YALLWest 2018 Festival Recap

Ah, YALLWest. One of my favorite book festivals. I knew after my unforgettable experience last year that I had to attend again. 

I drove down on Friday to attend the Fierce Friday Preview Event at the Santa Monica Library because TAMORA PIERCE was going to be there! Really, she was probably the main reason I wanted to attend and was so excited to have her sign my Alanna books. If you have the chance to attend, I highly recommend this preview night as it gives you a great opportunity to have books signed freeing you up to carry less the next day and adding a bit more wiggle room to your schedule. 

After meeting the Legend, I got in the line for author/illustrator Jen Wang. The Prince and the Dressmaker was one of my top reads of this year and I really wanted to get a copy signed for my nephew as a birthday present (shh! don't tell!).

I was incredibly impressed with the improved organization of the event compared to last year. Not only did they allow each attendee to get 2 wristbands, but the wristbands were numbered so it was very fair and ressauring to know that you were guaranteed a spot as long as you had a wristband. Plus! It was May the Fourth and there was all sorts of fun Star Wars activities. I particularly had a great time at the trivia area and snagged a copy of Sweet Black Waves when our team won a round!

Afterward, I headed back to my hotel to finalize my schedule for the next day and crash.

Bright and early Saturday morning I lined up at the entrance. I had told myself repeatedly that this year, I was going to stay strong and just head to panels and not worry so much about the giveaways. But then advance copies of titles like City of Ghosts and Mirage were dangled in my face and, guys, I was sunk.

Like any self-respecting book nerd, I spent more time than I'd care to admit scouring social media and newsletters to plan out my festival schedule. And it was packed. Like sometimes 2-3 events every hour and in a perfect world wherein I was possessed of a time-turner, I would be able to attend each one. Alas and alack, I'm not that lucky so I had to pick and choose but I'm so happy with my day overall. Just to give you a taste of my day, I'll go through my festival schedule here.

9am: doors open and I line up at the Underlined booth for tickets to Book Prom (what is this? I had no idea but it sounded awesome) and a later signing/giveaway for Kristen White's Bright We Burn
Then I headed over to the PenguinTeen booth for tickets to Book Nerd Trivia at noon

9:30am: get in line at the I read YA booth for their doughnut breakfast with Ally Carter, Kasie West, Kody Keplinger, and Eric Gansworth
photo courtesy of I read YA

I really just wanted a doughnut and based on how fast the line went last year, I figured I could grab one before heading to the Keynote. BUT! Not only were the authors there, they gave out copies of their latest books! Such an unexpected surprise :)

10am: Keynote
Sugared up, I hustled down to the auditorium to attend the keynote with Tamora Pierce and Tomi Adeyemi and it was beyond inspiring. Two writers who are and continue to do so much to encourage readers; I could have listened to them all day.

11am: head back to the Underlined booth for a signing of Kristen White's Bright We Burn

11:30am: Line up at the HMH booth for advance copies of West by Edith Pattou (score!)

Noon: Penguin Book Nerd Trivia 
This is another of those events that didn't have much information, but I figured with it being ticketed, they had to have something fun planned. And I was right! We showed up and the tent was filled with 10 or so authors including Sabaa Tahir, Brendan Reichs, Rachel Hawkins, Marie Lu and many others  at pub tables and finished copies of their latest books! The group I was with wanted to join Richelle Mead's table which was awesome. 
This event was probably one of my favorites from the entire day. The questions were super hard and all book specific to the authors present, so we know we got at least one right, ha! But it was so fun to meet authors in a laid-back moment like this. Richelle super nice and even signed all her books for us.

1pm: Julie Buxbaum signing of What to Say Next
This was the one and only signing I went to on Saturday. I was hoping to see E. Lockhart at this same time, but by the time I got over there, her line was full. But I had gotten a copy of What to Say Next from YALLWest last year and loved it. Of course, I totally forgot to take a picture with the author, but I am so happy to have mine signed.

