Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour

You Know Me WellYou Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour
Published by Text Publishing
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

You Know Me Well is a tender and joyful young-adult novel tracing the powerful friendship of two lovesick teenagers—a gay boy, Mark, and a lesbian girl, Katie—over the course of Pride Week in San Francisco. Told in alternating chapters, You Know Me Well explores how Mark and Katie help one another overcome heartbreak, fractured friendships and the dizzying speeds of change.

I’ll start with what I liked least about the book to get it out of the way. Mark and Kate meet at a gay bar, while Kate is hiding from this girl she really likes and Mark is dancing on the bar to impress this guy that he really likes, their eyes lock, they start talking, and instantly they were best friends. That part was not believable to me in the least – maybe it’s because I’m an old lady who needs to get to know a person before becoming BFF with them. But either way, their instafriendship reminded me of the instalove that is so annoying in books.

Other than that, I was really charmed by this adorable story of teenagers dealing with love, heartbreak and growing up. So often books that feature LGBTQ kids or adults are focused on the conflict that being gay causes in the persons’ life, or the internal struggle to come to terms with the characters’ sexuality, or a combination of the two, but this book wasn’t really like that. There is one character who is unwilling or unable to be honest with himself, his peers, and his family about the fact hat he is gay, and while that character is central to the story, for the most part Mark and Kate’s close friends are all gay and all completely happy, comfortable, well-adjusted and supported by their families. This was so refreshing to see and gave the book such a positive, happy vibe that I really enjoyed.

While I liked both Mark and Kate, I think I felt more compassion for and connection to Mark. His struggle of being in love with his best friend and not having that love returned to him was just heartbreaking. In the end, he handled the situation in such a mature and thoughtful way and I finished the book almost feeling proud of him. Yes, you can be proud of a fictional character. It’s a thing. I liked Kate too, but I thought her actions were a bit more selfish and a little flighty, to be honest. Part of that stemmed from her being scared of going after what she really wanted in life, but I wanted her to grow up and figure things out already. In the end, she sort of does, so I was happy with her character development throughout the novel.

Overall I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think teens in particular would really like getting to know these characters, and gay teens might find a lot to appreciate about the way these authors wrote gay characters who are happy, healthy, and proud to be exactly who they are.

Confess by Colleen Hoover

ConfessConfess by Colleen Hoover
Published by Atria Books

From the publisher:

Auburn Reed has her entire life mapped out. Her goals are in sight and there’s no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a risk and puts her heart in control, only to discover Owen is keeping major secrets from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it.

The last thing Owen wants is to lose Auburn, but he can’t seem to convince her that truth is sometimes as subjective as art. All he would have to do to save their relationship is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin…

You know what, this was an enjoyable novel that was an extremely quick read. I loved Hoover’s Maybe Someday, so I was anxious to pick up another one of her novels, and Confess did not disappoint. It didn’t quite have the edge that Maybe Someday had, but this was still a fun read.

I liked Auburn and I liked Owen and they were great together, too. I do have to say that the whole “girl gets confidence because a guy tells her to be confident” thing is annoying, and I didn’t love that Auburn only felt that she could stand up for herself once Owen told her she should, but I’m choosing to pretend that is not the central theme of the book (it’s not. Well maybe it kind of is. Whatever. I liked it anyway, okay?!) The relationship with them was a bit of the instalove variety, but they shared so much about themselves in a short period of time that it wasn’t JUST a physical thing, which I appreciated.

I’m not going to pretend that important things in the novel weren’t wrapped up in unrealistic, tidy little bows, because they definitely were, but I liked it anyway. I think that what Hoover chose to do with her characters was slightly out of the norm and I was happy with how everyone’s stories ended up. Yes it was too pretty of an ending, but so what? I had fun reading it.

