September Reads. End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

september-reads-2016-ver2

Hello, fellow book junkies! In September I had the pleasure of reading ten novels and, though a couple came close, not a single one was a five-star read. Whether that’s a reflection of the books or of me as a reader (returning to work this month was a definite distraction), is hard to say. Every book had strengths and memorable moments. Here’s a recap . . .

YA Paranormal / Urban Fantasy

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin – Creepy in a good way, original (and humid) Miami setting. 4/5 stars

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater – Part of what makes me love a book is getting to enter a brilliantly wrought world with outstanding characters. The Dream Thieves had this. So did the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, which I was so enamored with that maybe it was hard to love the second book as much. The Dream Thieves is still great and made me definitely want to read the rest of the series. Since one of my favorite characters is Blue, I’m especially looking forward to the third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. 4.5/5 stars

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older 304pp – Brooklyn girl gets caught in a world of ancient spirits who come alive out of painted murals. Intriguing concept, bold characters. 4/5 stars

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey Strong writing (author Melissa Grey graduated from Yale) but the plot’s too reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone. 3.75/5 stars

YA Contemporary-Mental Illness

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Much funnier than I expected. Creative writing style, but not a super memorable plot. Saw the twist coming a mile away. 4/5 stars

YA Fantasy Romance

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh I go into every book with an open mind, but since romance isn’t my favorite genre maybe this wasn’t the right book for me. Disappointing. 3.5/5 stars

YA Suspense

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes  – Gifted teenagers help the FBI track serial killers. Enjoyable characters, interesting premise. I’ve read many suspense novels, so my standards are pretty high and this one was a bit predictable. Still a fun read. 3.75/5 stars

Adult Sci-Fi Horror

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch Vividly imagined, quick read, (almost too) screenplay-ready. Memorable story! 4/5 stars

Adult Romance-Humor

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion audiobook Joyful, often hilarious story of a professor with Aspergers who’s on a mission to find a wife. Cleverly written–I love how the MC is often the unintentional superhero of the story. Rosie is a fun character, too. 4/5 stars

Adult Historical-Empowered Women

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier audiobook  In the early 19th century, two bright women from different social classes bond over fossil hunting–in the early days when extinct dinosaurs were still thought to be giant crocodiles. Based on a true story. 4.25/5 stars

–Eve Messenger

How to Tell If You’re a Book Junkie II

Image result for person buried in books

Directions: Mark an ‘x’ for each statement that applies to you.

[ ] 1. I have dropped a book on my face. More than once.

[ ] 2. On social media, I follow writers, not singers and movie stars.

[ ] 3. “Unputdownable” IS a word.

[ ] 4. My idea of a great weekend is starting a new book.

[ ] 5. My fingers type “Google” into the web address bar but somehow I keeping winding up at Goodreads.

[ ] 6. If I leave the house without a book I feel naked   I have a mini-panic attack. I never leave the house without a book.

[ ] 7. I freely admit I’ve hugged, kissed and/or lovingly patted a book.

[ ] 8. My favorite thing in my wallet is my library card.

[ ] 9. I plan road trips just to listen to audio books.

[ ] 10. While reading a book I am oblivious to the outside world. People can shout my name, gesture rudely, but short of bodily injury, I will not notice them.

[ ] 11. I’m happy if there’s a long wait at the mechanic/doctor’s office/airport because it means I get to read.

[ ] 12. When putting together a travel checklist, my first item is always: “books to read.”

[ ] 13. While standing in line to buy a new book I am. . . reading a book.

If you answered “yes” to any of the items on this checklist you are officially a book junkie. For further confirmation, try this test too: “How to Tell if You’re a Book Junkie.

Happy reading!

–Eve Messenger

Library-Hopping Adventure #3 #amreading #amwriting

 

Why I Like Writing in Libraries:

  • They’re libraries, as in churches of books.
  • They’re free. No obligation to buy coffee.
  • They’re MUCH quieter than Starbucks.
  • Some are open until as late as 9pm–perfect for evening writing. University libraries have even later hours–much later–often until 2 in the morning. (Thank you, night-owl college students.)
  • For weekend writing, libraries are the best. Most are open on Saturdays, and some even have Sunday hours. Which brings me to this week’s library-hopping adventure: Newport Beach Central Library.

Newport Beach Central Library is huge, a whopping 71,000 sq. ft.–so big I had to use the panorama feature on my camera to photograph the building facade. And again with the palm trees. Are there any libraries in my county without palm trees? Hmm, that’s a question for the next library-hopping adventure. Ext NB Central Library.jpg

The Good

  • This library is open on Sundays.
  • Because I keep the latest versions of my works in progress on Google Docs, I appreciate that Newport Beach Central Library offers a generous five hours of free internet access–with a library card. So, of course, I signed up for a library card.🙂 In fact, I want to collect a whole DECK of library cards, one for each of the 33 cities in my county, plus the county library  system (which I already have). So far, at three different cities, I’ve been able to sign up for a library card even though I don’t reside in the actual city.
  • Newport Beach Central Library is super quiet. I got in an hour of uninterrupted writing, and it was very peaceful.