2pm: Underlined Prom
For this event, everyone was invited to fill out a questionnaire and then we were 'matched' with a book as our prom date. How cute is that? They also had hand-dipped ice cream sandwiches and authors mingling with the crowd. I was hoping for a copy of Jay Kristoff's LIFEL1K3 but they ran out just before I got to the table. But they did give away these awesome book totes with a zipper that I am already using as a new library bag.

3pm: Feeling full with my super nutritious lunch of an ice cream sandwich, I got back in line for the Underlined ARC drop. They had told me they had more copies of LIFEL1K3 to hand out but once again they were all gone by the time I made it to the front. (boohoo!)

4pm: If there was ONE book I wanted to get while I was at YALLWest, it was Victoria Schwab's City of Ghosts from the I read YA booth. I think I waited in this line for almost an hour -- determined not to repeat my miss with LIFEL1K3, but it was totally worth it and I snagged one!! Yay! 

5pm: The last event I attended was the Epic Reads Grishaverse Fan meetup. This is one that wasn't really well put-together, sadly. Honeslty, all of the Epic Reads giveaways throughout the day had been really poorly handled. I think they severely underestimated attendance and it was too hard to answer the trivia questions in such a large group. But they revealed that Nina would be a main character in Leigh Bardugo's King of Scars and we got cute enamel pins. 

As you can tell, my schedule was packed and this isn't counting all the little random giveaways I stopped at throughout the day. I really need to clone myself for next year. One me for going around to all the booths for the giveaways and another me to attend all the amazing panels. Okay, I'd actually need like four of me for that since there were so many to choose from every hour!

By the end of the day, I was exhausted but so happy from all the great giveaways and from meeting so many amazing fellow book lovers! YALLWest is truly one of the best festivals out there and I am so so happy I made the trip down.

Bay Area Book Festival 2018

My family moved up to the Bay Area last December and I've slowly been settling in. Because making the transition from So Cal to Nor Cal with my family of five has had its share of bumps if you know what I mean. One of my biggest regrets about moving from Southern California is that I was no longer just down the road from the LA Times Festival of Books. I went last year and thought I'd died and gone to book heaven! The panels are just superb and bring in some really big name authors.

Feeling sorry for myself that I'd missed out, I went searching for some more local bookish events and discovered the Bay Area Book Festival happening near me in downtown Berkeley. Like many other book nerds, going to new events by myself is a bit daunting but I really, really wanted to try it out so I pulled on my big girl panties and trekked there for Saturday.

The first panel I attended was Realistic Young Adult Fiction with Jesse Andrews, Alexandra Ballard, Annie Barrows, Maurene Goo, and moderated by Regan McMahon.
Mostly I was there for Jesse Andrews, author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (which I adored) and Maurene Goo but all the authors were fascinating and well-spoken and I've added their books to my TBR pile. Thanks to Maurene Goo, I left that panel craving tacos and so excited to read her latest The Way You Make Me Feel.
 I brought my 10 year old with me on Saturday (future book nerd training, right?), not really sure if it would have as much to interest kids as the LA Times Festival, but we were pleasantly surprised.
 There were 20 or so tents with activities and crafts for kids where he spent time making buttons, building, and the one he spent the longest at, the make your own pinball machine. But if you ask him what he liked the best, he'll tell you the food trucks! 
We also allowed plenty of time to stop by the Half Price Books tent where they were giving out free used children's and YA books all day long. We loaded up a bag and my son thought that was the coolest thing ever.
 After a quick bite, we headed to the panel Tackling Issues with authors Katherine Applegate and Jen Petro-Roy on Hard-Hitting Middle Grade Fiction. My son read The One and Only Ivan in school this year and was really excited to meet the author and get his copy signed.
Both authors did a fabulous job and had so many treasured book suggestions and stories to share.
We called it a day after that last panel but we had such a great time, I made plans to head back up for the second day by myself.

I arrived early on Sunday morning to attend the What Makes a Family? panel with authors Nidhi Chanani, Chris Crutcher, Abdi Nazemian, Mitali Perkins, moderated by Lesley Mandros Bell. I was so excited to attend this one to hear Chris Crutcher -- but realized once I got there that I had forgotten my copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for him to sign! Oh well. The authors were so captivating that I even forgot to take a picture, and once again, I went home with more books on my TBR. I'm sensing a theme here.

