Wrap Up: 2017

2017: The Year of Highs, Lows, Books, and Fires
(Plus my Top 17 Books of 2017)

Tell me, is it cliche to be like, holy crap it's December already? Where did the year go?! If so, I'm a huge, stinking cliche because I've been doing/saying that for almost two weeks now. 2017 was a dumpster fire. Figuratively for all of us. Literally for some of us.

I did not post about the Tubbs Fire initially for a handful of reasons. One, the fires were oddly traumatic, traumatic in a way I didn't know was possible. Tubbs Fire was one of eight fires burning simultaneously in Sonoma and Napa County. Tubbs took roughly three weeks to contain; it burned nearly 40,000 acres, over 5,000 structures, and killed 22 people. I live very very very close to the fires happened and I was under advisory evacuation. The day the fires broke out were surreal and terrifying. Smoke was heavy in the air, ash fell like snowflakes. All cell communication was fractured or cut off at five in the morning. Roads and freeways were closed; additional fires broke out north of us as well. As someone who grew up in this county, I was prepared for earthquakes. The earth growls and shudders under my feet? No big deal, lead me to the nearest doorway. But fires? I'd never even humored the idea of evacuation.

Evacuation was a big deal for me, as I needed to get the hell out due to my asthma. After only a few hours into the fires, I was having trouble breathing; we got out of there fast, hoping our respective houses would be there when we returned. Amazingly, they were. But so much of my hometown and adjacent areas were ruined. I had first-hand experience sifting through the ashes with my uncle, who lost his home. I spent three weeks searching for my aunt's cat, who went missing during the fires. (Humblebrag: I found that damn cat, alive and surprisingly healthy, and I'm insanely proud.) Today I was in town for therapy and on the drive home, two months later, the devastation is so fresh. Normal life has returned to most of us in Sonoma County, but there's evidence everywhere you turn of life lost, buildings ruined, wineries turned to ash.

At the start of 2017, I had high hopes I'd land a book deal by the end of the year. Not-a-spoiler-alert: that didn't happen. My book didn't sell. With a heavy heart, I shelved that bad boy. And I wrote a new book. Then rewrote it. Then revised it. Got into Pitch Wars for a second time, revised it some more. Now it's off, out of my hands in query-land. I'm sitting on dozens of WIP ideas, but forcing myself to take a little "me time" so I can de-stress and enjoy the holidays. Read a craft book or two. Play some Assassin's Creed: Origins. But watch out, one of those dozen WIP ideas, I'm coming at you in January 2018 with a vengeance!

Overall, other than the fires, 2017 was a quiet year. I had some dark days, some debilitating sadness. But I had happy days, where I laughed so hard I cried. I saved a cat. I cut off all my hair (if you know me, this is a big deal). I installed a beehive. I got back to taking care of myself by going back to therapy, eating better, and going to the gym. I've read over 75 YA novels, not counting the lovely unpublished works of my friends and CPs. One day I wrote 11k in one writing session, a new personal record. I went to Hawaii and walked on black sand beaches. I went to concerts and danced and sang until my throat went scratchy.

2017 was not the Big Year I'd hoped it would be, of career milestones and confidence and breakthroughs. I'm terribly hard on myself, I know this, and it's difficult for me to celebrate the little things. Near impossible. So if I'm going into 2018 with any kind of resolution, it's to celebrate the little things. Because in writing, in publishing, so much is out of your control.

And for some fun, here are my favorite 17 books of 2017, not in order of love, but when I read them. Yes, I know the year isn't over yet, but these books are GEMS and if you haven't read them yet, do yourself a favor and read them now, or when they're released. Some descriptions are are longer because I had actual Goodreads reviews for them, but some I wrote up on the spot. Enjoy! Read!

  1. You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
    Why I Loved This Book: Gardner's debut novel is simply a delight. You're Welcome, Universe tells the story of Julia, a Deaf sixteen-year-old girl who expresses herself through graffiti art. This is such an important book for multiple reasons--the portrayal of the Deaf (not as a disability, but as a community), Indian MC, lesbian parents--and Gardner doesn't shove these issues or topics down your throat. The book is amazingly organic and easy to read; not once did it feel preachy or show the author's hand.

    Julia is kicked out of her school after tagging school property and is forced to attend a mainstream school (aka not for the Deaf). She's stuck in a new school, is forced to have an interpreter, and struggles to fit in. The story that follows is Julia's personal journey of realizing the importance of her art, the benefit of having true friends, and also engaging in a small-level graffiti turf war.

    My favorite parts: Julia and her voice--she's smart, witty, and doesn't apologize for her actions. The artwork, which translated astonishingly well to a Kindle format. Yoga Pants! The McDonald's fry girl job. And so much more! LOVE.