The Good & Bad

Newport Beach Central Library has tons and tons and tons of seating. . . none of it the least bit inviting. And I wished I had a cushion for the hard wooden chair.

Study Table.jpg

The Bad

  • Not that I should be staring out windows while writing, but it’s worth noting that the view–which you’d think would be amazing since this library is located in a beach town–was not very good, just street traffic and overly landscaped parking lots.
  • At the top of the stairs is a large open area with a credit union and a bistro, which totally had the feel of a mall. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my libraries mall-less.

Random Highlight

There’s an 8-ft. bunny statue on the lawn. Yes, just sitting out there all by his lonesome, no plaque or anything. No one knows why this is. Maybe the giant bunny is on a library-“hopping” adventure of his own.😄

8 ft rabbit.jpg

–Eve Messenger

Library-Hopping Adventure #2 #amwriting #amreading

Some people meditate; I find my center at the library. Libraries are my Disneyland. I write in them, read in them, escape, explore, daydream, and mini-vacation in them. I love libraries so much that, earlier this year, I posted in my blog I’d like to visit a new local library each week.

Seven months(?!) later, I’m finally making good on Library-Hopping Adventure #2.🙂

Today I visited East Anaheim Library, one of nearly a hundred libraries in Orange County and Anaheim’s newest one, remodeled from what used to be a medical center and featuring the requisite palm tree.
Exterior Facade - shares building with Anaheim PD

East Anaheim Library shares a building with the Anaheim Police Department, so out front there’s a lovely little memorial to police dogs.
Ext Police Dog Memorial front

I got choked up reading the list of canine heroes’ names. Ext Police Dog Memorial names

Just inside the front entrance, really high high ceilings and industrial style architecture let in the light of a beautiful, sunny morning.
Int Entry Industrial Architecture 1

Here’s the cozy back table where I spent three hours writing and reading next to a view of trees and. . . major freeways. The muffled rush of traffic was easy to habituate to, though; after a while, it sounded like ocean waves. Pictured: my trusty red backpack and document holder for transporting my tools of the trade: laptop, manuscript, folder for completed pages, pens, highlighter,  water, snack. Cozy Table in the back by trees and freeways

For what it’s worth, the library bathrooms were also extraordinarily clean, but I didn’t take a picture of those.😀

Here’s to libraries and visiting more of them. They’re good for the soul.

— Eve Messenger

 

ARC Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Let me start by saying that, even though I’m not big into vampires, Certain Dark Things was a unique and thoroughly entertaining read. This YA paranormal thriller is told from alternating viewpoints of Atl, a naïve young female vampire who’s illegally entered the vampire-free zone of near-future Mexico City; Domingo, a homeless Mexican teen; and Ana, a tough Mexico City cop.

The tenuous balance between humans and vampires, as well as clashes between vampire families and drug cartels, make for an action-packed story. However, the most compelling aspect becomes the relationship between Atl and Domingo. Domingo’s awkward courtship of Atl is genuinely sweet, i.e., this passage told from Domingo’s POV:

“Yeah. I know how it goes. I used to have a girlfriend but that’s not the case anymore,” he told her because he figured it sounded like the mature thing to say. He was attempting to go for “aloof” and “sophisticated,” like they said in the magazines.

World-building is a tricky thing. It can come across as info dumps, which it does early on in this book. However, by chapter 14 the story totally drew me in, and I didn’t want to leave the world and characters.

Moreno-Garcia has a strong writing style. Though in a couple of places descriptions went on a bit long, making me impatient to return to the story, for the most part the descriptions were excellent; for example, this one about the Mexico City district of Colonia Roma:

It was a place for sophisticated older people and hip young ones, with magnificent trees and faded mansions, a taco stand here and there to remind you it was not quite the Belle Époque and you were still in Mexico City.

The Revenant vampire Bernardino is an UNFORGETTABLE character. I also really liked Mexico City cop/single mom Ana. Armed with knowledge gained from listening to her grandmother’s folktales, Ana is one of the only humans in Mexico City with expertise on how to take down vampires. To give you an idea of Ana’s fiery attitude, here’s how she describes a sexist male coworker: “. . . skinny fucker with his cheap tie and his monumental indifference.”

I appreciated Moreno-Garcia’s subtle characterizations, like this one conveying how Atl begins to open up to Domingo. It’s simple but so effective.

He kicked the can in her direction and she kicked it back.

Lastly, don’t skip the glossary at the end. Moreno-Garcia clearly put a lot of research into the story, and it’s interesting to read about the different vampire species from all over the world, their habits, and social structures.

Image result for four and a half stars

 

August Reads–End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

August 2016 Reads - final

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, August was filled with lots of good books (including one 5-star read) and, apparently, many yellow book covers (see picture above).

