Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.


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2014 in Review: My Top Reads

Looking back at my year of reading, I’ve read a lot, thanks to book clubs and graduating and not having a job for awhile. Plus, I’m now in an organization that puts out monthly reviews, which gets me even more excited to read and read and read and … I’m discovering over and over that my literary eyes are bigger than my stomach. Because no matter how many books I read there are hundreds more that I WANT to read, and I have to remind myself regularly that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to read everything ever.

I do feel fortunate that of all the books I read this past year, I rated nearly 20% of them 5 stars and only a handful 1 or 2 stars. However, that many 5 star books makes it difficult for me to narrow it down to my top picks for the year. Some are re-reads of past favorites, like Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Time Traveler’s Wife, some are sequels in series that I’m super excited about and in love with (Hello, Stormlight Archive and Saga) and others are massively popular hits; I mean, we’ve all already read The Fault in Our Stars, right? So … I guess it really isn’t that hard to figure out which were my ultimate favorites this year.

Originally, I thought this was going to be my Top Five of the year, but I read too many good freaking books, so have a Top 5% (in no particular order):

(All images from Goodreads.com

(All images from Goodreads.com)

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez – First of all, this cover is phenomenal, and thankfully, the story within backs it up. The main character, Valentina, is tough and smart and conflicted. The plot hooked me right away, and I couldn’t wait to read more about what happened to Valentina and see what she was going to do next. And I LOVED the ending. I think it would have been really easy for this to end unsatisfactorily, but Martinez gave us an ending that really feels true to the characters she created, and I thought it was wonderful.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This is, hands down, my favorite book that I read this year. In fact, I read it twice within a couple of months because I love it so much. This is one that I try to recommend as much as possible, to people who are looking for a great YA novel after finishing The Fault in Our Stars or If I Stay, to people looking for a good audiobook, and all my friends have heard about it around 50 times. It’s so good, and y’all need to read it, seriously. Read it. (Be warned, the first 100 pages or so are a little confusing, but it picks up quick after that!)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I love Rowell. She’s a great storyteller, and her characters are so wonderful and real, and I want to read everything by her. I made the mistake of starting this one (her newest) right before bed, and ended up reading it in one sitting (by the time 5am rolled around, I was really thankful I wasn’t working at the time). Her writing is smart and funny and wonderfully consumable; all of her books have sucked me in and left me thinking about the characters for days afterwards. (Incidentally, I also gave one of Rowell’s other books, Fangirl 5 stars this year, and I gave Attachments 5 stars last year [actually, Attachments might be my favorite of hers that I’ve read {I’ve yet to read Eleanor & Park}], so basically, you can’t go wrong with my gal Rainbow).

Primates by Jim Ottaviani – This book is a graphic novel look Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, how they came to study primates and what they did to advance what we know about them. It’s a great introduction to these women for middle grade (and older!) readers, and it presents the information in a fun, accessible way. I think this could be a great book to use in a classroom and could easily encourage kids to do more reading on their own about primates or these scientists. Also, the reveal of Dian Fossey’s fate (murdered by poachers) left me sobbing in bed at the tragedy of it, though the book, thankfully, doesn’t come right out and say that she was murdered by poachers; Ottaviani handles it delicately and age-appropriately.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman – The story in this graphic novel is a little weird, but it was interesting, and I enjoyed this take on the apocalypse. But what really appeals to me about this book, and what has me recommending it to people is the art. I love the art SO MUCH. I love the image of Death as a long, lanky cowboy, the fight scenes are stunning, and the use of color is really well done. I spent more time than usual just enjoying Nick Dragotta’s art as I read this, and it’s what made me want to continue the series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie has created a completely compelling and thought provoking story in Americanah. She spends a lot of time talking about race and feminism in America through the lens of a non-American black woman, and I found it really eye opening and encouraged me to examine my own white privilege. But even more than that, the characters were so well written, and I was always anxious to see what happened next with them.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan – I read this at the beginning of the year, so my memories are a little hazy, but my one line review gives me a pretty good idea of how I was feeling when I finished: “This book is just so damn beautiful and heartbreaking.” I do remember how I felt so powerless, right along with Sahar, and I really liked this portrayal of LGBTQ issues in a country that is so different from the US. I wish I could better remember how Farizan wrote the transgendered characters Sahar encounters, but I do remember liking that Farizan made it a point to draw a distinction between being gay and transgendered, and that gender reassignment surgery would not magically fix Sahar’s problems, in large part because she was not born in the wrong body.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – This book follows two girls, one black, one white, in 1959 Virginia, as the local high school integrates for the first time. It shows us the torment Sarah experiences as one of the first ten black students to attend the white high school, and her inner turmoil as she comes to grips with the fact that she likes girls. And we follow Linda, as she reevaluates all the beliefs she’s held her entire life, and it makes the reader examine the how and why beliefs are formed and whether they are true beliefs or not. I really liked this book for the way it showed how the Civil Rights Movement was something very personal for the people involved and put a (fictional) face to the struggle.

