Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Books of 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Normally I write out reasons why I’m including each book on this list, but I’ve reviewed these books and mentioned them on so many lists that I feel like it’s not really necessary at this point. But believe me, creating this list was HARD. At the end of every year I feel like I haven’t read enough books, nor enough books that really wowed me. Do any of you feel that way at this time of year? I guess I’m not reading to be wowed, but I certainly like discovering new favorites. The books on this list are here because they’ve stayed with me this year (characters, plot, writing style, twists, etc.). I’d love to know which books are you favorites this year!

My favorite books of 2013 in no particular order…

1. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith (My review)

2. Winger by Andrew Smith (My review)

3. Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller (My review)

4. Golden by Jessi Kirby (My review)

5. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (My review)

6. Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler (My review)

7. I’m With Stupid by Geoff Herbach (My review)

8. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (My review)

9. The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine (My review)

10. Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting (My review)

My favorite backlist titles read in 2013 (I couldn’t help but cheat)…

1. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (My review)

2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (My review)

3. Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

4. Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This post is actually difficult to write because despite my list, many of the books I read this year are written by authors I’ve read before. I consider that a good thing because it means former debut authors and new-to-me authors have continued to impress me. I’d love to know which authors are on your list! Hopefully we’ll share some similarities. Hopefully I’ll discover even more authors!

Top Debut Authors:

Hilary T. Smith–Wild Awake has engaging characters and beautiful writing. I hope she writes another book soon!

Rainbow Rowell–Eleanor & Park is Rowell’s debut YA release which rocked my world. Seriously. I LOVE that book.

Hollis Seamon–Somebody Up There Hates You surprised me in a great way. It was fun to read despite being a “cancer” book.

Robin Constantine–As soon as I finished reading The Promise of Amazing I wanted to read another one of Robin Constantine’s books. It’s too bad this hasn’t even released yet because that means I have to wait even LONGER for her next book.

Jessica Verdi–She tackles a big issue in My Life After Now without getting preachy. Plus, it’s an issue not enough found in YA. Win, win.

Aaron Hartzler–Rapture Practice is a great example of YA memoir while also being a fabulous and relevant story.

K.A. Barson–45 Pounds is a fun book that many of my readers will relate to. Plus, K.A. Barson is a Michigan author!

Top New-to-Me Authors:

Benjamin Alire Saenz–I can’t begin to explain how beautiful Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is.

Jo Knowles–So technically Jo Knowles isn’t new to me since I read Lessons From a Dead Girl a few years ago. I’m including her on this list because I read three of her other books this year and loved all of them. I feel like I truly discovered her this year.

Amy Reed–I loved reading Over You and now want to read everything Amy Reed writes.

Review: My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi

My Life After NowTitle: My Life After Now

Author: Jessica Verdi

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: April 2nd, 2013

Interest: Contemp / 2013 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Somehow My Life After Now escaped my attention until a few days ago. Once I found out what it’s about, I instantly wanted to read it. My debate right now is whether to go into detail about Lucy’s “dilemma” since the summary doesn’t state it and it might upset some readers to know prior to reading. That being said, I’m going to go ahead with openly discussing it because I think knowing that piece of information will prompt more readers to pick this debut title up and read it since it’s not an issue that’s often addressed in YA (that I know of).

The main reason I decided to read Jessica Verdi’s debut right away is because it’s about Lucy contracting HIV. I’ve read plenty of YA novels about girls getting pregnant and teen boys dealing with getting girls pregnant, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen getting an STD. I’ve never read one about a teen getting HIV. Our teens need to read stories like Lucy’s because 1.) They need to find themselves in a book if they’re also dealing with this and 2.) They need to see that they aren’t immune.

I will say, however, that My Life After Now isn’t preachy. There’s an obvious message present in Jessica Verdi’s novel, but it isn’t off-putting like it so easily could have been. It’s quite accessible and quite enjoyable. I felt Lucy’s anguish, shock, and anxiety. I was reading this during SSR and got to the part when Lucy finds out that she’s positive and wanted to stop reading to start discussing this with my students. Lucy’s emotions became my emotions. I think many of my students will love this book and really start thinking about their actions. Besides the HIV, students will like this book because of the relationships and other conflicts that are present. I’m sure my drama students will appreciate the drama/theater aspect as well.