  2. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
    Why I Loved This Book: I was SUPER DANG LUCKY and got an ARC of this, even though it did release in 2017, I got to read it in February! McManus tells the story of four "typical" high schoolers: Bronwyn, the brain; Addy, the beauty; Cooper, the jock; Nate, the burnout. They all land in detention together with one other student, Simon. Simon just so happens to run About That, a gossip app that dishes secrets, ranging from the humorous to life-ruining. Five students go into detention. Only four walk out. Simon has a severe allergic reaction to peanuts, there are no EpiPens to be found, and suddenly the four remaining students are suspects in Simon's death.

    There are so many things I appreciated about this book. For one, McManus handles four narrators flawlessly. Each chapter has at least two or so different character POVs (first person) and I never once had an issue with who was who. That's masterful writing. Another was how well the characters were initially portrayed and then developed throughout the course of the novel. Now, I can't say much because this is a mystery/thriller novel, but each character is much more developed and well-rounded than their assigned stereotype.

    Also, bonus points for Nate. He's my favorite kind of bad boy.

  3. A List of Cages by Robin Roe
    Why I Loved This Book: I didn't have an official review of this to pull from, so going from memory: it haunted me. Roe's novel about Adam, a senior in high school who reconnects with his former foster brother, a freshman named Julian, was heartbreaking. Throughout the course of the novel, Roe delves into the intricacies of abuse, and I cried. Books rarely make me cry, but this novel gutted me. Yes, it will make you uncomfortable. Yes, it has some dark topics. But oh boy, was it beautiful and heart-wrenching and important.
  4. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
    Why I Loved This Book: I loved this book so much I'm going to do a re-read soon because it warms my freaking heart so much. For one, there's the setup: Bailey posts as "Mink" on a film lover forum, and corresponds with another film fanatic under the username "Alex." Alex really wants Mink to come to his town's annual film festival to watch North by Northwest but she's hesitant. The novel opens up right as Bailey has moved to Coronado Cove to live with her father, who happens to live in the same town as Alex. But instead of letting Alex know she's in town, she wants to check him out first and see if their online chemistry could possibly translate in real life. But the more time Bailey spends at her new job with her new friend Grace, and her fellow co-workers (mainly the super egotistical and charming security guard, Porter Roth) the less invested she becomes in finding the real Alex... because, well, Porter is an incredibly hot surfer who brings out the best (and worst) in Bailey. It's amazing, friends. Side note: the sex positivity in this novel is astounding. Honestly, at first I was surprised, and then went, "Thank god. This is REAL." Not to mention everything vintage. Bailey's love for vintage clothing, Lana Turner pin curls, and old movies, made me adore her. One of the best things is the reason behind her obsession for all things vintage, which you find out towards the end of the novel... The framing of the chapters with the movie quotes before each one? SO MUCH LOVE.
  5. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
    Why I Loved This Book: I know, I know, everyone is excited for Love, Simon, but we need to give Molly some love, too! I adored this novel! Albertalli's humor is delightful; I laughed-out-loud at her pop culture references, from Arrested Development to Kimmy Schmidt. Molly was a sweet protagonist (and from what I've read from other reviews, a great fat rep character.) As someone with body image issues, I could relate to a lot of her inner-dialogue. I commend Albertalli for writing such a multi-layered and charming character. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. A lot. It's funny, heartwarming, and entertaining, all wrapped up into one.
  6. This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
    Why I Loved This Book: If you haven't noticed, there's a lot of Emma Mills on this list because I discovered her books this year. Anyway. This Adventure Ends is perfection. I read it on vacation in Hawaii and spent more time inside with Sloane and Vera than on the beach. It's a DELIGHT, and I was upset over not hearing about Emma Mills sooner. This Adventure Ends is the kind of book that makes your heart feel full. I was so connected with Sloane throughout the whole story, and sympathized with her every step on her adventure. Recommend, recommend, recommend.
  7. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
    Why I Loved This Book: Hello, Internet appreciation! Tie that in with the anxiety and depression representation, and this book was pure heaven. Not to mention that cover! One of my favorites of the year, it's so gorgeous, as are the drawings included within the novel. If you're an Internet person who has like 90% of online friends or are part of a fandom, this book is for you. Read it. Now.