(If you’re looking for even more lesbian coming of age stories, check out The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a great book about a growing up lesbian in a small town in the ’90’s.)

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – This was sort of the year of my feminist awakening, and I’m trying to make it a point to try to read more books about feminism in our modern culture. This book came on my radar during the Goodreads Choice Awards voting, and the title and simple cover really grabbed my attention. This book was really an engaging read, and Gay’s style makes even her essay about competitive Scrabble fascinating. As I noted in my initial review on Goodreads, not every essay spoke to me, but they were all well written and thought provoking. This is another one that encourages the reader to examine his or her own privileges and view the world from different perspectives.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – After reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is hilarious and wonderful, I was not expecting how different this book would be, and I think We Were Liars helps demonstrate Lockhart’s range as a writer. There’s very little funny here, and the suspense kept me obsessively reading from the first page. This book was supremely compelling and the big reveal is a total gut punch. It’s really well crafted, and the characters manage to be pretty unlikable yet totally fascinating.

What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin – I feel like the title of this book tells you everything you’d ever need to know about it. It was fascinating and had a lot of helpful information about various issues concerning one’s lady business, as well as a lot of hilarrible (hilarious and horrible) anecdotes that make you feel a lot better about whatever weird things are going on with your junk. I think there’s good information in here for anyone who possesses a vagina, and Rankin has answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had.

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The Selection by Kiera Cass

Cass, K. (2012). The Selection. HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062059932

Annotation: In a dystopian America post World Wars III & IV, seventeen year old America Singer is chosen to participate in The Selection, a Bachelor-like competition for the honor of marrying the crown prince. Unfortunately, none of America’s plans for her life included dating a prince alongside 34 other girls, and she’s determined to get back to her normal life just as quickly as possible.

Reaction: (Fair warning, this review is going to talk a little bit about the entire Selection series and will include minor spoilers for the books.)

Let’s talk about The Selection, shall we? I finally picked this up to read because it was chosen for a book club I will be attending, and I was not sure that I would enjoy it. From the first few pages, I felt like I could predict the path of the entire triology, let alone this first book. To a certain extent, I was right. There is nothing surprising or terribly original in The Selection. Obviously, the pretty, nice, smart, talented main character finds that she likes the prince much more than she expected but then! Her boyfriend from back home turns up after being drafted as a soldier! This naturally complicates matters, as she still has very strong feelings for this guy, in addition to her burgeoning feelings for the prince. Not to mention that she’s up against 34 other beautiful, smart, talented women who are almost all more prepared for this situation than she it. Hijinks ensue. I was, honestly, a little bored, already less than 10% into the book.

But then…I read the entire trilogy in three days. Let me just assure you that this is something I never do. I have so many books checked out from the the library and sitting on shelves waiting to be read that it generally takes me forever to get around to a sequel, if I’m even interested in continuing with the story in the first place. It’s probably been a year or more since I was engrossed enough in a story that I jumped my queue to read the sequels. So…that happened.

In actuality, while I found the plot of the first book predictable, I really enjoyed the characters of the prince, Maxon, and America. I found them very engaging and funny, and I really wanted to know what happened to them, even if it was just what I expected to happen.

