Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2016

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  It’s already the last one of 2016!  Today’s theme is the best of 2016.  I read a lot of great books this year, so rather than agonize over which ones to include, I’m using this as a general overview of my favorites.  In early 2017, I’ll have a more detailed list available for you, broken down by genre.

Below are Goodreads links for all titles included in the graphics:

[since you’ve been gone] [koreatown] [are you there god? it’s me margaret]
[what we saw] [the unexpected everything] [lured in] [you know me well]
[me before you] [some kind of perfect] [made you up]

What were your favorites of 2016?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I wouldn’t mind Santa leaving under my tree

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  Today’s theme is Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree.  Well, there are a lot of books I wouldn’t mind finding on Christmas morning, but here are ten near the top of my list.  (I tried to avoid books I’ve recently posted about.)

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

It’s a summer for first love, last wishes, and letting go.

Maddie has big plans to spend the last months before college tying up high school “loose ends” alongside her best friends. Then her beloved grandmother drops two bombshells: (1) Gram is dying. (2) She’s taking her entire family on a round-the-world cruise of dreams come true—but at the end, Gram won’t be returning home.

With a promise to live in the now without regrets, Maddie boards the Wishwell determined to make every moment count. She finds new friends in her fellow Wishwellians, takes advantage of the trip’s many luxuries, gets even closer to her quirky family, and falls for painfully gorgeous Enzo. But despite the copious laughter, headiness of first love, and wonder of the glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram, and she struggles to find the strength to let go in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, grief, and laughter.

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

When I made the wish, I just wanted a do-over. Another chance to make things right. I never, in a million years, thought it might actually come true…

Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

From the author 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and The Unremembered trilogy comes a hilarious and heartwarming story about second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Because sometimes it takes a whole week of Mondays to figure out what you really want.

Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits only bring him the worst kind of attention.

In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance art-inspired superhero, Graphite.

But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside-down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

What happens when the person you’re becoming isn’t the one your family wants you to be?

When Aaron Hartzler was little, he couldn’t wait for the The Rapture: that moment when Jesus would come down from the clouds to whisk him and his family up to heaven. But as he turns sixteen, Aaron grows more curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want Jesus to come back just yet—not before he has his first kiss, sees his first movie, or stars in the school play.

Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers that the girl of your dreams can just as easily be the boy of your dreams, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you.

In this funny and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir, debut author Aaron Hartzler recalls his teenage journey from devoted to doubtful, and the search to find his own truth without losing the fundamentalist family who loves him.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

     Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas

Misha

I can’t help but smile at the words in her letter. She misses me.

In fifth grade, my teacher set us up with pen pals from a different school. Thinking I was a girl, with a name like Misha, the other teacher paired me up with her student, Ryen. My teacher, believing Ryen was a boy like me, agreed.

It didn’t take long for us to figure out the mistake. And in no time at all, we were arguing about everything. The best take-out pizza. Android vs. iPhone. Whether or not Eminem is the greatest rapper ever…

And that was the start. For the next seven years, it was us.

Her letters are always on black paper with silver writing. Sometimes there’s one a week or three in a day, but I need them. She’s the only one who keeps me on track, talks me down, and accepts everything I am.

We only had three rules. No social media, no phone numbers, no pictures. We had a good thing going. Why ruin it?

Until I run across a photo of a girl online. Name’s Ryen, loves Gallo’s pizza, and worships her iPhone. What are the chances?

F*ck it. I need to meet her.

I just don’t expect to hate what I find.

Ryen

He hasn’t written in three months. Something’s wrong. Did he die? Get arrested? Knowing Misha, neither would be a stretch.

Without him around, I’m going crazy. I need to know someone is listening. It’s my own fault. I should’ve gotten his number or picture or something.

He could be gone forever.

Or right under my nose, and I wouldn’t even know it.

What books are you hoping for this holiday season?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-me authors of 2016

Whoa, it’s been months since I last did a Top Ten Tuesday!  I happened to scroll down while I was preparing a list of my top new (to me) authors of 2016 and saw that I’d flagged this topic as one I absolutely had to do.  What are the chances that the timing would be so perfect?

So, without further ado, here are ten authors (listed alphabetically) that I read for the first time in 2016 and will, without a doubt, continue to read in the future:

  • Melissa Chambers.  I read Chambers’ The Summer Before Forever and was actually pretty surprised to find a young adult book that really delicately handled a romantic relationship between stepsiblings.  I’m really curious to see what she’ll come up with next.
  • Rebekah Crane.  Of all my Kindle First picks, Crane’s The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland is one of my favorites.  A motley crew of teenagers helping each other overcome their problems at a picturesque summer camp?  That’s just my kind of story.
  • Melanie Harlow.  BookBub often alerts me to free erotica, and nine times out of ten, it’s absolutely awful.  Harlow’s Frenched was a great exception to the rule, and I’ve already got an eye out for more of her work.

