Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books to Get You in the Mood for Summer

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is a Summer Freebie, so I’m featuring books that will get you in the mood for summer.

Books Set at the Beach

1) Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler: This book’s cover and synopsis hint at a breezy beach read, but don’t be fooled – Twenty Boy Summer packs a punch. This moving story about friendship, loss, and healing is told from the point of view of a girl mourning her first love as she spends a summer with her best friend’s family on the shores of California.

2) Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen: Reading Along for the Ride always makes me yearn for a trip to the beach, as it follows a girl named Auden who spends the summer after her senior year with her dad and new stepmom in their seaside town. It’s a fun, relatively light read with boardwalk boutiques, new friendships, and a budding romance.

3) The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson: This book has a sweet, delightful protagonist, who also happens to be a homeless teenager living on the streets and beaches of California.

Book cover for Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah OcklerBook cover for Along For The Ride by Sarah DessenBook cover for The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson

Stories of Magic and Wonder

4) Summerland by Michael Chabon: When I was a kid, summer felt like a time of infinite possibilities, as though anything could happen. Summerland, whose pages are full of faeries, baseball games, heroes, and a battle between good and evil, embodies that feeling perfectly.

5) Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon: This is the first magical realism book I ever read, and the wonder and joy of it have lingered with me for years. It follows the adventures of a young boy in his marvel-filled hometown of Zephyr, Alabama, and something about it just feels like summertime to me.

6) The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This second book in the Raven Cycle Quartet will always be my favorite of the series, with its powerful dreamers, whispering forest, fantastical quest, and steamy Virginia-summer setting.

Book cover for Boy's Life by Robert McCammonBook cover for Summerland by Michael ChabonBook cover for The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Tales of Hijinks and Last Hurrahs

7) My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp: Most 18-year-olds spend the summer after high school graduation hanging out with friends or lounging by the pool. Not Lulu Mendez from My Best Everything; she uses her time to raise money for college by engaging in an illegal moonshining operation. (Read my review here.)

8) Kill All Happies by Rachel Cohn: This hilarious story about a graduation bash that runs wildly out of control takes place in an abandoned theme park and is absurdly fun.

9) FML by Shaun David Hutchinson: FML is another an end-of-school-year-party book, one that will have you wanting to throw a crazy blowout of your own. (Read my review here.)

10) Why We Took The Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf (translated by Tim Mohr): This road trip book follows two teenage boys who steal a car and take off on a crazy jaunt through Germany.

Book cover for My Best Everything by Sarah TompBook cover for Kill All Happies by Rachel CohnBook cover for FML by Shaun Hutchinson Book cover for Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Let’s chat! I’d love to hear what books put you in a summery mood – drop me a comment below!

Review: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Second Star Book Cover Second Star
Alyssa B. Sheinmel

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

Review:

If Second Star weren’t a retelling of Peter Pan, my rating of it would be entirely different. There are some pretty big detractors – frustrating romance, a second half that feels entirely off the rails – that would result in a low rating if this were your average book. Luckily for Sheinmel, her creative reimagining of Peter Pan enchanted me enough to appease the part of me that was irritated by the questionable parts of this story.

Wendy Darling is on a mission to find her brothers, 16-year-old surfers who ran away from home to chase the waves. Nine months later, they still haven’t returned, and the police and Wendy’s parents have given up the search, convinced that the boys have perished in a surfing accident. Wendy isn’t so sure, and as soon as she graduates she takes off in pursuit of her brothers, determined to find them and bring them home.

Wendy’s hunt leads her to Kensington Beach, where she meets a scruffy band of surfers – our Lost Boys in this retelling – who live in an abandoned mansion and spend their days on the water. Wendy finds herself enticed by the boys’ carefree lifestyle, drawn into their little world of salt and sun and sand. She’s especially beguiled by the group’s leader, Pete, who teaches her to surf and whose kisses make her feel like someone new, someone whose family and world haven’t fallen apart.

As delighted as I was by the Lost Boys, I was even more impressed by Sheinmel’s clever reimagining of Captain Hook. The role of the villain is played by Jas, a drug dealer who rules the opposite side of Pete’s beach. (What happens to people who take drugs? They get hooked. Get it? Huh? Like I said, clever!!) Wendy’s investigation reveals that Jas may have a hand in her brothers’ disappearance, and when she goes to confront him she soon realizes he’s an enticing as he is dangerous.

Jas is both a positive and a negative of this book for me. On the plus side, he has this dark pull that really appealed to me. He’s smooth and sexy and magnetic, and even though he’s a “bad guy” he’s charming and educated and polite, which adds great complexity.

The downside is that all this sex appeal makes Wendy fall for him, which I didn’t think was believable. It’s one thing to be attracted to him – I certainly was – and to accept his help in finding her brothers. It’s another thing entirely to trust him and fall in love with him. He is a drug dealer, Wendy! He ruins people’s lives and is fully aware of this fact! The stuff he does is unconscionable, and he shows no signs of changing his behavior! Yet you’re into him? Please.

Something else that detracted from the book’s appeal is the question of whether Wendy’s liaisons with Pete, Jas, and the like are real or a fantasy. I was so invested in the world of Kensington that I resented being distracted with questions like, “Is this a hallucination? Does anyone else remember ever seeing Pete? Or Jas?” It seemed out of nowhere and was the number one reason I didn’t award Second Star a higher rating.

