Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Books From the Past 3 Years

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Even though this is still a tough list to narrow down, I’m happy this TTT topic isn’t simply my all-time favorite books; I would never be able to narrow it down! I’d love to know which books have been your favorites over the past 3-5 years; maybe I’ll be able to add more to my to read list.

I’m focusing my list on what I read and loved between the years 2012, 2013, and 2014. Since there’s still so much to read this year I’m not including it.

Favorites read in 2012:

Boy 21 by Matthew Quick (My review): This book will forever be a favorite of mine. It fits so many categories and no matter how many times I’ve read it (and I’ve read it a lot courtesy of reading it aloud) it pulls on my heart strings EVERY TIME.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (My review): The fact that I considered naming my first child Travis should be explanation enough, right?

Easy by Tammara Webber (My review): Easy was one of the first New Adult books I read and it caused a book hangover. I had to read a few books after finishing this one before I got over it.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (My review): This is Miranda’s debut and it’s still my favorite of the five books she’s published so far.

Favorites read in 2013:

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (My review): A beautiful cover, quote-worthy passages, and an imperfect character make this a winner.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (My review): This is such a beautiful story of friendship and love.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (My review): Speaking of a beautiful story of friendship and love, I couldn’t get enough of Eleanor and Park’s story. I’m still wanting more.

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (My review): Trish Doller is on this list twice; you’ve read these books, right?!

Winger by Andrew Smith (My review): It’s not very often that a book makes me laugh and cry within a few pages. It’s no wonder Ryan Dean’s story is one of the most popular titles in my classroom library this year.

Favorite read in 2014:

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (My review): Reading in 2014 was off for me, but this debut stands out more than all the rest. The slow burning relationship between Josh and Nastya is perfect and moving.

Top Ten Tuesday Collage

Book Trailer Thursday (162)–Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Book Trailer Thursday

I’m making it a goal to read more fantasy this year. I’ve noticed that I keep recommending the same few fantasy titles to my students which means it’s time for me to expand my fantasy novel knowledge. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard looks like a cool place to start!

Summary (From Goodreads):

Red QueenThe poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Book Trailer Thursday (161)–Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Book Trailer Thursday

I’ve seen multiple five star reviews on Goodreads for Mosquitoland by David Arnold, so my interest is definitely piqued. Penguin recently sent me an ARC and the audio; I’m really looking forward to diving into this March 3rd debut.

MosquitolandSummary (From Goodreads):

“I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.”
After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, “Mosquitoland” is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

Blog Tour + Character Interview: The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe

Stephen Metcalfe’s debut novel The Tragic Age is set to release from St. Martin’s Griffin on March 3rd, 2015 and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to interview the main character, Billy Kinsey. He’s a unique character with a unique story. Enjoy!

The Tragic AgeSummary (From Goodreads):

This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn’t always work— not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven’t applied to college.
 
Billy’s life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another’s mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie’s. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul. 

With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is—Billy doesn’t trust happiness. It’s the age he’s at.  The tragic age. 

Stephen Metcalfe’s brilliant, debut coming-of-age novel, The Tragic Age, will teach you to learn to love, trust and truly be alive in an absurd world.

You’ve brought up the absurd and that you’ve read some works by Albert Camus. Have you read The Stranger as well? If so, what do you think of Meursault’s attitude and way of life?
It’s been awhile.  In retrospect, I’m not so thrilled about old Meursault.  He’s kind of a dick.  I mean, trying to go through life feeling indifferent to the universe because you think it’s indifferent to you is pretty stupid and boring actually.  Also it’s pretty much  impossible (I failed at it miserably).   I mean, all you do is compartmentalize.   Feelings and emotions don’t just go away.  They’re still there, boiling and brewing underneath, waiting to burst out.  And for Meursault they finally did.  And let’s face it, he goes to the guilotine feeling pretty meaningless.  Which frankly, would suck.  I’d like to be a little more proactive with my life than settling for getting my head chopped off.

There are moments in the story when you think one thing and say or do another, or don’t act at all. What’s holding you back?
I actually think I’m doing the best I can in the given moment.   My problem is I’ve seen all these stupid movies and lame TV shows and so my brain keeps flashing on all these idiotic things that I could be doing or should be saying in certain situations – “cool” or “dramatic”or  “witty” things – but don’t.  Maybe I just have an over active imagination.

Do you have any advice for other teens who are dealing with loss?
Maybe embrace it so as to understand it?  It’s sort of part of life, isn’t it.  To paraphrase, Frank Herbert in his semi-interesting novel, Dune –  I will face my loss. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the loss has gone there will be healing” This comes under “the do as I say, not what I do” heading of teenage advice.

You’ve mentioned that you spend quite a bit of time in the library. What’s your favorite book?
Usually the one I’m currently involved with.  At the moment I’m totally smitten with Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. 

 Interesting facts are prevalent in your story. How have you accumulated so much knowledge about such intriguing trivia?
I wish I knew.  I’m just curious about things.   Something interests me and I want to know about it.  And so I look it up and I read about it.  (That’s one thing the internet is good for.)  And reading about it usually suggest other things that sound interesting and so I read about them.  But when it comes to really knowing something, I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.  I should probably go into politics but I still have this crazy idea I might do something meaningful with my life.  Also I’m not so good at lying with a straight face.

Audiobook Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Audio Review

Gabi, a Girl in PiecesTitle: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Author: Isabel Quintero

Narrator: Kyla Garcia

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Release Date: October 14th, 2014

Interest: William C. Morris award winner / Diversity / Contemporary

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014

Named to School Library Journal Best Books of 2014

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Isabel Quintero is a library technician in the Inland Empire. She is also the events coordinator for Orange Monkey and helps edit the poetry journal Tin Cannon. Gabi is her debut novel.