And then the second book happened. Let me tell you, friends, that second book is a test of your interest and dedication to America’s story because I was sick of her stupid love triangle 30% of the way through the book, and it didn’t end until the very last possible moment. And I’m not a love triangle hater; Katniss/Gale/Peeta didn’t bother me, but this! Every other page America’s heart flip-flopped between Maxon and her hometown love. Maxon would be kind of a douche, and America would run back to Aspen. Then Maxon would be sweet, and she was totally in love with him again. It was exhausting! And annoying! By the end, I really wanted America to choose herself and leave both boys in the dust.

Also, she was such a weenie in the second book; every time she would do something awesome and crazy and, let’s be honest, badass, she’d freak out because Maxon didn’t think it was amazing and totally apologize and grovel for forgiveness. Stand up for yourself, girl! Don’t apologize for being awesome! (Seriously, ladies, stop apologizing so much.)

But the third book ended up being awesome! The ending was surprising and emotional and pretty fantastic. I super enjoyed it, and I really recommend that anyone interested in this series or these characters just push through the annoying second book to get to the awesome conclusion. Each book on it’s own was a really fast read for me, and though I wish Cass would have skipped 95% of the second book, the third made up for it.

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Mercedes Thompson (series) by Patricia Briggs

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

(I originally wrote this when Frost Burned (book 7) first came out about a year ago, but it’s been languishing in my drafts ever since. Book 8, Night Broken was released earlier this month, so I thought this would be an excellent time to actually publish this bad boy.)

You know that series that you devour in like two weeks and then wait anxiously for the next installment? And that book/series that is your totally guilty pleasure reading (except you don’t actually feel that guilty)? Well, the Mercedes Thompson books (written for an adult audience) are that for me. I happened across the first audiobook, Moon Called, a couple of years ago, when I was browsing for books to listen on my walks to work. I was a little skeptical about it, as I tend to be about any vampire/werewolf book I’ve never heard of before, but the premise sounded interesting, and I was getting it for free from the library, so why not? Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll read just about any werewolf/vampire novel. I love the genre, lordy.

Well, I loved it. LOVED. I read or listened to the next five books as soon as I could get my hot little hands on them, even buying books four and five because the library copies were already checked out. I then went on to read Patricia Briggs’s Alpha & Omega series, which is set in the same world.

Mercedes Thompson is a Walker, a Native American shape changer who turns into a coyote. She owns a garage and lives next door to the local Alpha werewolf. In the first book, a young werewolf shows up at her garage looking for work. A few days later, he’s dropped on her doorstep, dead, and she takes it on herself to find out where he came from and why he was killed. Hijinks ensue.

Each subsequent book has Mercy getting into all kinds of trouble, involving various supernatural villains, including vampires, wizards, and the Fae. One of my favorite things about these books is that, while they reference the previous books, I don’t feel any great need to reread the earlier books when a new one comes out. Each story is self contained and stands on it’s own, so I don’t have to worry about remembering what happened two books/years ago.

When I got the email from Audible that book 7 had just been released, I bought it immediately. Starting it was like going back to visit old friends. I love the cheesy, punny, snappy dialogue, and I love the way the action started within thirty minutes of the beginning the book. And I preordered book 8 from Audible, waiting with great anticipation for when I could spend some quality time with characters I’ve grown to know and love.

The Mercy Thompson books live in a sub-genre of fantasy in which ladies who have some supernatural abilities get into trouble, kick some bad guy booty and fall in love. I love that genre, I generally find the plots fun and engaging and the characters pretty decent, but after reading books in AT LEAST six or seven of these types of series, the concept gets a little stale. But you know what? I will always come back to Mercy. Maybe it’s just because she was one of the first experiences I had with this kind of book, but I find her stories exceedingly readable and the characters all really relatable and interesting.

Sidenote: I have listened to most of these books on audiobook, and I love them. The narrator is wonderful, and after about 5 or 6 books, she is the voice of Mercy to me. And I was able to download most of the audiobooks through my library’s e-audibooks provider Overdrive.

