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Reader Roundup (May): Which YA books should be on your radar

What are you reading now? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me more…

I have a version of that conversation with just about everyone I know. Print reviews are a great way to get in on new book “buzz,” but some of my best reading has come from personal recommendations. It occurred to me that here at The Hub, we have an entire community of readers that I can tap for the purely selfish desire to “dish” about current YA literature and feed my ever growing “must read” list. With that in mind, each month I will be talking with a group of Hub bloggers to get a sense of the books they are currently loving (or hating) and what books are on their fine-tuned “reader radar.”

My first discussion took place a few weeks ago with five Hub regulars: Emily Calkins, Summer Hayes, Becky O’Neil, Amy Pelman, and Sharon Rawlins. There will be no spoilers and no intense reviews here — just enough to spike your curiosity and to add more books to your own “must read” pile. And by all means, post a comment and let us know what books you think are not to be missed. :)

What we loved

Cinder (Book 1 in the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

(Summer) “I was skeptical but I actually really liked it. I thought the futuristic setting was pretty clever and the main character was solid — fully fleshed out and believable. Less so for Prince Kai, but you can’t have everything, right? And while it was kind of predictable, there were some really clever details that brought it to life.”

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

(Nicole) “I listened to it as part of the Best of the Best Reading Challenge. It was dark and scary and mesmerizing and horribly addictive. I listened to it in audio format — very well done. But there’s some very heavy material in it — sex, kidnapping, almost rape, violence/brutality, trauma, cannibalism … definitely not for the faint of heart. I can’t believe it even has a sequel! (Which I will be reading due to morbid curiosity)…”  [Summer said she loves Andrew Smith’s other stuff: “like a gateway drug to Cormac McCarthy.”]

Bitterblue (the Graceling series) by Kristin Cashore

Froi of the Exiles (The Lumatere Chronicles) by Melina Marchetta

(Emily) “I just finished Bitterblue. I LOVED it. It was amazing. I like Fire better than Graceling, but I think I might like Bitterblue best of all. There’s lots of Po and Katsa in Bitterblue … so that’s fun. But it’s much slower paced and complex, which seemed more like Fire to me.”

Interestingly, our discussion about Bitterblue led immediately into a discussion about Froi of the Exiles. Summer described it as “solid and thoroughly engaging and satisfying” and said it “definitely doesn’t suffer from ‘middle book syndrome.'” And when Amy questioned if a non-fantasy reader would enjoy Froi, Summer said “Yeah, I think so. There is so much character development and interpersonal relationships. It’s more of a character book than a fantasy.”

While Emily didn’t feel that you need to re-read Graceling or Fire before reading Bitterblue, Summer was glad that she re-read Finnikin of the Rock before diving into Froi. “I re-read Finnikin before I read Froi and I’m glad I did — gave it more depth. It was such a well-structured and gorgeously written book.”

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin

(Nicole) “I read this as part of The Hub’s Best of the Best Reading Challenge. So interesting. A little heavy on the description of Revolutionary War battles for my taste (ugh), but also necessary … because the battles are a large part of Benedict Arnold’s story. I was amazed that what little I thought I knew about Benedict Arnold pretty much turned out to be wrong. Sheinkin really brought both Benedict Arnold — and the time period — alive. This could be a cool recommendation for someone who is a fan of something like the Halo books (or other battle-heavy reads).”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

(Summer) “Loved the world-building in this one. Some really great, unusual stuff. Gorgeous writing.”

(Emily) “I loved it! It’s been pretty hot at my library. Not so much into ‘soulmate’ romance, usually, but I didn’t mind it here. Great, sumptuous writing.”

There were a handful of books we have struggled with recently…





  • Rotters by Daniel Kraus: (Summer) “I had to quit this one … I couldn’t take it.” Nicole is “hanging in there” with this one. The story is REALLY depressing, though also well done.
  • Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson: Emily gave up on this one.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth: (Summer) “I’m probably in the minority, but I thought Divergent was pretty bad. Poor character development, nothing really new or unusual. I’m not sure why everyone loves it so much! That’s why I read it and was disappointed.” Amy and Emily also both had problems with Divergent.
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley: (Nicole) “One that I did not love (contrary to many others) was Chime. It took me about halfway or more to even get into it.” Amy “tried twice. Audio and book. Couldn’t do it.”
  • Various Positions by Martha Schabas and Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe: (Summer) “I really struggled with two similar books: Various Positions and Audition. They were both about younger dancers who got involved with older men but in slightly different ways. I think I just would like to see a book about dancing that isn’t so negative and dark.” (Amy) I liked Various Positions! It was hard, but so brave and honest. I believed it 100 percent.”

