Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Book Lists pt. 1: Contemporary Fiction

*Back to Introductory Post; Pt. 2; Pt 3; Pt. 4; Pt. 5; Pt. 6; Pt. 7
*Books are linked to my reviews, if available. They're also linked to Amazon. I have read all of these books and written reviews for most, but haven't posted many of them yet. As I do, I will update this page.

Contemporary Fiction
-Until my recent obsession with paranormal romance and a burgeoning interest in high fantasy, most of my reading was in the contemporary genre fiction. My expanding interests has not dampened my love for stories that I could conceivably live (some of which I definitely don't want to live). Here are some of the fun contemporary fiction books I read this year:

The Daughters Take The Stage (Daughters #3) and The Daughters Join The Party (Daughters #4) - Joanna Philbin
Gossip Girl light. In Book 3, Hudson wants to be a jazz singer who performs in little smoky nightclubs. Hudson's mom, mega superstar Holla Jones envisions Hudson's career more on the trajectory of Willow Smith. Hudson has to grow a backbone and rely on the support of her friends to thwart her mom's plans. In Book 4, Emma is the daughter of a presidential candidate. Reckless, brave, and outspoken, she gets in over her head and gains national notoriety for it. She has to rely on her friends and inner character to stay true to herself. Nice characters, strong friendships, some romance, and uplifting messages. Fame, fashion, and wealth. (Amazon 1; Amazon 2)

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Grace is entranced with Mandarin, the local exotic bad-girl. When Mandarin strikes up a friendship with Grace, everything is exciting, dangerous, and new until Grace begins to realize that Mandarin is deeply troubled. The tale of two troubled girls is beautifully, lyrically written, but hard to read. Grace comes to life and you hate to see her make bad choices or get hurt by her awful family situation. A very intense book. (Amazon)

There's No Place Like Home (Secrets of My Hollywood Life #6) by Jen Calonita
The final installment of Secrets of My Hollywood Life, one of my favorite light, chick lit series. Kaitlin has tons of things on her plate. Her pushy mom only makes things worse, encouraging Kaitlin to do too much and making her seem like she's attention-hungry. Kaitlin's friends (which now includes her former rival Sky) want her to put her foot down and set some limits. But Kaitlin just can't say no. Enter Stage Right...a head-on collision and an It's A Wonderful Life alternate universe. Kaitlin is now from a poor family, in a fancy school, and hated by everyone except her star-crazy friend Liz. (Amazon)

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
Pride and Prejudice meets high school. Derek is the son of uber celebrities. Elise is the daughter of the dorky, social-climbing school principal. The book has all the elements of Pride and Prejudice but doesn't follow the original book's plot so closely that it gets bogged down. Features uber-wealth, celebrities, and fashion. Another Gossip Girl nice. Cute light read. (Amazon)

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
A beautiful, powerful book. The Mockingbirds takes Alex Patrick on a journey from one of the lowest, most terrifying, humiliating points imaginable to a slow, gradual recovery and a possibility of empowerment. A victim of date rape, her friends convince her to go to The Mockingbirds, the underground school disciplinary squad, and put her classmate on trial. Through Daisy's skillful prose, words fly off the page and the reader lives, breathes, and feels Alex's ordeal. (Amazon)

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Truth. You can whittle the theme of Just Listen down to that one word. The importance of being truthful to your friends and family. But most of all, the importance of being true to yourself. Super sweet romance. Owen is the nicest boy even though he seems sullen at first. Annabel's family is an important subplot, which is refreshing. Just Listen also succeeded by never feeling fake or contrived. Lovely. (Amazon)

There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
Normal (well, actually, filthy rich) girl meets teen vampire super-star Beckett Rush on a plane. They end up staying at the same B&B in Ireland. Finley hates Beckett for being famous, seemingly arrogant, and a supposed player. Beckett doesn't take anything seriously, constantly teases Finley, and won't leave her alone. What a surprise that they fall in love. A very predictable plot, but an utterly adorable, Christian romance. (Amazon)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Another winner from Stephanie. Just as fun and sweet a romance as Anna and the French Kiss. Lola is a vivacious character. She spends her life creating and dressing up in costumes, which make her personality shine while also masking a deep-seeded insecurity. She is also stubborn, self-righteous, and quick to jump to conclusions. Cricket is as nice as can be. Awkward and nerdy. A little insecure. Very patient. Kinda "boyish," in a cool way. A highlight are Lola's dads Andy and Nathan. So nice to see well-developed, caring parents. And the romance! Super sweet. Nice build-up - feels like something that could actually happen. Love the Anna and the French Kiss tie-in too. (Amazon)

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Typical forbidden romance tale with a classic music twist. Carmen is a 17 year old violin prodigy facing the biggest competition of her life while also struggling with horrible anxiety and a stage mother. Jeremy is her handsome, arrogant, ambitious main competitor. The two are instantly attracted to each other. Or is Jeremy just using her to gain advantage in the competition? Neither Carmen nor the reader knows. Well-written, character driven novel. (Amazon)