Next up I headed to the panel A Free Trip to Another World: Fantasy in Young Adult Literature with authors Shea Ernshaw, Lexa Hillyer, Laura Sebastian, Wendy Spinale, Leslye Walton, moderated by Ben Schwartz. All of these were new to me authors, but I had heard of a few of their debut books and wanted to go listen. Plus, FANTASY. So you can be sure I was gonna be there.

Each of their stories were unique and I can't wait to dive in, but the most interesting part of this panel was hearing how each author plots and edits their stories. Several even shared some of their stories about how they became published and I always find that so fascinating. 

Lastly, I attended the session The Empire and the Resistance of Sabaa Tahir interviewed by Ben Schwartz. This was probably my second favorite session. Sabaa is such an engaging speaker who immediately made the audience feel like we were all just sitting down for an informal chat. And props also go to Ben Schwartz for his awesome job at moderating. He introduced thoughtful questions and helped facilitate their discussion in such a careful way, it was truly impressive. 

Basically I had an incredible time and was very impressed with the festival overall. While not as large as some festivals it had a great intimate feel. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the speakers and moderators and plan to return next year!

Best of 2017

Man am I ever so glad to see the back of 2017. Could be the fact that my husband accepted a job offer and we moved across the state all within the span of a month. And that we sandwiched said move right between the holidays. Ugh. Don't do that to yourselves, friends.

But there has also been a lot of really, really good and surprisingly exceptional things that happened in 2017. I started editing for another publisher and have been enjoying a steady increase in my freelance business too. Dreams do come true! And there were some pretty wondrous books that came my way. This year I read 176 books -- 12 audio, 91 ebooks, and 73 in print. Some of these were published prior to 2017, but I'm still counting them because I'm a rebel like that.

Best Fantasy
A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
This book lived up to every expectation V.E. Schwab set in the previous books and then some. Her character arcs were heartbreaking and beautiful and maybe I cried for like the last 30 pages of the book. Maybe. I wanted to get lost in the gorgeous words and luxuriate in the descriptions. Schwab is a master at her craft and I so loved every single moment I spent with Kell, Lila, Holland, Rhy, and Alucard in the four Londons.

Best Feminist Manifesto
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
I read a lot of feminist stuff this year. A lot. But it's like, once you know this stuff is out there, you can't stop seeing it ... or wanting to know more, in my case. This though-provoking YA tackles the ever-present sexism and abuse girls face every single day. Moxie does a fabulous job at reminding the reader just how terribly hard it is to grow up female. I want Moxie to become required reading -- and I hope it inspires girls to stand up for each other.

Best All The Feels Romance
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This is one of those books that have been recommended to me over and over again but I never felt like I was in the right place to enjoy it. I'm so glad I waited until this year because I think I was at the perfect place to appreciate the story. I actually began listening to it and really fell in love with the dual narrators. Ms. Niffenegger masterfully made both Claire and Henry's voices come alive as they shared the impossible and the utterly mundane. This book was so viscerally real to me, I actually took over a month to finish it because I just had to savor the words and digest them.

Best Doorstop Fantasy
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
This book is HUGE, like over 1,000 pages huge, and everyone who actually finishes it should get an prize. But Brandon Sanderson needed every single one of those pages to fully embrace and explore his many, many characters on their incredible journeys. This series does such a phenomenal job of fully capturing the nuances of good and evil. It's like he's taken a lens to each character when their back is to the wall, simply to find out, what will they do now? Riveting stuff.

Best Beauty and the Beast Retelling
Hunted by Megan Spooner
This category is kind of a cop-out because Hunted is so much more than a retelling. It's a gorgeously penned story of a fierce female huntress with an incredible weight on her shoulders. The setting becomes almost a character in and of itself and yes, there is a truly epic love story. It's one of those books where I caught myself physically petting the pages because of all the beautiful words.

Best Middle Grade
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Uniquely beautiful story about a girl who struggles to find herself in the perilous struggle of middle school while dealing with loss and grief in her own way. Weighty and unexpectedly lovely, I cannot recommend this one enough.

