Top Ten Contemporary Books for Newbies

TTT Banner
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!

ARC Review: Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Title: Torn Away
Author: Jennifer Brown
Pages: 288
Genre: YA, contemporary
Series? No
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads: Born and raised in the Midwest, Jersey Cameron knows all about tornadoes. Or so she thinks. When her town is devastated by a twister, Jersey survives — but loses her mother, her young sister, and her home. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she’s sent to live with her only surviving relatives: first her biological father, then her estranged grandparents.

In an unfamiliar place, Jersey faces a reality she’s never considered before — one in which her mother wasn’t perfect, and neither were her grandparents, but they all loved her just the same. Together, they create a new definition of family. And that’s something no tornado can touch.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

The Yacht

When I got the email from NetGalley for a “read now” for this book (at work, might I add – oops!), I immediately jumped at the chance! I’ve never read anything by Brown before, but I had heard so much about her that I wasn’t going to skip an opportunity like this. So, phone under my desk, with shifty eyes and a slightly guilty weight in my chest, I logged on as soon as I could and snatched up my copy of the galley. But then, it was on my Kindle, and nothing else mattered! And let me tell you – my covert affairs were well worth it! I was a bit skeptical because of the hype monster, but Torn Away is definitely a book I would read again.

The number one thing I really want to highlight here is Brown’s style in writing this book. I felt so much for Jersey: every emotion was so easy to connect to, and she was a very real character to me. At first, I was angry because I didn’t know what was going on, or if Jersey’s friends had lived, or what really was going on in the aftermath of the tornado. But then I realized that this was a positive: it was exactly what Jersey would be experiencing! So kudos to Brown for making it so easy to empathize with Jersey.

In all, actually, my favorite part of Torn Away was probably the characters. They were so well developed, both horrible and amazing. The “evil” characters were so easy to bristle at – I was ready to start yelling at my phone (which wouldn’t have gone over well in public). And Kolby, one of the major secondary characters, needed more page time for sure. He was the “love interest”, but not really. Because this isn’t a love story. In fact, romance only plays about a 1% part in this book! But he was an amazing, strong friend for Jersey, and he’s one of those people I would love to meet in person.

Overall, this was an emotional, gripping, can’t-put-it-down story. The only negative I can really complain about is the somewhat abrupt ending – I would have loved to see more of an epilogue of sorts, maybe to find out where the characters were a year or two after the tornado? Either way, I’m definitely planning on reading some more of Brown’s books (maybe Thousand Words?), and highly recommend Torn Away!

My Final Rating:

Four Anchors

ARC Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Title: Far From You
Author: Tess Sharpe
Pages: 384
Genre: YA, mystery
Series? No
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: April 8, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads: Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

The Yacht

Once again, Disney-Hyperion proves to be one of my favorite imprints. I don’t think there’s been a single book published by them that I disliked, and Far From You is no different. I have a lot to say about this book, so I’m going to throw up a SPOILER ALERT here because I know I won’t be able to contain myself!

There’s a few specific things I want to talk about, rather than the entire book, so I’ll break it down for clarity.

The Mystery. I hate mystery books. I hate murders and whodunits. HATE. But Far From You had my heart racing, my fingers clutching my phone (kindle app), and I kept checking the corners of my bedroom for creepers. I’m going to say it right now: this was one mystery that I’d read over and over again for sure! I did not see that ending coming, and my mouth was hanging wide open when the murderer was revealed.

The Drug Addiction. Far From You has several subplots, one of the major ones being Sophie’s drug addiction. I would have liked to see a bit more of her struggle, but what Sharpe did include was incredibly powerful. She didn’t shy away from what the addiction made Sophie do, and instead of portraying Sophie as perfect despite everything, she wrote about the nitty-gritty – how much Sophie truly screwed up and that constant battle within her to stay clean.

The Family. Thank God for a family who actually cares about what happens to their relatives. When Sophie hit a crisis point, her aunt, both parents, and her best friend Mina all got involved. The support and brutal honesty from all of them was just perfect. They were harsh, but it was because they loved Sophie, and only wanted the best for her. I really loved how Sharpe made a healthy family, but not one that just glazes over what’s going on behind closed doors.

The Flashbacks. Each chapter switches timelines, and the flashbacks aren’t told in chronological order. It’s a bit confusing at first, because I kept thinking, “why aren’t we going in order??” But the timeline isn’t what’s important – it’s the moments. They’re perfectly lined up with where Sophie is at in the “present” timeline, and give more depth to what’s going on.

