Top Ten Contemporary Books for Newbies

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Check out their blog here!

Today’s TTT topic is: Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read X. I’ve decided to make it Top Ten Books I’d give to readers who have never read the contemporary genre. (Can you hear Veronica and Andi clinking champagne glasses as they toast their conversion skills?) I’ve made it no secret that I used to be a huge hater on the contemp genre entirely – citing that it was only cheesy romances and overused tropes. BUT NAY – I HAVE BEEN SAVED FROM MY UNLAWFUL WAYS. So now that I’ve learned my lesson, here are ten contemporary books that I recommend to anyone who is scared or new to the genre.

Now that I’ve sorted through my GR shelves, I actually have 15! This is in no means a comprehensive list, but it’s some good starters, and ones that really stood out for me.

If you need something sweet: 

1. Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour. You can check out my review for several paragraphs of gushing, but I can sum it up by saying that ELTY feels like magic. It was like I was floating on fluffy pink clouds and totally removed from the world – pure bliss.

2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Another fluffy read; some find that Lara Jean is too naive, but I think it’s just a younger section of YA. I’d say ages 14-16 for this one is perfect. The romance is swoon-worthy, and the overall plot was cute. 

3. Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. ALL THE SWOONS AND FEELS. The romance, the friendship, the road trip – it’s a perfect summer book for when you’re feeling a little country and a little wanderlust-y. 

4. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m trying to find the right words to describe MLND without repeating the above, but ALL THE CUTES should just about satisfy.

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I had a hard time categorizing this one, since it also tackled some tough issues (for me), and made me cry. But overall the book left me feeling like I’ve just downed the perfect amount of Dove chocolate (those little one-inch squares with the peppy sayings in the wrapper that you’re supposed to be satisfied with after one but you eat like eight) and like everything was right in the world.

If you want to tackle tough issues: 

6. There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos. Grief, specifically the loss of a twin. It’s painful, raw, and also can be categorized in the “made me cry” section.

7. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. Disabilities in teens and having preconceptions of someone that turn out to be romanticizations and not truth. Plus – uber geek references abound.

8. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. Grief again, this time loss of a parent. This one really resonated with me, as I identified with Amy in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. (I’m sure you can guess that this was also in the “sobbing like a baby” category)

9. Faking Normal by Courtney Stevens. Eee I don’t want to say what this one deals with, because spoilers, but it tackles quite a few issues, including self harm. It’s a quiet story, and didn’t really resonate with me until several days after I finished it. But it’s so powerful, and very well written.

10. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu. I almost put this in the “sweet” section, but it’s (as you can guess) on the subject of mental illness, specifically OCD. And it’s REALLY well done and accurately represented, so no worries about inaccuracies.

11. Looking for Alaska by John Green. So I’m really not sure how to categorize this one, again, since it goes a few different ways. It’s powerful, and quiet, and really thought provoking. My favorite out of Green’s novels, by the way!

If you need a good cry: 

12. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. No surprise that this one is here, I’m sure. But it deserves its reputation for pain. Sometimes it’s a bit over-hyped, but it really is a good story if you can look past that. Okay? Okay. (Fyi, I actually dislike that quote. I think it’s highly overrated. A better one is “we can’t choose if we get hurt in this life, but we do have some say in who hurts us.” Also: “it’s a good life, Hazel Grace.”)

13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. So I didn’t actually shed tears, but they pooled. This book is SO powerful, and I can’t wait to see the adaptation later this month. I’ve seen the trailer like 10 times, and cried about 8.

If you want some drama: 

14. Sway by Kat Spears. I’m so excited about this book that I keep forgetting it actually isn’t released yet (can someone else PLEASE read their ARC so we can talk about it??), but it’s such a good book. The MC’s character development is phenomenal, and I was so attached to the entire story. Plus, uber drama. But not in the Lifetime movie sort of way – don’t worry! BTW: it’s released September 16th.

15. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. Actually, all four books in this series. Heck, all books that McGarry writes – period! I will admit that this is probably the book I’d call a guilty pleasure if someone forced me to pick one. BUT I DON’T CARE BECAUSE I LOVE THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR PAIN MAKES ME WEEP AND THEN I CRY HAPPY TEARS BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE AN HEA.

I’m sure most of these books are on other lists, and you see them all the time in the blogosphere. Most of them are pretty popular (I think?), but there’s a reason everyone’s reading them. I’m sure there are hidden treasures that I’ve yet to discover, but these gems made me more confident in delving deeper into the genre.

 That’s my list for this week – link me yours below!