After just two of Hoover’s novels, I can see that she has a distinct style that I both love and could possibly get annoyed with very quickly. For that reason, I’m going to shy away from her books for a bit so that the annoyed part doesn’t happen. For contemporary YA bordering on new adult, I do really like her and would recommend picking up her books.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'll Meet You ThereI’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Published by Henry Holt and Co.

From the publisher:

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

I would not have heard of this book if it weren’t for the fantastic taste in books – especially YA – of Rhapsody Jill. And I LOVED this book so much. I’ve been feeling blah about YA in general for a while now, and this book reminded me that there is blah YA and then there is great YA, and I’ll Meet You There is GREAT.

There are so many things I loved about this novel. Skylar is intelligent, ambitious, a loyal friend, a loving daughter, an independent thinker, the type of teenager I pray that my nieces will become when they get a little older. She is not perfect, though, in that she is relentlessly judgmental about all the people in her town and fiercely determined not to become like them – something that her best friend, who is a seventeen-year-old mother who plans to raise her children in the very town Skylar despises, actually confronts her about toward the end of the book. That scene really showed that despite what a great person Skylar is, she has plenty of room for growth, and she’s open to becoming an even better person as she continues to grow up and develop herself.

The setting of this book absolutely oozes off the page and I feel like truly, Creek View is a real place and I have been there and stayed at the Paradise motel. This is a little thing but something that I felt Demetrios just did so darn well that I had to mention it.

Another thing Demetrios handled fantastically was the romance between Skylar and Josh and, specifically, the sex scenes. They felt realistic, sexy, but not over the top and not underdone (often an issue in YA for me) either. Teens have sex, and for it to be portrayed realistically in teen fiction is something that doesn’t happen a lot and did happen here.

And oh man, the PTSD stuff. The way that Demetrios portrayed Josh’s PTSD and how it manifested itself in every single one of his relationships, how his mind relentlessly tore at him, his memories driving him crazy with their nagging pain, it was really incredible. I’m not sure that I’ve read anything else, fiction at least, that so accurately portrayed PTSD. It was incredibly good.

I just loved I’ll Meet You There so, so much. I haven’t even looked to see if this author has other novels out but you bet I’ll be getting to them if she does. Highly recommended.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

From the publisher:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

*Sigh*. I probably shouldn’t have even read this book. While reading Rowell’s Fangirl (a book I loved) my least favorite sections were the Simon Snow fanfiction. In fact, I actually skipped a couple of those sections because I didn’t really care and wanted to get back to Cath’s story. But because I have loved everything else Rainbow Rowell has written, I decided I had to read this book, too. And as I feared, I didn’t love it. I am not even sure I liked it. *hangs head in shame*.

There were things about it I liked, certainly. Agatha! Love her. And wow does Rowell know how to write unrequited love. And kissing scenes. And friendship. And dialogue. She is great, truly she is, and I can see some good elements of the book – some of the same elements I’ve loved in her other books.

BUT. The plot was kind of all over the place. To the point where I couldn’t really focus on it, I kept getting confused, and there was a ton of stuff that I felt should have been eliminated altogether (probably 200 pages worth, in my opinion). And I get that the parallels to Harry Potter were supposed to be obvious and they were supposed to be acceptable and actually sort of the whole POINT – but it annoyed me. Every time I was like, “oh that character is Dumbledore” or whoever (and this happens over and over and over again), I was annoyed. Every. single. time.

I knew this wasn’t going to be my thing going in, yet I hoped I was wrong, and I turned out to be right. Oh well. I guess I don’t have to love everything an author writes to still consider her a favorite author – right? RIGHT?

When It Happens by Susan Colasanti

When It HappensWhen It Happens by Susan Colasanti
Published by Viking Juvenile

From the publisher:

At the start of her senior year in high school, Sara wants two things: to get into a top college and to find true love. Tobey also wants two things for his senior year: to win Battle of the Bands and to make Sara fall in love with him. However, a popular jock named Dave moves in on Sara first. But Tobey’s quirky wit and big blue eyes are hard for Sara to ignore. Plus, he gets the little things that matter to her. Can a slacker rock-star wannabe win the heart of a pretty class brain like Sara?