“Mrs. Andersen, would you consider yourself a feminist?” That question came about during a To Kill a Mockingbird discussion in class that stemmed from a student bringing up the way Aunt Alexandra pesters Scout about acting like a lady. I wasn’t expecting my student to ask me that question and I wasn’t sure how to respond. But I had just finished listening to Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and kept thinking that it belongs in a women’s lit class or something. Isabel Quintero has written an incredibly smart book with an authentically teen protagonist.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is written as a series of diary entries that tell Gabi’s story during her senior year in high school. Her best friend is pregnant, her other good friend has opened up about being gay, her life at home is difficult, and she’s questioning herself constantly. She likes boys. She likes kissing boys. She wonders if this makes her “a slut.” Gabi has many thoughts and feelings about what girls should and shouldn’t do. What they’re expected to do. What makes a “good girl” versus a “slut.” This dialogue she has with herself is so important for teens to read and consider. Our culture needs to seriously think about and discuss these gender definitions, expectations, and double standards, so I’m doubly happy that Isabel Quintero’s debut won the William C. Morris award this year. I may not have known about her book otherwise.

If you’re an audio fan, then I highly suggest listening to this book. I have an extra appreciation for the audio since I was able to hear the Spanish words and the proper pronunciation. I know I would have butchered them if I was trying to read them myself, despite my few years of high school Spanish courses. Kyla Garcia was a great choice as a narrator because her voice sounds young. Gabi’s voice is very realistic as a teenage character, so I’m happy the narrator’s voice matches that as well. Also, Kyla Garcia adds so much emotion to Gabi’s words. I felt what Gabi was feeling and was completely drawn into her story as I listened.

I also need to comment on the poetry. I wish I could take Gabi’s poetry class. I enjoy reading poetry and often wrote it when I was in high school, so I found myself really connecting with Gabi as she read poetry and discovered herself through her own poetry. I’d like to seek out some of the poems Quintero included in her novel so I can find a way to use them in class.

Isabel Quintero is an author to watch; I hope she writes something again soon because Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a stunning debut.

Book Trailer Thursday (160)–Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Book Trailer Thursday

Meredith Zeitlin made my evening when she sent me an email today about this book trailer. Her debut Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters is one of my favorite books, so Sophomore Year is Greek to Me has been on my reading radar for some time now. I can’t wait to read it when it releases on April 21st!

Sophomore Year is Greek to MeSummary (From Goodreads):

A laugh-out-loud high school adventure set in Greece, perfect for fans of Meg Cabot

High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she’s devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona’s mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks… but no thanks.

In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.

Waiting on Wednesday–The Fire Sermon by Francesa Haig

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I’m enjoying having my students choose which book I feature for this post each week, so I’m keeping it up for now. It’s nice knowing which books pique their interest and which covers grab their attention. Today one of my seniors said I should choose “the one with the omega on the cover.” Once he read the description, I think it was the tie to The Road that really won him over.

The Fire SermonTitle & Author: The Fire Sermon by Francesa Haig

Release Date: March 10th, 2015

Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)

Summary (From Goodreads):

The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this richly imagined first novel in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy by award-winning poet Francesca Haig.

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.

Newbery Award Winner Book Review: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderTitle: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 18th, 2014

Interest: Verse novel / Guy appeal / Diversity

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

This is the first year that I’ve read many of the books honored and awarded by the ALA Youth Media Awards. To say I was thrilled by this revelation is an understatement. I’m incredibly behind on my reviews, so I’ve decided to *finally* write the reviews for the books which won or were honored.

Newbery contenders aren’t often on my radar since I teach high school students, so the fact that I read two out of the three books blew my mind. I was sitting in my pajamas watching the live stream since we had a snow day and I threw up my arms and cheered when The Crossover was announced as the winner.

Kwame Alexander’s newest release has been on my radar for quite some time for many reasons despite its younger audience. I adore novels written in verse and have been waiting to find one that appeals to boys. The Crossover is the book I’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching freshmen or seniors, the boys in those classes often want to read a book with a story line revolving around sports. The fact that I can now offer them a “sports book” that’s written in verse is really exciting. The Crossover will hopefully be the exposure to verse novels that these students need.

Speaking of the verse, Kwame Alexander’s verse impresses me just as much as Lisa Schroeder’s does. It’s rhythmic and smooth and even visually appealing. The verse in Brown Girl Dreaming is beautiful, but the writing in The Crossover bowled me over. It’s playful, it’s poignant, and at times it even rhymes. It’s a prime example of why I love novels written in verse.

In years past I’ve noticed that many of the books honored at the ALA Youth Media Awards aren’t always books that my students will immediately gravitate to. The books honored this year are more accessible. The Crossover may have won the Newbery, and Josh may be a twelve year old character, but this story is one that appeals to a wide range of readers young and old. Many readers will connect with Josh and his close relationship with his twin brother. Readers will empathize with Josh as he faces the dilemma of choosing between family and sports. As he realizes how truly important family is. I can’t wait to share this with my students.

Book Trailer Thursday (159)–The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Book Trailer Thursday

The Darkest Part of the ForestHolly Black’s newest release, The Darkest Part of the Forest, released from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 13th, 2015. Hopefully this book trailer makes some Holly Black fans happy!

Summary (From Goodreads):

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Book Trailer Thursday (158)–All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Book Trailer Thursday

I just finished the audio for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and am so excited to have found a book trailer for it! I think it captures Finch really well, but I wish it also included Violet in the trailer. I’ll hopefully get my audio review written and posted soon!

All the Bright PlacesSummary (From Goodreads):

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
 
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

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