Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Moriarty, L. (2014). Big Little Lies. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9780399167065

Annotation: Three women in a idyllic suburban neighborhood are dealing with different personal challenges as their children begin kindergarten, and they learn to lean on each other for support.

Reaction: So on the surface, this book is a mystery. It opens with interviews of the attendees of a Parent’s Trivia Night at the local elementary school where Something Has Happened, but we don’t know what yet. The main narrative arc then begins about six months before the Trivia Night, and leads us through all the events that led up to the Something That Has Happened.

But really? The mystery is secondary to the relationships between the three main characters, Madeline, Celeste and Jane, and what’s going on in each woman’s life. Which is not to say that I didn’t spend the entire book trying to guess what happened to whom, but I think this book really triumphs in it’s depiction of the friendships between adult women. In talking about this book with my own friends, that’s the one aspect that has been really refreshing; Moriarty’s characters rely on each other and become stronger through their friendship, and I don’t think that’s something you see very often in literature. And sure, Madeline is a little catty, but when it comes down to it, she’s all about supporting the women around her, even her nemesis.

On top of that, all of the characters in this book, even those we only see in their interviews and the entire class of five year olds, are all really well drawn and unique. There are a lot of characters in this book, and I think it would have been really easy for them all to become just part of the crowd, but by the end, Moriarty has told us significant details about every one.

On top of ALL that, this book was compellingly readable. I was listening to the audibook on CD in my car, and I found myself not only looking forward to long drives alone so that I could really dig into the story, but also sitting in the driveway listening because I had to find out what happened next. It was completely engrossing and emotional and funny, and oh my God, I want to be Madeline when I grow up. She’s the best. And there’s nothing I love more than when an author creates characters I want to hang out with.

Author’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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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):

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(All images from

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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Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

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Maroh, J. (2013). Blue is the warmest color. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN: 9781551525143

Annotation: After Clementine’s death, her partner Emma reads Clem’s diary from when they met and began to fall in love and learns about the struggles Clem had accepting her sexuality.

Reaction: Whoa. This book is intense. It’s beautiful and completely tragic, and Maroh tells you up front that there’s no happy ending here.

The art is beautiful and done in muted colors, except for the bright pops of blue here and there, which mark important people or events in Clem’s life. The art really adds to the wistful, reminiscent tone of Clem’s diary.

This book is a wonderful, moving narrative about coming out and accepting oneself and first love, and I think it’s the kind of thing that could be therapeutic for teenagers on the same journey, but there are a couple of sex scenes, so I would probably only give it to teens 16 and up. Clem’s coming of age story is also pretty universal and is likely to resonate with any adults who remember the anguish of falling in love for the first time.

Awards: Prix du Festival d’Angoul√™me for Prix du Public (2011), American Library Association Rainbow List (2014)

Author’s Website (in French!)

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Carter Finally Get It by Brent Crawford

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Crawford, B. (2009). Carter finally gets it. New York: Hyperion. ISBN: 9781423112471

Annotation: Will Carter is finally starting high school, and he’s determined to be the coolest, strongest, awesome-est dude there, if he can manage to pay attention during football practice and if all the girls in school don’t end up hating him.

Reaction: This book is HILARIOUS. I’m honestly not sure when the last time I laughed so much during a book was. Now, look, Carter is a pretty typical (I assume) fourteen year old boy. He thinks mostly about sex and how he can get a girl to do it with him. I think at his core, he’s a good kid, but he’s still got a lot of growing up to do before he becomes Not a Jerk. But you know what? This book made me think a lot about my own high school experience, and I think it would strike a familiar chord with readers who are currently in high school. Plus, I really enjoyed the peak into the psyche of an adolescent male.

Carter brings humor to all his antics, and I was sitting in the back room at work hoping no one walked back there while I was reading it because I was laughing like a crazy person. One of my friends said that she hopes he does a lot of growing up in the sequels and adjusts his expectations and opinions of women, and I agree that it would be great to see that character growth, as well as give male readers a good example of a regular dude who values and respects women.

This was a fun, quick read and would be great for any young man in high school.

Author’s Website

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Teenage Waistland by Lynn Biederman & Lisa Pazer

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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

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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

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Green, J. (2012). The fault in our stars. New York: Dutton Books. ISBN: 9780525478812

Annotation: Hazel has terminal thyroid cancer and has to drag around an oxygen tank. At a cancer kids support group, she meets Augustus Waters who changes her life.

Reaction: So let’s talk about The Fault in Our Stars. DO NOT read this book if you don’t enjoy crying your eyeballs out at the end of the story. That is not a spoiler. This is a book about kids with cancer. Let’s not even pretend like you’re not going to cry. First we meet Hazel, the narrator, who tells us up front that she’s got terminal cancer. So you spend the book preparing for her death and some sort of third person post death epilogue and girding yourself for that inevitable moment when she can fight no longer. But when the end comes, it’s SO MUCH WORSE than you could ever have imagined. Completely heartbreaking and shattering and JOHN GREEN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!

This guy, he’s a freaking phenomenal story teller: funny and smart and quick witted and snarky, but man oh man. The only other book that I’ve read by him, Looking for Alaska, which is also so so so great and which I highly recommend, ALSO made me cry and cry and cry and cry. (It also dealt with death by motor vehicle less than a year after my older sister was killed in a hit and run, so your mileage may vary with the crying in this one.) I’m a little scared to read more of his books because what if they’re ALL heartbreaking and tragic?! I’m gonna have to suck it up, though, because I think he’s too good to miss out on.

He writes teens that are relatable and real. They’re kids you might have known or might wish you had as friends, and they’re dealing with some stuff. In this one, Hazel and Augustus refuse to let their cancer get in the way of having a life and doing the things they want to do, even if it isn’t exactly normal teen stuff. These two, and their friend Isaac, and all the other kids from cancer support group have been through more pain and suffering than most adults ever have to deal with. And Green shows them dealing with it like real people, flawed and angry and hurt and completely infuriated by the injustice of it all.

Just a note: I listened to the audiobook of this, narrated by Kate Rudd, and I really enjoyed it.

I would recommend this book to EVERYONE (mature readers only!), and it’s totally in my Top Ten Favorites.

Odyssey Award (2013)
Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction (2012)
ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee (2012)
The Inky Awards for Silver Inky (2012)
Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014)

Author’s Website