Overall, My Life After Now is an engaging book with well-developed characters. It’s a fresh story that I can’t wait to share with my students. Jessica Verdi is an author to set your sights on.

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The Beginning of EverythingTitle: The Beginning of Everything

Author: Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Katherine Tegen

Release Date: August 27th, 2013

Interest: Contemp / 2013 Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

I’ve been sitting on this review of The Beginning of Everything for months now. I had mixed feelings about it when I finished reading and wasn’t sure what to say in my review. Now that it’s months later, I’m still not sure what I want to say, so this may be a short review. Before I get into my actual review, I will say that I plan on reading more of Robyn Schneider’s books, even if her debut wasn’t one that I loved.

While I didn’t love The Beginning of Everything, I did enjoy Ezra’s story. It’s an engaging read and one that I liked. The issue I have with it, is that it’s too similar to Looking for Alaska. I try not to make comparisons to John Green’s work, especially with debut authors, but sometimes it’s impossible not to. While I read Schneider’s debut, all I could think was that she read Looking for Alaska and wanted to write her own version of it. Is there a great tragedy in The Beginning of Everything? No. Does it take place at a boarding school? No. But the characters are written quite similarly, especially Cassidy. And the same kind of pretentious attitude from other characters is present as well (think Weekday Warriors).

I’d describe both Alaska and Cassidy as manic pixie dream girls, but while I loved Alaska, I grew tired of Cassidy and her whims. I liked Ezra and think some of my guys in class would like him and his story, but Cassidy, while being smart and unique, bored me. I think that if she wasn’t written so similarly to Alaska I would have liked her character more.

I think if The Beginning of Everything wasn’t written so similarly to Looking for Alaska I would have liked this book more. But like I said, I enjoyed reading it. I’m disappointed that it isn’t more of its own book. Maybe if I didn’t teach, and read, and discuss Looking for Alaska every year, I would think differently. But I doubt it.

I know some of my students will love this. When I was reading it, I read the first few pages to my class and hooked a few of my students. I’m sure I’ll be able to do that again with this new group of students.

Flash Reviews (24)

Flash Reviews

Thin SpaceTitle: Thin Space

Author: Jody Casella

Publisher: Beyond Words/Simon Pulse

Source: NetGalley

Summary (From Goodreads):

Ever since the car accident that killed his twin brother, Marshall Windsor has been consumed with guilt and crippled by secrets of that fateful night. He has only one chance to make amends, to right his wrongs and set things right. He must find a Thin Space—a mythical point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

But, when a new girl moves into the house next door, the same house Marsh is sure holds a thin space, she may be the key—or the unraveling of all his secrets.

As they get closer to finding a thin space—and closer to each other—Marsh must decide once and for all how far he’s willing to go to right the wrongs of the living…and the dead.

Flash Review: I read a review that compared Thin Space to Through to You by Emily Hainsworth, which I didn’t really like, so I was hesitant to read this. I ended up really liking Jody Casella’s debut novel. The comparison to Through to You is a good one since both books deal with grief and loss, but the execution and story is so much better in Thin Space. I was completely absorbed in Marsh’s story. For a large part of the book I wondered if a Thin Space was some kind of coping mechanism or if it would turn out to be an actual place. I’ll let you find out when you read it! There’s a great twist in the story and wonderful character development. I understood Marsh and his profound grief. This is an excellent book that I know my students will love. Better yet, it released in paperback so it’s easy on the wallet!