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Review: OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: OCD Love Story
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Genre: YA, contemporary, romance
Publisher/Publication Date: Simon Pulse / July 23, 2013
How Did I Get It? Bought it
Format? Paperback

Synopsis from Goodreads: When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic… and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.

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I’d actually had this book on my wish list for a while, but never picked it up because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend the money on a hardback when I wasn’t quite sure I’d enjoy the book. But then I saw it in paperback at BN when I was picking up another book, so I added it to my bag – and I’m so glad I did! I actually like having it in paperback; it’s well-bound, and the pages are really soft. While this book isn’t one that I’m adding to my favorites shelf, I truly enjoyed it and I’ll be reading it again in the future. If you’re looking for a good representation of mental illness in YA, this is one for you.

I really do need to take a moment and applaud Haydu for writing so honestly and truthfully about OCD. I’m no psychiatrist, but from what I’ve studied and researched, this was a very faithful portrayal of the disorder. And what’s even better is that Beck and Bea weren’t defined by their compulsions – they were people, not just their diagnoses. But that’s not to say that the OCD was pushed aside; it’s actually one of the focuses of the novel, especially in the second half. It was harrowing, and to be honest a bit disturbing, to get into that mental place with Bea as her compulsions get worse. But if it had been done any other way, it wouldn’t have been true to the reality of the disorder – OCD isn’t just a joke; it can be very serious. And I’m really glad that Bea actually had to face the consequences (serious ones, at that) of her actions.

Obviously, this is a romance. I mean, it’s in the title, so no spoilers there. Beck and Bea’s relationships was a conglomerated mess of healing and regressing and jumping all over the map. Kind of like playing the lava game as a kid: where can I put my foot so I cause the least damage? Or can I even step there at all? Their romance was kind of like that – a tiptoe game as they tried to work past their individual compulsions so that they could be together and just relax. And in their really screwed up loopy-loops of falling in love, it felt so real. It wasn’t magic and fireworks and sudden acknowledgments of mutual affection: it was messy and angry and painful, but also beautiful and healing and supportive.

I’d also like to note one of the themes: mental illness doesn’t just go away. It will always be there, some days more than others. It’s not like Beck or Bea were miraculously “cured” – they just had to learn how to not allow their compulsions to take over their lives. It was more about acceptance of themselves, not erasure of their pasts.

A lot of people on GR note that this isn’t a fluffy story; I actually have to disagree with that. While I won’t be Saturating this book, I’d just like to make note that I feel the brightness of the cover and colors fit this story perfectly. Despite the looming force of the OCD, I ultimately felt that OCD Love Story was quite hopeful and optimistic. It was easy to read, with a unique narrative voice that felt very real, and I sped through the book in a few short hours without needing to take a moment to remove myself for a break. It just made me happy and at ease. I may be the black sheep here, but it was a perfect light read for me after finishing Heir of Fire (which gave me a hangover of epic proportions).

In the end, I recommend this for sure. Not just for the representation in YA aspect (which is really important and deserves recognition), but for the story itself. It’s just a really good book that I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to anyone looking for a quick, entertaining contemporary with a bit of heartfelt romance that gives you the fuzzy feels.

My Final Rating:

Four stars

Review: Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Title: Love and Other Foreign Words
Author: Erin McCahan
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher/Publication Date: Dial / May 1, 2014
How Did I Get It? Gifted!
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: Perfect for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, Love and Other Foreign Words is equal parts comedy and coming of age–a whip-smart, big-hearted, laugh-out-loud love story about sisters, friends, and what it means to love at all.

Can anyone be truly herself–or truly in love–in a language that’s not her own?

Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue — the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn’t always like, and the best friend who hasn’t said a word — at least not in a language Josie understands.

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My rating for this book is actually a bit odd – I’ve given it four stars, but it’s actually earned a spot on my favorites shelf. Objectively, it’s four stars, because there we some flaws in the book which I’ll detail later. But personally, I connected with this book so much, especially with Josie. I swear, it was like McCahan took 15 year old me and shoved her into a hardback cover. I wasn’t gripping the pages, rushing to see what would happen next, but this story was one of those slow, meandering ones that I enjoyed a few chapters of before bed.

