of pirates. And queer girls. And queer pirate girls. The Abyss Surrounds Us is that, and more. So much more.

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Cas became one of my absolute favorite characters in 2016. She’s smart, cunning and strong. She’s not afraid to face off against a pirate queen and a legion of pirates for what she believes is right. She’s loyal and best of all, queer. It’s always so hard to find good representation in fiction; but The Abyss Surrounds Us was great representation of lesbian and POC characters. There was nothing to not like about this book. Emily Skrutskie knows how to weave a good, action-packed story and can wrench your heart out of your chest with all the strength of a Reckoner pup.

The semi-futuristic not-quite dystopian setting was perfect for pirates and sea monsters. It felt a little old-timey and a little futuristic and it was totally perfect for the story.

Cas’s relationship to Swift, the pirate girl that’s meant to keep an eye on her when the pirates kidnap Cas, grows naturally and out of mutual respect and fondness. The possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and it’s problematic nature within the story is brought up between both characters. But it never comes to feel like Stockholm Syndrome is the reason these girls fall in love.

The whole story was tense–will Cas escape, will Bao survive, what’s going to happen to Cas and Swift–but the finale was quite possibly the tensest thing I’d read all year. Literally edge of my seat. Well, bed. You get the point.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is everything I ever could have wanted and more. This is the book you need on your shelves if you like pirates, sea monsters or queer representation. Perhaps all three.

My Rating: ★★★★★

The Hate U Give

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well-written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl from Garden Heights, a predominantly black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must-read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

Magic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.

Truthwitch

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In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch, Susan Dennard
January 5, 2019

Can someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute…

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well fleshed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, intense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, its sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.

Freeks

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Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

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Bitter, bored, and sarcastic-Lizzie Lovett is a girl after my own heart. Want to go back to high school and talk to You: Senior Year Edition? Great. Because she’s in this book.

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

You remember them. The popular kids. They had everything and nothing bad ever happened to them. Hawthorn had one direct interaction with Lizzie Lovett and held onto it in the darkest place in her heart.

And when Lizzie went missing-Hawthorn didn’t care… sort of.

With her wild imagination, Hawthorn believes she figures out what happened to local dream queen Lizzie Lovett, but as she immerses herself into Lizzie’s life she finds out she not only doesn’t know what happened recently, but she didn’t know much about this girl she came to loathe entirely.

Hawthorn latches onto a few surface items about Lizzie, namely her love of wolves, and concocts an entire-fantastical-story about her disappearance. This is really where The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett lost a star for me but after that arc is over I really enjoyed watching Hawthorn come to terms with herself and her prejudices against a girl she never knew.

The character’s journey is always so important and watching Hawthorn grow and realize that the things she originally thought Lizzie lied about were just things that contradicted the girl she’d made up in her head was great. I was also 100% creeped out and a little outraged to watch as Hawthorn moved in on Lizzie’s life. I thought we were going to get a flashback any moment and find out that Hawthorn was a murderer. Spoilers: she’s not. But The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett could absolutely have gone in that direction and I would have been fine with it.

S3E3 Testimony From Your Perfect Girl

Jess, Maggie, and now Dan, all talk about Kaui Hart Hemmings’ TESTIMONY FROM YOUR PERFECT GIRL. Listen and enjoy as we discuss blow jobs in the woods, body positivity, and how beating up your friends is the best way to make a point.

Annie Tripp has everything she needs–Italian sweaters, vintage chandelier earrings, and elite ice skating lessons–but all that changes when her father is accused of scamming hundreds of people out of their investments. Annie knows her dad wasn’t at fault, but she and her brother are exiled to their estranged aunt and uncle’s house in a run-down part of Breckenridge–until the trial blows over.

Life with her new family isn’t quite up to Annie’s usual standard of living, but surprisingly, pretending to be someone else offers a freedom she’s never known. As Annie starts to make real friends for the first time, she realizes she has more in common with her aunt and uncle than she ever wanted to know. As the family’s lies begin to crumble and truths demand consequences, Annie must decide which secrets need to see the light of day . . . and which are worth keeping.

TESTIMONY FROM YOUR PERFECT GIRL
Kaui Hart Hemmings

Eon ★★★★★

2986865.jpgThere are few books that I hold in high enough regard to give them a five star rating. The only other book I’ve ever done that for is Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I had a lot of trepidation going into this book, but I came out of it feeling like a kid again; like I had been a part of that story and that I could do anything. But there’s so much more to Eon than just making me feel like a hopeful reader that can’t get to the bookstore fast enough for the sequel.

Spoilers below.