  8. Nothing Left To Burn by Heather Ezell (releases 3/13/18)
    Why I Loved This Book: Well, I adore the author. Heather is one of my favorite people, but that in no way changed how I felt about the book. Heather so graciously shared an unfinished copy with me in June (the book releases this upcoming March!) and I devoured it. Now that I've lived through a fire and evacuation, I connect with Audrey's story even more. But back in June, I was absorbed by Ezell's writing (it's gorgeous, okay?) and the toxic romance she penned. I also love books set in 24-hours, which NLTB is, including flashbacks to the previous summer. Go pre-order it here!
  9. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
    Why I Loved This Book: Another I don't have a review to pull from, but oh my, it was stunning. Crowley tells the tale of Rachel and Henry, two teens who work beside one another in a bookstore, sharing letters in books, and ugh, it's so good. It covers grief and love so well. 
  10. Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
    Why I Loved This Book: This was another book that dealt with grief and letter writing, but in a much different way. The book follows Juliet, who lost her mother and writes/leaves letter at her grave, and Declan, a troubled teen doing community service who reads the letters. The character development is fabulous, and Kemmerer's writing is just gorgeous, pulling you in and never letting you go.
  11. First & Then by Emma Mills
    Why I Loved This Book: While this is probably my least favorite Emma Mills novel, that's not saying much because I love them all. It follows the life of Devon, her cousin Foster who moves in with her, during her senior year while she crushes on her best friend, Cas. Plus Ezra, the football player who turns out to be so so so much more. There's love and loss, plus friendship (especially with Devon and Foster, which was very sibling-esq and I adored it), and romance. A fun read that made me smile and groan and laugh.
  12. A Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor
    Why I Loved This Book: TOXIC SISTER RELATIONSHIPS! So many YA novels show the highs of sibling relationships, but let's get real, the lows are more realistic. Emma and Henri's relationship was so twisted and perfect. I also love a good survival story. Here's one of my highlighted quotes, "Henri’s greatest strength and greatest weakness was how easily she could turn on and off her love. I always wondered if she was born that way or if it was a skill she’d learned to keep her safe from a world that might not love her back." SO. GOOD.
  13. Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
    Why I Loved This Book: I wasn't a huge fan of The Darkest Corners, Thomas' debut, but I quite enjoyed Little Monsters. Mainly because it had a twist I didn't see coming. I'm obsessed with mysteries and thrillers, and Thomas really pulls it off with this novel. I won't say more because of spoilers, but it's creepy and twisty and you should read it now.
  14. A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland
    Why I Loved This Book: Other than the cover (gorgeous!) it was so odd, so quirky, and so hauntingly real. Sutherland's unique portrayal of mental illness made this book a winner in my eyes. She captures family members with mental illness flawlessly, and I will push this book on anyone, so watch just save yourself the trouble and go read it. Here's a quote I highlighted when reading that hits home, "People got tired of mental illness when they found out they couldn’t fix it."
  15. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
    Why I Loved This Book: Most OCD books are disgustingly stereotyped, or they're unrealistic. While the plot wasn't superb, John Green knocked it out of the park with his OCD representation. Aza, the main character, has Pure-O OCD (which is what I have) and I cried many, many times reading this book. Take this quote, "Felt myself slipping, but even that’s a metaphor. Descending, but that is, too. Can’t describe the feeling itself except to say that I’m not me. Forged in the smithy of someone else’s soul. Please just let me out. Whoever is authoring me, let me up out of this. Anything to be out of this. But I couldn’t get out. Three flakes, then four arrive. Then many more." So much crying and love to Green for giving obsessions and thought-spirals a voice.
  16. The Midnights by Sarah Nicole Smetana (Releases 3/6/18)
    Why I Loved This Book: I was a lucky duck and got an ARC!!! So many of my writing friends were raving about Smetana's The Midnights on Twitter, so when I saw a copy available for review, I jumped at the chance to get a sneak peek. I wasn't disappointed. Smetana writes beautifully and evocatively. She captured that delicate age where you realize your parents aren't who you thought--or hoped--they were, grief, and relationships both platonic and romantic. I savored and enjoyed every word. Her main character, Susannah, was authentic and strong yet very vulnerable. The entire book was so well done. Highly recommend. You can (and should!) pre-order it here!
  17. Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills
    Why I Loved This Book: Last Emma Mills book for this list, I swear. Oh my god, my favorite of hers so far! I finished this last night and miss it already. Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on a break-up between Paige (who is popular and well-liked) and Iris (the selfish girlfriend people put up with to hang out with Paige.) Claudia overhears some not-so-nice things about Iris (who threatens her not to say a word) and when they end up working on the school's production of A Midsummer's Night Dream, drama and hijinks ensue. Enter Gideon, a super goofy and adorable actor in the play who foolishly chases after Claudia, who is too guarded to realize he's into her. Add some AMAZING fandom rep and the importance of online gaming, and you have Foolish Hearts. Everything about it is adorable and heartwarming and simply amazing. The cover is extra gorgeous, and I ordered a hard copy for my shelf!

There you have it! An overview of my fiery 2017 and a kind of disorganized list of some of my favorite books 2017 brought me (and a few from 2018 I got a sneak peak of). I doubt I'll post again until next year, so I hope the holidays aren't too dramatic or anxiety inducing for everyone. May 2018 be a better year! A girl can dream, right?