Like I said – Josie could practically be my twin. The confusion of how to communicate with her peers in high school, starting college at 15, the sensory issues, all of it! Especially the sensory issues; I was FREAKING out, yelling at my mom and shoving the book in her face to say MA SHE GETS IT WITH THE SOCK SEAMS AND THE TOUCHING AND THE HAIR BRUSHING AND THE PONYTAILS. I’ve never read a book before where the protagonist has sensory overloads, and honestly I’m finally starting to understand the whole “representation in YA” issue. Because this is such a little thing, but I was able to say, “she understands,” and that’s something every reader should be able to experience. /soapbox

In identifying with Josie so much, I had a really hard time being objective with the rest of the characters. I thought Geoff was the biggest douche-wad ever and I just wanted to tell him to stick it where the sun don’t shine, and it was such a struggle to step back and realize, hey, maybe he’s just a bit nervous and has the best intentions but doesn’t communicate that well to Josie. But the one issue that I really couldn’t get over was Kate’s attitude towards Josie’s physical appearance. I mean, forcing someone to wear contacts because “glasses won’t look right in pictures” and insisting that she get her ears pierced? Way too much for me. I was just flabbergasted that Kate had the gall to say that to her sister, especially in front of other people.

But I think that was the best part of the novel – the reconciliation and strengthening of relationships after hardship. It was really refreshing to see a strong family unit stick together even in their arguments. Plus, I just really have to give a round of applause to Josie’s parents for making sure she was as challenged as could be, and encouraging her to embrace her intelligence in a healthy way. It reminded me of my parents, and how they made sure I was able to go to college at such a young age. Like I said; so many of Josie’s experiences are ones I shared as well.

But there was one pitfall to the book: the ending. I felt like the romance came out of nowhere (even though I knew it was going to happen sooner or later), and was resolved a bit too quickly. Like I was going on all these twists and turns at a nice steady pace, then the last 30 pages came at me all at once, then hit a wall abruptly. I was a bit startled to find that it had ended, but I guess that just means that I loved it so much that I wanted more!

In the end, I stick with my 4 star rating. I think it’s suitable for the story, since I’m not keyboard smashing from excitement or anything, but it’s going to stay with me for a long time in a special little place in my heart. It’s one of those books that I’ll walk past on my shelf and smile fondly because it’s a special baby of mine.

My Final Rating:

Four stars

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher/Publication Date: Dutton / May 15, 2014
How Did I Get It? Gifted
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.

A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.

Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

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Okay, let me take a minute and compose myself. *deep breaths* Disclaimer for this entire review: I’m writing this at 11:45PM, after being up since 5:45AM, I’ve got a kink in my neck that’s been giving me headaches (got it fixed today, thank God), and I’ve started the Paleo diet and my body is screaming for bread and other stuff that I’ve cut out. So I’m a wee bit loopy. You’ve been warned. And now I start with this: fjkaljfksd;jfkdsajfs;. <– That’s how I feel about this book. It was just… magical. ELtY was one of those books that from the very first page – from that first paragraph – you jus know you’re going to fall in love with. By page 20, I was hooked. There isn’t anything negative I can say about this book, so this is going to be less of a review and more of a time for me to talk out all my feelings.

1) I hesitate to call this a romance book. There is a romance, and I really did love that bit (that last line? TEARS. HAPPY, JOYOUS TEARS), but it’s so much more than just a romance. It’s about seeing people for who they are, who they truly are inside, and not the images or expectations that people place on themselves or have projected onto them by others. About seeing past all the exteriors and just loving someone at their most basic level. And I think that’s why I love this book so much: when Emi stopped seeing things as they “should be cinematographically” (I just need to let you all know that I spelled that right the first try, and at this late at night *not a speller*) and just started seeing life and people as it is, I just had this huge sigh of relief (followed by happy tears), because YES she got it.

2) The setting and background stuff. Set decorating – I never even KNEW there was this whole world like that. I mean, it makes sense now, but I just hadn’t considered it before. Emi’s talent was so unique and so vividly described that even in her picking out a couch, I learned more about her character. LaCour infused every part of Emi’s personality into her hobby and job that it never felt forced or cliche at all.

3) The friendships. Everything starts as a friendship, even the ones that later blossom to romance. It was so organic and I never questioned it at all. And – they were healthy relationships. Charlotte was the best – she straight up told Emi when she was being an idiot, and didn’t hold back from the truth. If there was something Emi needed to hear, Charlotte said it. But it was in the most loving way possible – not in spite or anger but in the purest love.

I could go on and on about this book and nitpick each little thing and go on for paragraphs about why I loved it, but I think I can sum up my adoration in one sentence: Everything Leads to You made me believe that magic can exist in the world – even in the quietest moments. Like not everything is hopeless, no matter how it seems in that moment. That there’s something really important about living, and grabbing life with both hands and just running ahead until you find yourself somewhere you’ve never been before.

I plan on buying both of LaCour’s novels and reading them very soon, but I’m pretty sure I can say that she’s become one of my auto-buy authors. Everything Leads to You was that good.

My Final Rating:

Six stars