Home for the Holidays (Mother Daughter Book Club) by Heather Vogel Frederick
The penultimate book in one of my favorite middle grade series, the Mother Daughter Book Club. The five girls are now 15 years old. This year they're reading the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. The book very loosely follows the Betsy Tacy books. All the girls are traveling various places, there's a big emphasis on Christmas, and there is lots of arguing as friendships are challenged. Boys of course play a big role in the fights. Overall, a fun book appropriate for all ages. (Amazon)

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
A story of friendship and family. Francesca is starting Year 11 as one of the few girls in a former boys' school. And her mother has sunk into a deep depression, bringing her family down with her. Francesca is miserable until she finds a loyal group of friends who build her back up. The highlight of this book is the banter between the characters. The dialogue is worth reading regardless of the plot. You'll fall in love with Francesca, her family, and all her friends. You can enjoy them again in Piper's Son. (Amazon)

Cracked by K.M. Walton
A good book for a bad mood. Very angry. Victor and Bull have horrible lives - particularly horrible families. Bull bullies Victor to suicide, but they end up as roommates in the same psych ward. The reader feels the characters’ anger and despair. It’s a simple yet hard-hitting prose. The plot is somewhat predictable but not as much as I expected. Both characters are easy to sympathize with, if not like. Very quick read. (Amazon)

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
One of the rare YA books that is of literary quality, but is also easy and fun to read. On the surface, the book is about a deaf girl taking a crap band from obscurity to something resembling success. But at its heart, this book is a character story. A tale of self-discovery. Of family. Of friends. And even a little romance. (Amazon)

Inconvenient by Margie Gelbwasser
Painfully real book about parental alcoholism, immigrant life, and just growing up. Alyssa is the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. She's trying to live a normal high school life with a somewhat immature boyfriend and a best friend who longs to be popular while also balancing her mother's worsening alcoholism. A good cultural read. Also a realistic, non-whitewashed tale about alcoholism. (Amazon)

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
Adorable, fun, light-hearted romance. A must for any Pride and Prejudice fan and a great introduction for those who haven't read Austen yet. While Prom and Prejudice doesn't have the complex social satire as Pride and Prejudice, it still incorporates the key elements of  the original. It was great seeing Elizabeth and Darcy able to get to know one another without the limits if proper 19th century societal expectations. (Amazon)

Hush by Eishes Chayil
Powerful, heartbreaking story of child molestation in the Hasidic Jewish community of New York City. Witness the devastation that can destroy multiple families when crimes are kept secret for years. Aside from the plot, this is a great cultural exploration of a close-knit religious community that lives as if it were 100 years ago. (Amazon)

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford
Mormon teenager realizes that he's gay. Caught in a catch-22 when he realizes that his religion (which he whole-heartedly believes in) and his body are diametrically imposed. Told in alternating perspectives between Paul, his friend, and their parents. Manages to explore both points of view without demonizing or glorifying either one. (Amazon)

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
Three sisters, each of whom committed misdeeds that may have caused their filthy rich, snobby grandmother to write the family out of her will,  make full confessions begging grandma's forgiveness. Quirky is the best word to describe this book and these girls. The sisters are very different but each enjoyable in their own way. (Amazon)

Then I Met My Sister by Christine Hurley Deriso
Great YA contemporary. Summer has lived in her dead sister Shannon's shadow her entire life. Shannon was perfect. Summer is not. Everything changes when Summer finds Shannon's journal. Loved the family dynamics and how the journal tore down and built the characters back up. Subtle yet sweet romance subplot with Summer's friend Gibs. (Amazon)

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Janie is the farm girl at her school. She's hyper aware of being different and weird. A coming of age novel. Watch Janie learn to love herself and realize who and what is good in her life. Great side characters like a "perfect" best friend Sarah and a boy interested actually named Monster. More of a character story than a plot driven novel. (Amazon)

Beat The Band by Don Calame
Must read for anyone who loved Swim The Fly, or anyone who likes funny contemporary fiction featuring very normal male characters.  Cooper, a brash, hormone-crazed teen, convinces his friends to enter into the school Battle Of The Bands contest. He envisions their future rock-star gods, and with girls running at them tossing their clothes off. Cooper's plan to become Mr. Cool suffers a setback when he's matched up with Hot Dog Helen to do a semester long project in health class on methods of birth control. Very funny book, although not as funny as Swim the Fly. (Amazon)

Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt
When Type-A perfectionist Payton's world falls apart after her dad is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Payton's counselor tells her to choose a focus object to help manage her stress. She chooses Sean Griswold's head. This turns into a great friendship and slow romance. Sean is a fabulous character who pushes Payton to break out of her angry shell. Also a wonderful, realistic portrayal of a loving family going through a hard time. (Amazon)

Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors
Fun quick read that deals with some serious issues. Alice is pretending to be her romance novelist mother who has been hospitalized for debilitating depression. Then, a strange boy shows up claiming to be Cupid and demands that she write his story. Alice has a great snarky, sarcastic outlook on life that makes the book a lot of fun to read. (Amazon)

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Girl who lives to run loses leg in tragic car accident. Beautifully written. Explore Jessica's grief and anger at the loss of her leg and the life she expected to have. But we also see healing and hope as Jessica realizes there are people and life around her she'd never noticed before. (Amazon)

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
Every girl's dream - Emma discovers she has a long lost twin sister. But to her horror, her sister was just murdered and now the killer is after Emma. Emma has to pretend to be Sutton to stay alive. Lots of catty mean girl drama as well as suspense. Definitely a first book - lots of set-up without full explanations - but very intriguing. (Amazon)

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson
The perfect book for the armchair traveler. Jessa is on a school trip to Italy with her jerk ex-boyfriend and "the other woman." Instructions for a Broken Heart is as much a journey of break-up recovery as it is through Italy. Jessa follows her friends instructions to get revenge on the boy and have fun. Hilarious antic. The book drags a bit, but overall is a create story of a girl rebuilding and rediscovering herself. (Amazon)

Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta
Piper's Son is about the love and pain of a close family and the camaraderie and anger of friends.  A great companion to Saving Francesca. Witty, smart dialogue is the key feature of this story. Melina is a master of creating an enticing story with a relatively barebones plot. The characters and dialogue make this novel. (Amazon)

Shine by Lauren Myracle
A whodunnit mystery disguised as a novel. Cat's childhood friend Patrick, who is openly gay, was savagely beaten and is in a coma barely holding onto life. Cat sets out to find his attacker. In doing so, she has to confront her past and all the people in her community that she has labeled as ignorant, cruel, or addicts, be they friends or family. A somewhat slow, serious book that makes you think. (Amazon)

Exposure by Therese Fowler
Exposure is a harrowing tale of teenage sexting and the legal system. It shows the horrible consequences that can occur when normal teenagers in love act like teenagers in love, but their actions run afoul of overzealous parents and prosecutors. Definitely a page turner. (Amazon)

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
Travel back in time to a life where children are innocent, kind, and all about having adventures. Set in present day, but feel timeless. In this installment, the three youngest Penderwick sisters are on their own (with their aunt) for vacation when their father, stepmother, and oldest sister all go elsewhere for a few weeks. The plotline sounds uninteresting, but it's fascinating to see what adventures these kids can have. The author does a great job of showing how things that seem inconsequential to adults can be a big deal to a kid. (Amazon)

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
In the style of literary, award quality YA novels. Told from alternating perspectives of Vera, her dad, and a pagoda. Vera is a trying to heal from her friend's death and deal with her own demons. Vera's dad is trying to keep everything organized and be a good father. The pagoda is in the center of town and sees all. The circumstances of Charlie's death is the frontal plot, but Vera's relationship with her dad is ultimately the most important theme of the book. (Amazon)

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Step inside the world of a professional ballerina. 19 year old Hannah lives many little girls' dreams, but she doesn't have time to really live. Provides a great feel of the dancing world, with its own lingo, constant competition, and sheer joy.  When Hannah meets Jacob, she realizes there's more to life than dancing. But is she willing to let go of the world she loves? (Amazon)


  1. If Stephen King sported blue streaks in his hair like Stephanie Perkins, I'd probably read him more.

    Actually, no. It only works for quirky female writers, hence why I'd follow Stephanie Perkins anywhere.

  2. I read quite a few from that list and really enjoyed them..found one I need to read :)

  3. You got some of my favorites on this list and some that I've been playing to read for next year. Great list, Alison!

  4. Yes on Marchetta! And Hush - I wish more people would read that one. I didn't care for The Mockingbirds, but I adored your review for Five Flavors and am looking forward to reading it myself.

  5. I really want to read Exposure and Bunheads.

  6. This is a great list. Some of my all time favorite books made the list and there were others I hadn't heard about before but sound wonderful!

  7. I'm looking forward to picking up Melina Marchetta. I've been wanting to read more contemporary novels lately but for some reason, they just never sneak their way into my TBR pile! I hope to remedy this in 2012. Thanks for the awesome suggestions. :)

  8. Yet another reminder that I need to read Five Flavors of Dumb!

    And I remember reading a lot of great reviews for No Going Back. I bought the book a while back, I just need to get to it.

    Thanks for this list Alison. Very helpful.

  9. Girl you just gave me more books on my need to buy list!! LOL!

  10. Must bookmark this. I don't read very much contemporary at all... not sure why as I almost always enjoy it. I should join a 2012 contemp challenge probably. Of the books on your list, I'm probably most interested in reading Melina Marchetta's books (love great, witty dialogue!) and Five Flavors of Dumb and Please Ignore Vera Dietz (for their literary qualities). Thanks!


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