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My Favorite Books Read in 2016, Part 1 (January through June)

Something that I wanted to start doing in the spring was writing more in depth book reviews on this blog.  Unfortunately, I just don't seem to have the time for that... ever.  I want to, but I would rather spend my time reading (go figure!).  I do post reviews for everything I read on Goodreads - you can find me here, if you're interested.

But.  I just don't have time for the in-depth review.  So instead, I'm going to write two summary posts this year - one now and one at the end of the year.  As of June 30th, I'd read 20 books this year.  And someone, I narrowed it down to my five favorites.  So here they are - my five favorite books read in the first half of 2016.

Unteachable, by Elliot Wake (formerly known as Leah Raeder)

First, a note on the author.  Elliot Wake is a transgender man who published this book under his former name, which was Leah Raeder.  So, when you're looking for this book in a store or online (which I'm hoping you do, because it's at the top of this list for a reason), you'll be looking for Leah Raeder.  I'm not sure if he's planning on having the already published books reprinted with the new name on the cover, but that hardly matters to the story.

Why is this at the top of the list?  I did a little experiment this spring where I delved into the fairly new world of New Adult books.  I had this thought that I wanted to write New Adult, and I figured I better see what's selling in the genre before I commit to anything.  (As a side note, it has turned out that I LOVE reading NA but am not great at writing it.  That's a story for another time.)  This was the third New Adult book that I read in the experiment, and I stopped for a long time after this one, because I didn't think I could find anything better.  I don't know how no one else that I know has heard of or read this book.  It is absolutely sensational, and it brought me into the story so quickly.  It also has that dose of taboo that New Adult thrives on that makes it a little bit dangerous.  And I liked it.

Here's a quick plot summary:

Maise is a rising senior in high school who hates commitment.  She doesn't want anything to do with it.  So when she meets Evan at the fair at the end of the summer and it's clear that he'd like to get to know her, she sleeps with him and then runs, which is her MO.  Flash forward to the first day of school - Evan is actually Mr. Wilke, her film teacher.  And Maise is just as hooked as he is.

If you can't stomach a book about a student-teacher relationship (Maise is 18, but it's still not good), you should probably skip this one.  But if you can (calling all Pretty Little Liars fans), READ IT.  It's sexy and you won't be able to put it down.  Elliot Wake, you are a rockstar, and I can't wait to read the rest of your books.

Forever, Interrupted, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Back when I started researching literary agents in early 2013, I came across Carly Watters' blog.  She's an agent for P.S. Literary, and I was pretty instantly hooked on the nuggets of agent life and advice that she'd write about.  It was through this that I found Taylor Jenkins Reid - a client of Watters.  I've had this book on my to-read list for YEARS.  It was almost one of those wedding daydream moments - where everything is so beautiful that you don't want to ruin it by thinking about the rest of your life with that person.  Does that make sense?  Maybe not, but in any case, I was afraid that reading Forever, Interrupted would break the spell and ruin what I had built TJR up to be.

It didn't.

This book is so heartbreaking in the best way.  It was especially poignant for me, as I am a newlywed (I can still call myself that, it hasn't been a year yet) and can't stomach the thought of losing my husband.  But what I loved most about it was the back and forth of the storytelling - you'd get one chapter in the present and the next would be in the past.  It's a storytelling device that I'm using in my current project, and I wouldn't have thought to organize it this way if it hadn't bee for this book.

Quick plot summary:

Elsie Porter meets the man of her dreams on a rainy New Year's Day, and they are married by May.  In early June, a mere 10 days after their elopement, Ben Ross is killed in a tragic accident.  What's more?  Elsie hadn't met Ben's mother yet, and meets her for the first time at the hospital - and the elder Mrs. Ross doesn't even know that Elsie exists.  The rest of the story is told in the back and forth of Elsie and Ben's love story and Elsie and Mrs. Ross's healing journey.

Trust me - you have to read this one.

Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen (plus a re-read of The Truth About Forever and Along for the Ride)

I have loved Sarah Dessen from the very first book of hers that I read.  Her last several didn't quite live up to what I remembered, but she came back with a vengeance with Saint Anything.  I'm going to start with the plot summary on this one.

Sydney has always been in her brother's shadow, but when he goes to jail, she is thrust into the spotlight at their small private school.  Preferring to be in the background, she transfers to the local public school and makes some colorful new friends, including the brother/sister pair of Layla and Mac.  After seeing how inclusive and loving their family is, Sydney starts questioning her own family life - especially once she falls for Mac.

It's been a long time since a book stuck with me like this one did.  Sydney's feeling of invisibility could have been me in high school.  But I was in the same boat as her - I didn't want to be seen.  And Mac saw her.  Theirs is a very pure type of high school romance, and it's so cute that I didn't know what to do except devour it.  After seemingly failing at writing New Adult, a little foray into a Sarah Dessen binge is exactly what I needed.  After finishing this one, I reread a bunch of others, including The Truth About Forever and Along for the Ride.  Those two have influenced the project that I'm working on more than anything else I've read this year.  All three have male counterparts to the female main characters who allow the girls to shine on their own.  I love that, and I'm trying to work that into my current project.  I've written and read too much about men needing to save women - I want the women to be able to save themselves.  That's what I'm going for from now on.

If you've never read Sarah Dessen, I don't know what you've been doing with your life.  But seriously, go read one of her books.  As a starter, I'd recommend either TTAF or This Lullaby, but any of them will do.  And definitely read Saint Anything.  It's a true gem - and just watch, you'll fall in love with Mac too (I know I did).

Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire (sort of)

This one is a little bit confusing, because I actually didn't like this book all that much, in hindsight.  But I absolutely devoured it.  I sat out on our balcony for hours and didn't eat or anything - I just read.  The plot has good flow and it's constantly exciting.  So why didn't I like it?  

Here's the plot summary first:

Abby Abernathy is a freshman at Eastern University who is trying to escape her past.  Whatever she does, she is not going to get sucked in by the university's walking one-night-stand, Travis Maddox.  Definitely not.  In fact, she becomes Trav's first female friend, which leads to a bet that could change everything about their friendship.

So why didn't I like it in hindsight?  Because Travis treats Abby terribly.  Like his property.  Like she can't fend for herself at all.  And most of this is without them being a couple.  Isn't that borderline creepy?  It's a good read, I promise.  But you might be left with a bad taste in your mouth.  Or maybe you're into that sort of thing, I don't judge.  In any case, it's an intriguing look at the bad-boy-changes-his-ways-for-a-girl trope.

The Love that Split the World, by Emily Henry

I considered not including this on the list simply because it's already gotten a ton of hype and recommendations on its own, but I couldn't resist.  It's that good.  It's the perfect definition of magical realism, which isn't a genre I usually choose to pick up.  But it worked so well for me here.  

Plot summary:

Natalie is in her last summer in Kentucky before jetting off to an ivy league college.  She has a secret that keeps getting brought to life, and she can't figure it out.  It's like she's dropped into a parallel universe.  And in this parallel universe is Beau, the love of her life, and a message from a mysterious figured named Grandmother who says simply "you have three months to save him."

This book shattered me in a way that I haven't felt in a while.  SHATTERED.  Emily Henry is top notch, and the cool part?  I went to college with her.  So this book is extra special to me, and definitely earned its place on this list.

What do you think of my book picks?  What have you been reading this year?  I love comparing books and I can't wait to hear what y'all are into!

-A.

Amanda Reads - July 2016

Camp NaNoWriMo: also known as Writing, Take Four

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