Since this year I’m trying to #ReadMyOwnDamn books, I’m getting to a lot of books that have been on my shelves FOREVER, and this is one of them. I figured it’d be a quick and fun read and I was not wrong about that. This is a cute but predictable story about the popular girl who is also smart (why those two things have to be marketed as opposites is annoying, but whatever) and is looking for a guy who she has something in common with, instead of the popular guy she is “supposed” to be with. Enter Tobey – the guy who is in love with the popular, smart Sara and KNOWS they are destined to be together, so he goes to great lengths to get to know her. And it works. Cue happy ending.

I mean, that’s pretty much the whole thing but it isn’t a bad book, and not quite as cliche as I made it sound. There are a few Issues discussed throughout the book – although, I felt the author could have explored some of those a little more to give the book more depth – and the characters are somewhat complex. At least some of them are. Also the book is told from the alternating perspectives of Sara and Tobey, which is something I can’t ever resist, and in this case I thought it worked really well. Although, man, do high school guys think about sex a lot. I suppose that’s accurate and realistic, though, so I can’t complain.

Overall, When It Happens was cute and enjoyable and I can’t say it was a waste of my time. While I didn’t LOVE it, I would certainly read more by this author.

Mini-reviews: Books Everyone Raved About

I'll Give You the SunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Published by Dial Books

Thirteen-year-old twins Jude and Noah are best friends and couldn’t be closer. Jude is a free spirit who is always up for an adventure, while her brother Noah is more quiet and artistic, but their differences only serve to draw them closer. Three years later, at sixteen, the two are barely speaking after an earth-shattering event changed everything. Told in alternating perspectives and time periods, Noah and Jude reveal to the reader and themselves how and why this occurred, and how they find their way back to each other.

I really loved this book! There is SO much to talk about here, but I’ll be brief because my best recommendation is just – please read this! There are many relationships explored within the book – between the twins, between each one and each parent individually, between each one and their love interests – and the way Nelson is able to get at the heart and emotion of each of these individual relationships is fantastic. There is some pretty serious trauma, too – I won’t give anything away but Noah and Jude have difficult things happen to them throughout the book – but it was not heavy-handed. It just felt real – I felt the emotions of these characters so deeply, by the end of the book I felt like I knew them, like I had experienced these events with them. Also, I’m really not into art but the way that Nelson used art as a centerpiece of the novel was SO well done. I loved this book to pieces, please read it.

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes
Published by Penguin

Louisa Clark is attempting to recover from the death of her beloved, Will Traynor, but isn’t having much success. After a traumatic accident forces her to move back home, she feels like she’s right back where she started – still not recovering at all from Will’s death. She meets and begins falling for a paramedic, Sam Fielding, and at the same time is approached by someone from Will’s past who really needs her help. These new people in her life start giving her the push she needs to truly grieve for Will in a way that may actually begin the healing process.

Like most people, I fell in love with Louisa and Will’s love story and their characters in Moyes’ Me Before You, so of course I was thrilled to learn that she wrote a sequel. I definitely liked the book but can’t say that I loved it as much as the first. I did feel like Louisa kind of went back to the person she was before she met Will – someone passive, who couldn’t own her life or make decisions of any kind, someone who just let things happen to her instead of creating what she wanted in her own life. It was disappointing but also realistic in a way because she just couldn’t get her bearings after he died. I did enjoy the added aspect of the person from Will’s past (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t heard yet who this person is) but it also felt a tiny bit contrived to me – like Moyes had to throw this person in so the book would have some substance to it. Honestly I think because I expect SO much of Moyes, and was so looking forward to this book, it was a bit of a disappointment. That being said, I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Moyes and I can definitely see what’s to love about After You. Just don’t expect it to be this perfect, incredible continuation of Me Before You and you’ll probably have a great reading experience.