Despite these qualms, I still really liked the parallels to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories. I enjoyed seeing how Sheinmel wove elements from the book into her adaptation. A lot of the references were subtle, such as Jas stopping at a bar called The Jolly Roger, a description comparing Pete’s laugh to the crow of a bird, and Pete encouraging Wendy to think of something happy to help distract her while she’s trying to surf (which she says makes her feel like she’s flying). It’s a very smart and unique retelling.

Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best Everything Book Cover My Best Everything
Sarah Tomp

You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?

Review:

(Actual rating: 3.5 stars)

Lulu wants nothing more than to ditch her dead-end hometown in Virginia and escape to a new life at the University of San Diego. She’s just a few months away from making these dreams a reality when her dad drops a bomb: the family doesn’t have money for tuition, and Lulu will have to defer her college plans for at least another semester. Unwilling to delay and get stuck at home for good, Lulu turns to a wild scheme to earn huge amounts of cash in the short time before school starts: making moonshine.

Lulu has the drive to be a moonshiner, but what she lacks is the know-how. To remedy this, she enlists the help of Mason Malone, a former ’shiner with a questionable reputation. As the two work together and money starts to roll in, their relationship evolves from business partners to something more. Moonshining is a perilous venture, though, and it’s not long before it begins to take a toll on Lulu, Mason, and their friends in ways Lulu never expected. Soon Lulu is faced with a choice: how much will she risk to save her future?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide exactly how I feel about My Best Everything. There were parts I absolutely loved and parts that I absolutely hated, which made for a confusing reading experience. What it comes down to, though, is that a week after I finished the book, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Despite all the frustrating parts, I was deeply impressed with Tomp’s portrayal of alcoholism, selfishness, and how people can love each other but not necessarily be good for each other.

What I Liked:

Mason: Mason’s got a troubled past, and not in a sexy bad-boy kind of way. He’s had some serious problems, the kind that could have ended up with him either dead or in jail. Sarah Tomp does a great job of portraying Mason’s struggles, regrets, memories (or lack thereof), and temptations. She makes Mason’s hardships real, and my heart went out to him as he fought to turn his life around, a fight that was made increasingly difficult as Lulu’s scheme dragged him back into the world from which he’d tried to break free.

The suspense: My Best Everything is written as a letter from Lulu to Mason and recounts the events of their summer from her perspective. At the beginning, the circumstances in which the letter is being written are unknown to the reader. Is the letter an explanation? An apology? What happened between Mason and Lulu to make her feel the need to tell him her side of the story? Where is Mason, since Lulu keeps saying things like, “Maybe if you were here…”? All of the questions build anticipation and make you want to keep reading until you find answers.

Because Lulu is relating the story with the benefit of hindsight, she seasons her letter with sentences like, “I heard you. Honest. I’m not sure why it was hard to remember later,” “I was in way over my head. And you were getting pulled under,” and “I also figured that if you – a high school drop-out and ex-waster extraordinaire – knew what to do, I could figure it out, too. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” This foreshadowing feels very dire, warning of things to come that Lulu and Mason have already been through but that the reader can only guess at. It provided great suspense, and I couldn’t wait to find out where the story would lead.

The fascinating world of moonshine: I never knew how interesting the process of making moonshine could be! My Best Everything is chock-full of details about ’shine, and I found myself enthralled by every last one of them. There was so much to learn, from safety precautions – apparently you need to caulk the joints of a still to keep flammable vapors from exploding – to methods for checking the proof of the alcohol once it’s done fermenting. I learned about moonshiner superstitions, that it’s a good idea to dig a pit for a still’s fuel tank to make it less conspicuous, and that harmful methanol needs to be separated out from the moonshine to make it drinkable rather than poisonous. It’s a riveting world!

What I Didn’t Like:

Lulu: If I loved Mason, then I loathe Lulu. In fact, I’d say she’s one of my least favorite narrators, ever. She struck me as an entitled, self-absorbed brat who threw away her principles as soon as things got tough. Ok, so you don’t want to defer college for a semester – that sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to pout and act like the universe owes you something. And you definitely don’t need to turn to a life of crime and put the futures and wellbeing of the people you care about in jeopardy.

“I was too miserable to see beyond my own reflection in the window.”

Lulu treats Mason more like a means to an end more than like an actual person, which infuriated me. She falls for him, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s taking advantage of Mason and using him to get what she wants. As she admits at one point in the letter, “To get out of town, I had to drag you through the muck.” Nice, Lulu. Real nice.

The limitations of the perspective: Although the format of My Best Everything provides great suspense, it has its limitations. Because the book is written to Mason and recounts events he’s already lived through, there’s a lot of summarization and not as many specific details as there’d be if the novel were written from a different perspective. There is also less insight into Mason as a character than I would have liked. In a way, the narration acts like one of those stand-up screens that can be used as a room divider; through it, you can see general outlines, but not distinct features.

The ending: The conclusion of this book enraged me. Of all the ways My Best Everything COULD have ended, the way it DID end seemed the least apropos. It was rushed, implausible, and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. Also, some parts seemed far too convenient and easily wrapped up. For example:

[START SPOILER]

After Lulu sacrifices her tuition money to get Mason out of Dale, there are a couple of lines hastily thrown in about how Lulu’s priest happens to hear she needs money and is magically able to get her a scholarship just in the nick of time so she can go to college after all. WHAT?! If it was that easy, then what was the point of this book, which was 100% driven by Lulu’s inability to get money for school?!?! ARRGH!!!

[END SPOILER]

Bottom line, there are parts of My Best Everything that are infuriating, but the parts that are great more than make up for them. It’s a fascinating book and one that’s sure to leave you thinking about it long after it’s over.