The Romance. I saved this for last, because the romance isn’t the most important plot point of Far From You. But it’s a huge, pivotal point in Sophie’s life, so I really do need to address it. The synopsis isn’t really clear on this at all, but Sophie and Mina were in love. Actually, Sophie is bisexual. This was my first book with a LGBT romance, so I was a bit surprised when it popped up, but I felt that it was handled very well. Sharpe introduces the characters and who they are, rather than leading with their sexuality. And in that, it felt very organic, and not just some plot point she threw in for shock value.

The Ending. You know, it wasn’t a flawless ending. It wasn’t happily ever after. It was bittersweet, and almost a bit painful. But I think that’s why it was so perfect for this book – it’s realistic and gritty, and while the ending has a lot of hope, it’s also heartbreaking. I almost thought Sophie would end up with Trevor, and I’m really glad she didn’t. The fact that she’s moving away and starting her life is an even better ending than falling in love with her dead best friend/lover’s brother. Because the latter would have been a bit creepy, but the former brings back that theme of picking yourself up and moving on from tragedy.

The Cover. When I started the book, I didn’t understand how the lights meant anything that related to the book. But the final scene at Mina’s grave… wow. Applause for whoever decided to keep the cover; it really embodies the heart of the story.

I think that about covers it. Far From You doesn’t scream “I’m your new favorite book” to me, but it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would read again for sure. I’m actually considering purchasing a finished copy for myself – it can only be better when the formatting and final edits are made!

My Final Rating:

Four Anchors

Review: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Title: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Pages: 352
Genre: YA, contemporary, romance
Series? No
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 4, 2010

Synopsis from Goodreads: Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew–just in time for Amy’s senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she’s always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy’s mother’s old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she’s surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road–diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards–this is the story of one girl’s journey to find herself.

Amazon |  Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

The Dinghy

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour wasn’t just the fun, summer road trip book I was expecting, but I still loved it all the same. There’s definitely a bit of heartbreak, and some moments while I was reading left me feeling like there was a hole in my chest, but Matson wrote ED in a way that allows you to heal along with the characters as the story progresses. The characters were very relatable, and written in a way that makes them seem like they could be right next to you. One of the best parts of the book was the way Matson included small tokens from the characters’ trip – receipts and post cards and pictures. ED is down to earth, easy to relate to, and I think everyone should read it at least once! Take it from the girl who doesn’t like contemporary!

The Yacht

Before I start anything, I’d like to thank Andi from the bottom of my heart for sending me the most beautiful hardback of this book! And now that I’ve done that, I’d also like to say that you are a heartless person and should have warned me of the feels contained in this book. I thought it would be a light, summery read, but NO I GOT PAIN AND HEARTBREAK INSTEAD. But I still love you 😉

Basically: ED (we’ll abbreviate it as that from now) IS a light and summery road trip type book, but it’s also unexpectedly deep and, at times, gut wrenching. Now this is partially my fault, because I didn’t read the synopsis and just knew that it was a road trip book, but books about absent fathers (by choice or by illness) are pretty hard for me right now. So I did get a bit of a book hangover, but it was a good one.

I really don’t have any complaints about ED, except maybe that the romance escalated a bit quickly towards the end. But even so, I hesitated to categorize this as romance, just because ED is so much more than that! It’s about healing and moving forward, and reconciling with yourself and family members. I think one of the most important themes of the book was to take time and appreciate life; explore a bit, be crazy, drive over half the US with only $400 to your name. And it’s totally made me want to take a road trip of my own!

While I usually complain about pop culture references in books, it just worked in ED. All the inserts with pictures of In N Out receipts, postcards, and playlists with music that I kind of recognized (I always smiled when I saw Owl City on there) made the trip more real and concrete. It was a really personal touch, and I’m so glad Matson included it in the book. And to be honest, I like ED more than Matson’s sophomore book, Second Chance Summer. Amy and Roger are great characters, with little quirks and habits that make them three dimensional and very relatable. They stayed with me more than the story and characters of SCS. 

I don’t want to spoil anything about this book, so I’ll end my review right here. But truly, this is an incredible book. Keep in mind that it isn’t as breezy and fun as the cover promises, but the feels are worth it.

My Final Rating:

Five Anchors