Best #LoveOzYA
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Gorgeously written with one of the best ideas for a bookshop. Can someone please make this place real? Cath Crowley is an amazingly talented writer and I could not get this story out of my head for weeks. She made the pulse of the ocean and the profound serenity to be found in books come alive. Such beautiful words.

Best Horrifyingly Elegant Mystery
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Another 'classic' book that I finally got around to reading this year. Twisty, elegant, and utterly horrifying plotting by Donna Tartt. She takes this group of misfit Classics students and turns them into a sinister and underhanded lot. Richard is a fabulous unreliable narrator and there were so many moments of dawning horror when I realized just how terrible every single character truly was (even their so-called 'authority figure'). But above all is Ms. Tartt's unmistakable genius.

Best Didn't-Read-as-a-Serial Serial

Clean SweepSweep in PeaceOne Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews
So I technically read Clean Sweep as a serial on Ilona Andrews' blog when it was first being released, but serials and I don't really get along and I so waited patiently for the rest to come out before binge reading. It'd probably be a surprise if an Ilona Andrews book didn't make my best of list. The storytelling is magnificent and Dina and her inn, Gertrude Hunt, are amazing protectors of all things family and loyalty.

Honorable Mention

Best Twisty YA
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert
I discovered this gem randomly clicking through the archives of Forever Young Adult and it more than delivered. From the multi-layered meaning of the title, this books screws with your head in the way only truly talented authors can manage. Braden, Trey, and their dad, Mart, are all such carefully drawn characters in a story that unfolds in a terrifyingly real and heartbreaking way.

So that's it for me. What books made your Best Of lists?

See Michelle Read's Best Of 2016 2015 2014 2012 2011 2010

Loving Richard Feynman by Penny Tangey

I just love it when quirky little books find their way to me.

Loving Richard Feynman first popped up on my radar after Mandi (@thebookishmanicurist) spotlighted it on one of her amazing Insta posts. Being married to an engineer who is an avid devotee of Richard Feynman (they even share a birthday!), I was immediately intrigued about the concept of a teenage girl writing letters to dead Nobel-winning physicist. I'm not exactly one who reads science-y books, but I've actually read the book Catherine rations out reading, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, which serves as a perfect device to help explore her ever-changing feelings for the physicist and life in general. It was actually a treat to see many of my same observations of that book echoed by Catherine in such an intelligent and pragmatic manner. I too think Catherine is a 'box of nerdish delight."

I thoroughly enjoyed Catherine's odd-duck observations on the mysteries of teen-dom. When done well, epistolary novels are often my favorite type to read and Catherine's struggles to deal with ridicule and overtures of friendship from her classmates are presented with careful honesty in this format. I found myself utterly swept up in her clear prose. I couldn't recommend this book enough and I'm so glad I took the trouble to track a copy down.

One new moment of Feynman's life I discovered thanks to this fabulous little story was a love letter Feynman wrote to his deceased wife two years after she passed. Read it without tears, I dare you.


April was like a month-long feast for book festivals! The weekend after the LA Times Festival of Books, I went down to Santa Monica for Y'ALLWEST. It's an all-things YA festival and tons of fun. 

Joined by some fellow book nerds, we headed down to the Friday night preview -- which was basically just an extended book signing. If I had known that, we might not have gone, but it was still fun. My daughter is a huge fan of Shannon & Dean Hale's Princess in Black series and so I was excited to get signed copies for her. When I told the Hales they were signing for my daughter Nora, Shannon told me that she named Princess Magnolia after her own daughter, Magnolia...who originally was to be named Nora! 

No lie, there were so many panels/signings/giveaways that I wanted to attend Saturday that I wound up creating an hour by hour spreadsheet so I wouldn't miss anything. My husband totally made fun of my OCD but I'm well aware of my nerd status. But! It was immensely satisfying to see other proud booknerds carrying around their own (color-coded!) spreadsheets the day of.

I was able to snag a ticket to go to a special Leigh Bardugo signing of Wonder Woman: Warbringer! I was so excited to meet the creator of Kaz and Inej and Nina and Matthais... Leigh was so nice and I can't wait to read her latest.