And just a little something extra for the avid readers out there…

Looking for some non-John Green contemporary fiction? Try some of these titles:

  • How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
  • Finding Somewhere by Joseph Monninger
  • Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
  • Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
  • I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
  • Once Was Lost by Sarah Zarr: according to Emily, this pairs great with Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic
  • The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

Other books we are liking or hearing good “buzz” about

  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
  • The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • Matched by Ally Condie, though we all agreed that the sequel, Crossed, suffered from the dreaded “middle book syndrome” and felt a bit like a filler book in the series
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

Hope this helped some of you fill up your summer reading lists :) Special thanks to Emily, Summer, Becky, Amy, and Sharon for their input on all of the above titles. Check back at the end of June for another literature roundup with some of your regular Hub bloggers.

— Nicole Dolat, currently reading Jane by April Lindner

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  1. Whitney Etchison Whitney Etchison

    I actually loved Robopocalypse. I read it two days ago, and I was worried that it was going to be too sci-fi/high tech for me. However, I got totally sucked in to the multiple perspectives. (Also, I am almost unhealthily obsessed with end of the world books.)

    A few others on this post that I enjoyed: I’ll Be There, A Monster Calls, Rotters (it gets more engrossing – and just gross- as it goes), Divergent (I’m also freakishly in love with dystopias)…

    On my to read list: Bitterblue, Froi, TFIOS, Code Name Verity

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      I just finished the audio of Rotters…AMAZING. I can see why it won the Odyssey Award… But you’re right. VERY DARK. If you’re looking for perky and uplifting, this is not the book for you…

  2. Of new releases – I’m just about to finish “Unbreak my heart” by Melissa Walker, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s a nice, romantic summer read. Also, “The Downside of Being Charlie” was quite good. I plan on reading “Cinder” next, so I’m glad everyone seems to be liking it!

  3. Jessica M Jessica M

    I want to second the recommendations for I’LL BE THERE and HOW TO SAVE A LIFE from the contemps list. They were both great and really underappreciated books! I also loved A MONSTER CALLS and CINDER. I agree wholeheartedly that MATCHED was great and CROSSED, its sequel was, well…less so… CHIME was also a no-go for me. I couldn’t believe how much great buzz it got and I couldn’t even finish it!
    Great post!

  4. erin bush erin bush

    So I talked about _Silence_ by Michelle Sagara, which I absolutely loved, in my BBYNR post on timing.

    Another recent paranormal read that I was pleasantly surprised by was _Hemlock_ by Kathleen Peacock, which I picked up due to Kelly Jensen’s recommendation here. It’s a nicely twisty mystery in a world where lycanthropy is a disease–oh, and it has the most misleading girl-in-a-dress cover EVAR.

  5. Tiffany Bronzan Tiffany Bronzan

    “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys should be on everyone’s list to read. I also really enjoyed “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness. I’m currently only reading the challenge books, so these titles are already on the “radar” as being good books.

  6. My summer YA reading list (created by an awesome group of Colorado Librarians and customized for me at the Teen Lit. Conference) is:
    Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
    Pieces of Us by Margaret Gelbwasser
    Wither by Lauren DeStefano
    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
    Unwind by Neal Shusterman
    Blood Red Road by Moira Young
    Divergent by Veronica Roth
    Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
    The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
    Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (NOT the erotic book you’re thinking of)

    • Nicole Dolat Nicole Dolat

      I have to agree with Janet below…Unwind is fantastic. Still one of my all time faves. And you’ll love Patrick Ness’s “Chaos Walking” series…

  7. How To Save a Life is one of my fave recent contemp reads. I was also lucky enough to read an ARC of Miss Fortune Cookie by Lauren Bjorkman and it’s a really unique, laugh out loud contemp with diverse characters. I loved it, very fresh.

    I think UnWind is still my fave dystopian of all time, though the Divergent series is amazing.

  8. Sara Ray Sara Ray

    I finished Rotters (audio) this morning. Well done but sad. I appreciate all of the reviews above. I’m trying to decide what to try for the remainder of the BotB challenge and the reviews were very helpful. They also contributed to what I may read during the summer when the challenge is complete :) Thanks!

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