  • Aaron Hartzler.  When What We Saw came out earlier last year, my Goodreads feed was flooded with positive reviews.  It took awhile for my library to get it, but it was absolutely worth the wait.  Now I am waiting patiently for more of Hartzler’s work to show up.
  • Hazel Kelly.  Kindle Unlimited is a tricky thing.  There’s an awful lot of books available, and an awful lot of them aren’t very good.  But sometimes, you find a really good author whose books are well-written and don’t just feature the same plot over and over with different characters.  Kelly is one of those authors.
  • Robin Roe.  I haven’t yet reviewed Roe’s A List of Cages, but it hit me hard.  This story of a young boy with an abusive uncle and his friend who struggles to help him ripped my heart out.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
  • Tiffany Truitt.  Seven Ways to Lose Your Heart still stands out as one of the cutest (and also sexiest) books I read this year.  I fell in love with the characters and world created by Truitt.
  • Danika Stone.  If you’re looking for a good book about nerd culture, look no further than Stone’s All the Feels.  I have yet to read another book that so clearly captures the level of obsession I can get with a fictional universe.
  • Siobhan Vivian. I read two of Vivian’s books this year and was pleased with both.  The one I particularly liked was her new release, The Last Boy and Girl in the World.  I am so excited to see what she releases next.
  • Francesca Zappia. Saving the absolute best for last, Zappia’s Made You Up is one of my all-time favorite reads.  I absolutely adored the characters that she created, and I loved that we never quite knew whether what was happening was actually the truth.  I have so much respect for her as an author and I know she’s going to go on to do great things.

Which authors, if any, did you fall in love with this year?

   Goodreads   Amazon

Nothing is exactly as it appears.
The closer you look, the more you see.

This is a difficult book to read.  And by that, I don’t mean that it’s poorly written, or full of cliches, or actually hard to read at all.  What I mean is that this is a book about the rape of a young woman, and how a town responds to it.  This is a book that puts a new spin on the Steubenville High School rape case from a few years ago.

In case you don’t remember, in Steubenville, a young girl was sexually assaulted at a party by several of her classmates.  She was drunk.  She was dressed provocatively.  Witnesses says she had been flirting with the guys earlier that night.  The perpetrators were members of the school’s star football team, young men who had a bright future ahead of them.  They might have gotten full scholarships to good colleges if they hadn’t decided to rape their classmate.  On camera.  And distribute it for the world to see.  In the Steubenville case, the town labeled the girl the villain. If she hadn’t been at that party, nothing would have happened.  These boys would still have those bright futures ahead of them.  It certainly wasn’t the fault of those who raped her.  It was her fault for daring to go to a party.

Hartzler takes a good, hard look at that mentality in this book.

Stacey Stallard was just another girl at Coral Sands High School.  A girl from the wrong side of town who had little parental supervision.  She was known to flirt with lots of boys, and sometimes dated more than one boy at a time.  She went to a lot of parties.  Some students say she was an alcoholic.  On the night in question, she’d been flirting with the boys from the basketball team.  She’d come to the party wearing revealing clothes, and after a few drinks, she’d lost her top.  When she passed out, she was taken down to the basement, where a number of boys on the basketball team raped her.  The incident was filmed, photographed, and widely distributed throughout the school.  Stacey filed charges against the boys, igniting a controversy in the town.

The book is narrated by Kate, a student at the high school who, back in middle school, was a friend of Stacey’s.  But as time went on, and Kate joined the soccer team while Stacey joined the drill team, the two grew apart. Kate’s perspective is unique not only as a former friend of Stacey’s, but also because she is close friends with the boys.  Her boyfriend is on the basketball team.  She was at the party.

At times, it seems that Kate is the only person who really cares what happened that night.  Most of the town blindly accepts the word of the boys.  Those who don’t refuse to cause trouble by looking into it.  Kate, though, can’t shake the feeling that something awful happened.  That it could have happened to her or one of her friends.  That a girl shouldn’t have to worry about being raped if she passes out at a friend’s party in the company of people she’s known her entire life.

This book opens a discussion into victim blaming, slut shaming, and misogyny:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Christy. “It’s Stacey’s word against theirs. She’s accusing them.” … “Look, this is not rocket science.  It’s common sense. If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”

“Why would Deacon and Dooney rape anybody?” he asks. “They can both have any girl they want.  You saw Stacey hanging all over them at the party.”

“You heard Rachel’s ‘rules.’ If you learn what we learn here–that Dooney and all those guys are entitled to tell you if you’re pretty or not, that it’s up to you to make sure you don’t give boys a reason to hurt you? Then you don’t think it was a crime. You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”

And it also opens a discussion into consent:

“What if she didn’t tell them no because she couldn’t?” Lindsey asks quietly. “What if she was too drunk to say anything?”

What does it mean to say yes? To consent to a kiss? To a touch? To more than that?

“Words have meanings. When we call something a theory in science, it means something. Reggie, when you say that you ‘can’t help yourself’ if a girl is wasted, that means something, too. You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist.’ That’s not okay with me, Reggie.  That’s not okay with the rest of this class, either.”

This is a very important book that I think all teenagers should read.  It forces you to examine your own opinions, your own biases, your own reactions to the news.  Do we believe the victim?  Do we side with the accused?  Is a rapist innocent until proven guilty?  Should we need to see video of the assault to believe that it happened?

Come to think of it, I think everybody should read this book.  Not just teenagers.  I think we could all stand to have our worldview challenged every once in a while.

Final rating: 

★★★★★