At LATFoB I spent most of my time attending panels, but at Y'ALLWEST it was all about the signings and giveaways. I did go to a few panels, including this one with Ally Condie, Lilliam Rivera, Jennifer Niven, Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Angie Thomas. While they were all interesting and well-spoken, we all know I was only there to see the fabulous Angie Thomas and I was happy to have her sign copies of The Hate You Give afterwards.
Highlights of the panel include Benjamin Alire Saenz serenading the crowd with "Summertime" when asked what song they would pick for karaoke and it came as no surprise that Angie Thomas picked a combo of Beyoncé and Tupac for her favorite famous persons ("Can't you see me at a signing with a wind machine?").

And then there was the BIG reason I went down to Y'ALLWEST: Megan Whalen Turner!! Well since it's been SEVEN years since we last had a new MWT, you know I was not going to miss out on that opportunity! 

I met up with my friend, the fabulous Maggie of @treatyoshelf and we enjoyed her panel with Alex London, Cassandra Clare, Danielle Paige, Daniel José Older, and Zoraida Cordova
During the panel, we both agreed that Daniel José Older needs to start doing audio book narrations or something, because hot dog! I could listen to him allll day! 

 I came home with sooo many books and swag! Most of these I'm super excited to start reading (Hello, Words in Deep Blue and Jane, Unlimited! Although boo for waiting in line for the newest Stephanie Perkins only to find out it was only a teaser!). It turned out to be an exceptional day, full of good books and meeting lots of super nice book enthusiasts. I'm so glad I went and can't wait to attend next year too.

LA Times Festival of Books

I've never had the chance to go to the LA Times Festival of Books and this year, I finally made it! My hubby was a little concerned that I was going by myself, but I just told him, these are my people :)

After wandering the booths for a bit, I decided to escape the heat and enjoy the fantastic panels. I went to The Science of Humans, mainly so I could listen to Mary Roach, who was hilarious as expected and all the authors were extremely fascinating.

Next up was the amazing Science Fiction and Fantasy from All Angles panel with Sarah Kuhn, Becky Chambers, Ellen Klages, and Seanan McGuire. That's right. An all female panel of speculative fiction!! I mainly came for Seanan McGuire and she was as weirdly endearing as I hoped she'd be but I came out of there with a huge list of books to read from the other authors.

One conversation I was seriously excited for was Roxane Gay. Who was absolutely unapologetically brilliant. That woman is amazing and to make it even better, I ran into Maggie from @treatyoshelf!

I also got to meet Liza Palmer after her Exceptions and Expectations panel. She is basically the nicest person ever -- signing all 6 books I had with me, including her latest The F Word (which I've already devoured and loved. Of course.).

Hurrying across the gorgeous USC campus, I managed to catch the tail end of the Pieces of Me panel with Angie Thomas, Nicola Yoon, Nina LaCour, and Jennifer Niven. They were all incredibly articulate and engaging and I especially enjoyed all the Harry Potter fangirling.

So. Much. Fun.
I met so many interesting people while waiting in signing lines and scored some fantastic bookish swag. I can't wait to return next year.

Best of 2016

2016 shall forever be remembered as the redheaded stepchild that no one wants to acknowledge. I've had this Best Of post rattling around in my head for a few weeks now and felt like on this inauguration day, a day that has me filled with concern and doubt for the next four years, I wanted to take a moment to call attention to those little pockets of extraordinary from 2016. Because sometimes you just need to focus on things that make you happy. And all of these books make me happy. This past year I read 198 books: 89 print, 92 ebooks, and 13 audio. These numbers are staggering and when it came down to pick my favorites, I had so much trouble pairing it down. 

Best Fantasy series

A Darker Shade of Magic & A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab

This series is killing me in all the best possible ways. Inventive magical worlds, characters I dream about, and razor sharp dialogue that has me rooting for Lila and Kell like nobody's business. I was already fangirling pretty hard after reading these two but meeting the author this summer clinched my eternal love for her writing. Book 3 is coming next month and I am tense.