Author’s Website


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The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is the second book trailer I have created for my Booktalking and Book Trailering class. I used Windows Movie Maker 2.6 (the old version) to create this, and I’m really happy with how it came out!

On a review-ish note, I loved this book. I’ve been really interested in reading more books about running recently; I find them very inspirational, and they help remind me of all the things I love about running. This book was no exception. I really felt for Jessica, and I thought her journey was very realistic and relatable, and in the end, this book is just so wonderful and heartwarming that I kind of want to cuddle it. It’s a total upper of a book, even though the subject seems really heavy.


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Booktalk – Adult Fiction

Hey y’all! So someday, I’ll be done with school, and I’ll have a lot more free time, and I’ll start posting book reviews again! Hooray! (I even already have some reviews written that just need editing, that how busy I’ve been; I don’t have time to edit an already written review.)

In the meantime, I am currently taking a class all about Booktalking and Booktrailering (which is like a little 1-3 minute commercial for a book). Now that we’re nearing the end of the semester, I’ve done three booktalk presentations: one for older children (5th grade), ones for teens and the most recent one for adults.

I’m not gonna lie, the adult fiction talk was the most challenging for me. I don’t read a lot of adult books, and most of what I’d read recently wasn’t good enough that I wanted to recommend it to everyone. But I started thinking about titles that my friends might enjoy or ones that I have really enjoyed in the past, and I put together a pretty decent booktalk presentation. It’s not the best one I’ve done; I’m super proud of my teens talk, but one of my classmates said she really enjoyed it and thought all the books sounded interesting.

So, here, have a booktalk!

I’ll be posting the rest of my assignments from this class in the coming weeks.


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Teenage Waistland by Lynn Biederman & Lisa Pazer

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Biederman, L., & Pazer, L. (2010). Teenage waistland. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 9780385739214

Annotation: When four teenagers apply to be part of a clinical trial for the lap-band weight loss surgery, they are thrust together and help each other come to terms with the deeper reasons behind their obesity.

Reaction: This book was super engrossing from the first chapter; my husband had to actually pry it from my fingers so I’d go do some homework. This is not normally the type of book I check out from the library, as I read primarily fantasy, but as a person who deals with weight issues, I am always interested in “fat stories.” These teens are considered morbidly obese, according to their BMI, and they are all looking for a way to lose the weight and experience what they think regular teenage life is supposed to like.

To the characters in this book, their surgery initially seems like an easy way to change their lives, but, thanks to mandatory group therapy sessions, they begin to realize their weight issues run much deeper than fat. After tragedy strikes a couple members of the group, they all begin to look more deeply about why they gained all the weight in the first place.

I will admit, that towards the end of the book, the story gets a little sappy and touchy feely as the teens all deal with the psychological issues behind their weight gain, but I sat down and finished it in probably less than twelve hours. The story is told from three different third person limited view points, and each of the characters is compelling, but I was particularly interested in the drama of East’s life, which kept me reading to find out what happens to her and Char.

Author’s Website: None


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Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Daswani, K. (2012). Lovetorn. New York: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780061673115

Annotation: When Shalini’s father’s new job moves the family to Los Angeles from India, she has to learn how to survive in American high school, and eventually she begins to question the marriage that was arranged for her when she was three.

Reaction: I feel like I don’t often see Young Adult novels with an Indian (the country, jsyk) protagonist, though that could be a symptom of me simply not noticing these books. I am always fascinated by stories featuring Indian culture, since it is so different from what we experience in the US.

This is a story about a sixteen year old girl who has been engaged to her best friend since she was three years old. She loves her fiance, but the distance and culture shock of coming to the US cause Shalini to doubt her relationship. When she first starts at her new school, Shalini clings to the familiarity of her Indian heritage, but as the year progresses, she comes to embraces both the cultures in which she lives. Complicating her transition to American life is her mother’s deep depression and rejection of anything American.

This is a great book for anyone who is interested in Indian culture and wants a glimpse into what it might be like for a teen from India. The romance is strong in this book, so I’m not sure how much boys will enjoy it, but I think it would be a great introduction to another culture for those teens interested in realistic YA fiction with a romantic twist.

Author’s Website