If you’ve read my past mini-reviews on all the good books I read each month, these books will look suspiciously familiar. That’s because I copied and pasted the best of the best from those posts, dumped them in here, and released this into the world. Well, there was also a little editing involved because even with spell check, I still make spelling mistakes.
Anyways. Said in the loud, booming voice of a professional announcer: I now present to you, the best books- Me: Wait, wait, wait. I apologize for interrupting, but these are just good books. Not the best. Okay, carry on. –good books that Annie Xia read in 2017! Me: WHOHOOOOO.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Keywords: middle school (which isn’t going so well), reading the dictionary (an activity that Nick, the main character, hates), April (his crush), Coby (the best friend), his parents (cool in their own ways), soccer (duh)
Last sentence: You’ll never believe what was inside…
Thoughts: This book is very abnormal: it’s written in verse and second person. Nick’s life is much more eventful than my eighth grade year ever was, but he passes the authentic teenager test with the same flying colors as he does a soccer ball. (Haha, puns.) Also, I love how the book is formatted with the titles and ellipses and black out poetry and italicization. I haven’t seen anything like it. And the characters aren’t bad either- actually, they’re AWESOME. I want Mr. Mac’s shirts. And the relationship between Nick and his mom (and the growing one Nick has with his dad) is great. This book was great in general. It absolutely flows.
The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
Key words: narrative non-fiction (AKA the best kind of non-fiction), an old-school coach whose heart and bite is as big as his bark, inner city kids, basketball basketball basketball, HARD WORK
Last sentence (but not really. The last, LAST sentence of the epilogue could be considered a spoiler, so here’s the last sentence of the book part): When the kids hustled out into the hallway for a drink of water between games on that warm spring day in Jersey City, Robert Patrick Hurley, out of Linden Avenue in the Greenville section of Jersey City, out of another time and place, reached for the broom and started sweeping.
(That only seems like a really long sentence right now, but it means so much after you read this book.)
Thoughts: Coach Hurley consistently turned his teams into champions for years. How? By yelling. A lot. And caring, loving, and looking out for them. This book reminds me of The Boys in the Boat (which if you didn’t know, is my second favorite book of all time). Both are true stories driven by sports. Both are so much more than that. Both are written superbly. This book is amazing. It’s SO GOOD.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Keywords: SO INTERESTING, underdog story, by the founder of Nike, memoir, shoes, weird personalities
Last sentence: In the timeless, clarifying light of that moon, I begin to make a list.
Thoughts: This book was very, very good. Without even realizing it, I had assumed beforehand that this book was going to be a poorly written and arrogant success story that Phil Knight slapped onto paper to make even more money. My dumb misconceptions were shortlived. By the first couple of pages, I immediately realized I was so completely wrong. The writing was exactly the kind I love, and the story of how Nike came to be is fascinating. I still don’t really like Nike as a brand, but I love this book.
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Wanga
Keywords: teenagers, family, struggles, love, potential
Thoughts: This is a book that I would normally never, ever read. It encompasses depression and suicide (which are two topics I am the opposite of attracted too), but I read this book for Beyond the Surface, and I am so glad I did. I really liked this book because Aysel felt like a real teenager. She had random (sciencey) thoughts and progressing relationships with her mom and sister and a science partner project and a job. She talks about depression as a “big black slug” that has taken over her body, which is a description that I think anyone who has ever been sad can understand. Even though this whole book is driven by Aysel’s desire to die, she is so much more than that. This book is so much more than that. It’s about hope.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Keywords: four different Londons (AKA worlds), adventuring, Lila: an aspiring pirate who is stubborn, brave, and bold, Kell: a magician who is kind and loyal and owns an awesome coat
Last sentence: That one’ll do.
Thoughts: As you probably have too, I’ve heard so many good things about this series, but because I didn’t like V. E. Schwab’s This Savage Song, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All my doubts were completely destroyed by the first page. (Wow, just like Shoe Dog. I definitely judge books.) Actually, more like the first two sentences.
“Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”
Isn’t that AMAZING?? This is a perfect example of the type of writing I love: sometimes plain, sometimes complex, and always quirky. Also, did you know that V. E. Schwab is a pseudonym? And on Goodreads it says that the books authored by Victoria Schwab are young adult and the books by V. E. Schwab are adult. A Darker Shade of Magic doesn’t seem like an adult book to me, but that explains so much. The only reason I didn’t like This Savage Song was because the writing style was too simple, but it was like that because she was writing for a younger audience. (Dang, if that’s true, I feel like my intelligence is being insulted.) I have to say, I do like my long sentences. (Unless they’re boring and confusing. Then no thanks.)
Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
Keywords: two cursed princes (one of whom is actually a princess pretending to be a prince), fairytale retelling, a prophecy, ogres
Last sentence: “I think that can be arranged.”
Thoughts: This book’s plot includes the “girl pretends to be a guy” trope which is one of my favorites. (Along with hate to love relationships.) Just like A Darker Shade of Magic, this book was hard to put down. Wait, the two books actually share a bunch of similarities. Both sets of characters have something that the antagonists want. Both sets of characters are being hunted down non-stop until they finally reach a safe haven in the later part of the book. But then they leave, of course, because they all have to go save the world and stuff. Or in Lila and Kell’s case, saving the worlds, plural.
Refuge for Masterminds by Kathleen Baldwin
Keywords: alternate history (times of Napoleon), England, Stranje House: a very unusual boarding school (read: girls becoming spies/secret agents/masterminds), dangerous schemes, a sweet romance
Last line: And it is enough.
Thoughts: Refuge for Masterminds is the third book in a series, but I think you could start with this one and only be a tad bit confused. If not, I’ll take the blame. The Stranje House Novels is one of the few historical fiction series I’ve read (each book follows a different girl at the Stranje House), and they are good. There’s a lot going on in them, like the inventions of steam-powered ships and invisible ink and attempts to destroy Napoleon’s rule. And all the characters are developed well. Each of them have their own personalities and problems. Jane and Alexander Sinclair (AKA the heathen from America- excuse me, the colonies) are cute in this book, but I like Tess and Lord Ravencross from the second book better.
I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda, and Liz Welch
Keywords: true story, across the world pen pals who live in totally different worlds, best friends, not giving up on dreams, teamwork makes the dream work
Last line: It started with a letter- and then all of our lives changed forever.
Thoughts: I believe that writing letters is one of the best things ever, and this book totally supports my opinion. I Will Always Write Back is an awesome book. It’s the story of Caitlin and Martin’s friendship. Caitlin lives in the suburbs and is worried about boys, friends, and fitting in at school. She cares immensely about her pen pal and is willing to do so much to help him. On the other hand, Martin lives in a slum in Africa where he’s at the top of his class but struggling to pay his fees for school. However, he’s still willing to make extreme sacrifices to stay in touch with Caitlin. (By the way, Martin is one of the sweetest people ever.) Over the years, they grow to be like sister and brother and impact each other’s lives in crazy ways. The chapters are alternately written by Caitlin and Martin. Sometimes when non-writers decide to tell their beautiful stories, it comes out awkward, but in this case, it was perfect. The book was hard to put down.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Keywords: veteran father dealing with PTSD, Finn: a cheesy and super sweet nerd, Hayley: our stubborn protagonist who is brilliant and knows a ton of history but hates school and doesn’t know what she’s doing, a stepmother who might not be evil (PLOT TWIST)
Last line: The stars folded themselves away as the sun peeked above the horizon and cracked open the sky and I kissed him and we laughed and it was good.
Thoughts: So this book. There is Hayley’s tenuous and rocky relationship with her alcoholic father who she loves and is loved by. There’s Hayley and her best friend, who is sweet and supportive but has family problems of her own. There’s Hayley and her stepmother who she is furious at. And then there’s Hayley and Finn. That’s all I’m going to say. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out what’s up between them. Hint: it includes horrible, hilarious math jokes.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Keywords: three siblings who reunite after being separated from their biological mom into different families, Grace: a girl who wants to find her mom after putting her own daughter up for adoption, Maya: loud, says what she thinks, has non-biological parents who are fighting, is fighting with her own non-biological sister, is struggling to figure out her non-biological relationships and her new biological relationships at the same time, Joaquin: the only one who didn’t get adopted early and was thrown around from foster home to foster home, doesn’t trust himself, quiet and strong, finally finds his family
Last line: And she smiles.
Thoughts: Wow. So this book. It punches you in the gut, it blows up your heart, and it activates those tear ducts. During a couple of parts, I was on the very verge on tears, but my parents were around so I had to keep it together. Some of the highlights: Grace meets Rafe (who is so dorky and sweet- I guess I like the dorks?) after her previous relationships shatters. Maya making amends with her non-biological, Claire. Joaqin being loved unconditionally by his foster parents- his parents rock. They’re my favorite ones in the book, not that they have much competition.
I didn’t even do it on purpose, but there’s exactly ten books in this post. Now that’s what I call skill. What are some good books you read this year? Also, to be clear: although I am writing end of the year posts, I am not rushing 2017 towards its inevitable death. People, don’t do that! Let the year live its last few days in peace.