Forgive Me, Leonard PeacockTitle: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Author: Matthew Quick

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

Flash Review: Matthew Quick is a rock star author. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is yet another example of why I love his books and writing style. No matter the subject matter, his books are engaging and difficult to put down. Quick tackles some serious issues in his newest YA novel and although I felt like it grew a little “preachy” at times, I loved this book. Leonard Peacock is a deeply troubled and emotionally wounded character who you’ll cheer for despite his intentions. One of my seniors borrowed this the first week of school and tore through it. Since then another senior has borrowed it and told the class how much he’s enjoying it. I now have a list of readers waiting to read Leonard’s story. This is a powerful book that I hope you’ll read and share with high school students.

CanaryTitle: Canary

Author: Rachele Alpine

Publisher: Medallion Press

Source: Library

Summary (From Goodreads):

Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse.

Flash Review: Rachele Alpine’s debut came to my attention when I joined the Great Lakes, Great Books Award committee and was looking for titles to read. I’m happy I read Canary and see it being enjoyed by many of my students, but it left me with mixed feelings. The summary tells us that Kate is assaulted at a party and needs to do something about it despite the consequences for her father, but that doesn’t take place until nearly the end of the book. I understand the placement of this in the story because we need to understand who Kate is before she goes to Beacon Prep and who she becomes once she makes new friends, but it fell flat. I was starting to get bored with Kate’s obsession over her brother’s actions and how she felt about her friends. Once the assault happened, I was ready for more of that part of the story but instead it was rushed. This is a fast read despite the length, but it needs a little more revision. I did, however, love Kate’s blog posts. This is where the verse is tied in and it really works. I plan on using some of her blog posts in my writing lessons.

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Book Trailer Thursday (127)–How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Book Trailer Thursday

Over the summer I read a few different books dealing with teen pregnancy. I’m looking forward to adding another one to my “read” pile. The book trailer for How to Love gives Katie Cotugno’s debut a lighter vibe, but a few of the reviews I’ve read said it’s actually not (they were positive reviews). Regardless, the story sounds intriguing. It will be interesting to hear what my students think once they can compare the book trailer and summary with the actual book once they’ve read it.

How to Love by Katie Cotugno releases on October 1st, 2013.

How to LoveSummary (From Goodreads):

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Book Trailer Thursday (126)–Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Book Trailer Thursday

I’m getting a little burnt out on dystopian/post apocalyptic novels, but this 2013 debut sounds fresh and exciting. Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis releases on September 24th (along with a bunch of other can’t-wait-to-buy titles) so thankfully I don’t have to wait much longer to get my hands on a copy.

Have you read it yet? If so, what did you think? The book trailer has kind of a historical fiction vibe going on, but I can also tell it’s futuristic. I wonder what my students will think!

P.S. As of right now, Goodreads isn’t marking this as the first in a series or trilogies. I LOVE that this might be a stand alone. Can we have more of those, please?!

Not a Drop to DrinkSummary (From Goodreads):

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

Review: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Wild AwakeTitle: Wild Awake

Author: Hilary T. Smith

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: May 28th, 2013

Interest: Contemporary / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the editor

Summary (From Goodreads):

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

To put it simply, I just loved Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith.

Smith’s writing is lively and beautiful.  I almost never take notes when I’m reading a book because it distracts me, but I had to write down multiple sentences and paragraphs while reading  Wild Awake.  If I didn’t want to stop, I took a picture of what I was reading so I would remember it when writing this review.  Here are a few of the sections I wanted to remember (quotes taken from the ARC):

“His smile is a jar full of fireflies.”

“…I feel more exposed than I ever have before, like I’m climbing a rock face with only a strand of dental floss for a harness. The music we’re playing is a dripline straight from our hearts, a confession of all that we are.”

“…I’ve traded in a jar full of pennies for a bar of gold.  It’s amazing how quickly the things you thought would make you happy seem small once you stumble on something true.”

Hilary T. Smith has lines like those woven throughout her entire novel.  I absolutely love her similes and metaphors.