Best Bookish (Keeper) Romance

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
I can't even tell you how many times I've reread this charming book already, which is incredibly unusual for me. 3? 4? Lucy and Josh with their mutual love of strawberries have cemented their place on my keeper shelf. Surprising and witty, I can't wait to see what Ms. Thorne creates next.

Best West End Romance

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
This unexpectedly delightful romp of a romance between two London actors pretending to be in a relationship left me smiling for days. Gorgeous writing peppered with quick banter (and the occasional Harry Potter reference) easily made this a standout.

Best Fantasy/Mythological/Action Romance

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
After hearing the promising buzz, I purposefully went into this compelling read completely blind and couldn't have been more impressed with the fantastic world building and intricate story. Cat is such a slippery character. Her snark and caginess are endlessly endearing and I inhaled it all in one sitting.

Best Graphic Novels series...okay, it's a tie

Giant Days and Lumberjanes
I'm a newbie to the bright and colorful world of graphic novels but have gotten some wonderful recommendations from friends Chachic and Maggie on what to start. Both of these series are intricately gorgeous and utterly hilarious. Which I wasn't totally expecting but am totally on board with. Giant Days reminds me so much of my own college dorm experiences and Lumberjanes is just a universally engaging story. It's always a struggle between my son and I over who gets to read the latest edition first.

Best Sports/Slow Burn Romance

Kulti by Mariana Zapata
One of the few books that I actually took the time to write a full review of this year still remains one of my favorites. It's got girl power written all over it with the best slow burn romance I've encountered in a while. As a rising soccer star, Sal is the best kind of heroine. Tough yet considerate with a unquenchable drive to be the best. I love her. I love her family. ...and I love Kulti.

Best Lady Mystery
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
The first in a new Lady Sherlock series, Sherry Thomas once again managed to surprise and enchant me. Gone is the socially inept male Sherlock; Thomas' creation is feminine and not without her struggles despite her excess of brains. Not only a stunning mystery, it also manages to delve deeply into the expectations and prejudices concerning women. I'm looking forward to more surprises from Ms. Thomas.

Best Nasty Woman in Training Book

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

"It's all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy's stuff. Just your typical love story."

This tag is my favorite but deceptively lacking in conveying the rawness of this book. Yet another shattering offering from Australian Kirsty Eagar, its a biting story about women and their unapologetic sexuality in a college setting. I'm thrilled that an American edition is coming soon so that it can get the increased exposure it deserves.

Best Take You By Surprise Book

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
Maybe I should give this one the best creep up on you and then pummel you with all the feels book. I really should have known better, but I didn't not expect such depth and twisting of emotion when I began Marchetta's latest. Mystery, fantasy, YA...if Marchetta writes it, I'm going to love it.

Best I had no I idea I would love this book so much

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Giving into peer pressure, I got a Book of the Month membership this year and this was one of the first titles I received. Pitched to me as 'Beauty and the Beast in meth-land,' you know I was gonna be all over that. Alternating POVs deliver an unflinching look at what it means to be a family and the insane road one girl in particular has to take to get there.

Best New Author Discovery

Penny Reid
A few months back I one-clicked a free copy of Neanderthal Seeks Human and thoroughly enjoyed the silliness contained. It didn't change my world, but it was an entertaining read and I decided then to watch out for more Penny Reid in the future. Flash forward to a love affair with Love Hacked and then a crash-course introduction to the Winston Brothers series (don't they have THE BEST covers?). I was lucky enough to meet the ever so charming Penny at a signing at The Ripped Bodice and I am a converted fan. Her stories are fresh with unexpectedly intelligent characters with humor to spare. Her books are the ultimate happy-making experience and I thoroughly recommend them all.

Not surprisingly, you'll notice an obvious trend towards female characters who couldn't care less about what people think they should or shouldn't do. Books about women who do things, who speak their mind, and who aren't afraid to rock the boat. Stories about people changing their world and I hope we see a whole lot more of that in 2017.

So what stories and characters did you discover this year? Please share your favorites too!

See Michelle Read's Best Of 2015 2014 2012 2011 2010