Along with loving the writing, I adore Kiri Byrd.  She is alive on the page.  I simultaneously worried about Kiri while wanting to be her friend and spend time with her.  I worried for her because she is grieving over her sister and what she discovers about her sister.  I also worried for her because she’s manic and dealing with it all by herself.  (Note–I knew something was mentally wrong with Kiri, but didn’t think of mania–I have no idea why not–until Kelly @ Stacked pointed it out in her review, which is great by the way.)  What’s awesome about Wild Awake is that I never felt like I was reading a novel about grief.  I understood Kiri’s grief and empathized with her, but I never felt down while reading this.  I think the main reason I didn’t feel down is because Kiri is so exuberant.  Even at times that she shouldn’t be, she is full of life and wonder and wanting the best for herself and for Skunk.

Speaking of Skunk, his character is wonderful.  He and Kiri are both suffering, but they’re life rafts for each other.  He’s her “bicycle boy,” her “love-bison,” and so much more.  Kiri sees his potential and wants to help him heal.  I don’t want to say too much more because I’m afraid I’ll spoil something, but I sure do love Skunk.  Especially Skunk and Kiri together.

A couple people have asked me if Wild Awake would be okay for middle grade readers, and I’m honestly not sure.  There isn’t anything graphically sexual in this novel, but the themes and issues are deep.  I’m not sure if a middle grade reader would grasp what exactly is going on with Kiri and Skunk.  My best advice is to read this–because you’ll hopefully enjoy it anyway–then make your decision based on what you know about your readers.  I feel completely comfortable offering this to new freshmen in the fall, if that helps at all.

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith is a must-read.  Based on this debut, I know that Hilary T. Smith is going to be an exciting voice in YA literature.  I can’t wait to read what she writes next!

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkTitle: Eleanor & Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: February 26th, 2013

Interest: Positive reviews / Historical fiction

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

I’m really tempted to simply write, “Eleanor & Park is fabulous. You must read it now!” and leave it at that.  I’m not, however, because I really want to gush over everything I love about it.

I felt such an array of emotions while reading Rainbow Rowell’s YA debut.  I laughed plenty of times, and I think I teared up just as many times as I laughed.  Eleanor and Park come alive on the page and I couldn’t help but love them.  There were so many times that I wanted to hug Eleanor.  She needs lots of hugs.  Park is absolutely adorable and so real.  And his parents?!  I ended up loving them big time.

Something that surprised me about Eleanor & Park is that it’s written in third person.  I didn’t even realize it at first because it’s *that* well done.  I never felt like I was reading it as an outsider; I always knew exactly how Eleanor and Park felt.  I’m often turned off by books written in third person because it distracts me.  The characters in third person novels don’t always stick with me, but that’s not the case with Eleanor and Park.  Rainbow Rowell wrote third person the way it should be written.

I love that Eleanor & Park is a love story, but it’s not an overly mushy love story.  It’s a love story that’s sweet and tender.  It’s even bittersweet at times.  But it’s also a story about self-discovery and opening up.  Both and Eleanor and Park are discovering who they are, and they’re discovering it through each other and through their relationship.  Park doesn’t need to be like his friends and who his father wants him to be.  Eleanor discovers what a family really is and how to love herself.  Really, Eleanor & Park is simply perfect and you need to read it.

I have Eleanor & Park labeled as historical fiction since it takes place in 1986.  It’s awful labeling that time period as historical fiction, but for today’s teens, that is historical fiction.  There isn’t a big moment in history taking place in this book, but there are plenty of 80s allusions present that I’m sure many of my students will wonder about.

To sum this up, Eleanor & Park is already a favorite of 2013.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.  Rainbow Rowell can’t write another YA novel fast enough because I want to read everything she writes.  Thankfully she has some adult/new adult novels out that I can read.

Book Trailer Thursday (96)–Prophecy by Ellen Oh

I’m on a fantasy kick and Ellen Oh’s debut Prophecy sounds really cool.  And this may seem trivial, but I’m excited that it’s high fantasy and only 320 pages long as opposed to the usual 400+ pages long many high fantasy novels are.  It released on January 2nd.  Have any of you read it yet?  If so, what are your thoughts?  What do you think of the trailer?

ProphecySummary (From Goodreads):

The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms… is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.

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