“Girl” Books 

Yes, I am a sucker for any book with “girl” in the title. Here are two more.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey This adult, zombie horror/sci-fi story was a thrilling and unsettling ride. The little girl is. . . unlike any character I’ve ever read. Warning: this is no shiny-happy book. Highlight: Unconventional, strong-willed, kind-hearted Miss Justineau is now one of my all-time favorite characters.  4.5/5 stars

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes YA contemporary. As a young girl, protagonist Maguire escaped unscathed from a car accident that killed her brother, dad, and uncle, so she now believes she’s a jinx. If you’re in the mood for a very sweet romance, this is the book for you. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s solidly written with a lot of heart. 3.5/5 stars

Netgalley ARCs

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedotti  Main character Hawthorn Creely comes across as a bored, annoyed, teenage Amelia Bedelia, with a first person POV that didn’t quite work for me. Hawthorn believes popular girl, Lizzie Lovett, disappeared because she turned into a werewolf. Or maybe Hawthorn doesn’t believe that. Or maybe that whole story line falls by the wayside. Highlight: Hawthorn’s mom’s old hippy friends decide to camp out in her backyard. 3/5 stars

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-GarciaHonestly, it took a few chapters for me to get into it, but by chapter 14 I didn’t want to leave this well-written, well-researched YA paranormal set in near-future Mexico City. Though I’m not into vampires (I’m more of a witches gal), Moreno’s clever take on vampires is so compelling. The Revenant vampire was UNFORGETTABLE. 4.5/5 stars

Hype-Worthy Books I Finally(!) Read

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater  At last, I am not the only YA book lover in the world who hasn’t read The Raven Boys. The rating I give it is (*drum roll, please*). . . FIVE STARS. Yes! Fully realized characters, friendship, magic, an Old Virginia setting that’s a character in itself, eccentric fortune tellers/witches–I just loved everything about this book and cannot wait to read the rest of the series. 5/5 stars

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – The Winner’s Curse is a winner! It’s got everything–flawless writing, strong world-building, and the ultimate in star-crossed lovers. 4.5/5 stars

Audiobook

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Highly entertaining and action-packed, I had so much fun reading this book. The world building is fantastic and main character Wade/Perzival is really likable. James Halliday is a futuristic Willie Wonka who promises his $2 billion fortune to the first gamer to finds the Easter egg in Halliday’s virtual reality world. Narrated by Wil Wheaton (“Wesley” from Star Trek Voyager). 4.5/5

Others

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King. How could I resist reading a book with this amazing title?  King’s excellent writing style did not disappoint. The plot wasn’t always strong, but this book paid off big-time by the end–such thought-provoking ideas! Overall, I preferred her book Reality Boy  but am addicted to King’s writing and will absolutely keep reading her books. 3.5/5

Summer Days and Summer Nights– In this entertaining and varied short story collection edited by Stephanie Perkins, YA writers–including big names like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, and Cassandra Clare–contributed stories with a summer love theme. The story that blew me away was Nina Lacour’s The End of Love . It was flawless and made me definitely want to check out Lacour’s other work. (I think I’ll start with Hold Still.4/5 stars

Happy reading, everyone!

Eve Messenger

Writing a Book is Hard #amwriting

Writing a book is hard. Wait, let me clarify: writing a good book is hard. The thing to remember is that people do it. People actually publish books, good ones–even while working full-time, even while raising families. Publishing a good book is doable and worthwhile. But it takes

A

Lot

Of

Work.

Start Your Book

First you need to come up with a story, something unique that can grab readers (and agents) in an elevator pitch of 15 words or less. Yes, you’ll need to write that elevator pitch and synopsis, but first the book…

You must decide how to start.

If you’re a natural-born plotter and/or smart enough to learn how, you plot your story in great detail before beginning to write the actual book.

On the other hand, if you’re a pantser, your book-writing journey will be much longer. If, like me, the only way you can come up with story ideas is by letting them flow organically while writing, so be it.

In other words, pantsers:

  • write a lot of pages just to get an understanding of the story and characters.
  • Read through all that pre-writing, take notes, plot everything in a way that makes sense.
  • Then write the real first draft.

-You create characters, each with their own quirks, histories, fears, goals, and desires–and conflicts, especially conflicts, both external and internal.

-You write all three acts of your book, yes, all three, even when you reach act two and realize, whoah, a book is big, so super big, way bigger than the original story idea I had. At this point you remind yourself that you are not a bad writer, you are not a bad writer, you are not–that the first draft is always bad. Verify this by reading what all published authors say. (ALL writers say their first drafts are bad.)

-You write all the scenes for your book, all of them, around a hundred. You ensure that each scene has a dramatic arc and an emotional arc and that the pacing is right–not too slow, not too rushed.

-You make sure your book falls within the standard word count for your genre, aware that agents and publishers are more receptive to first books with word counts that fall into the lower range. You remain calm as you logically deduce that the reason publishers prefer shorter books from first-time authors is so they don’t waste as much money on you in case your book bombs.

Revise Your Book

  • You rearrange all the scenes in your novel until the narrative makes sense. You add scenes, delete scenes, and completely rewrite scenes.
  • You make sure dialogue for each and every character is distinctive and packs a punch.
  • You craft your story in such a way that it’s not too ambiguous but also not too on the nose because you’re aware readers like figuring out things on their own.
  • While editing your book, you take multiple passes through it, each time focusing on only one or two elements to avoid becoming mired in an overwhelming mass of details that will make you. . .

Losing mind - businesswoman

Maintain Sanity

Balance is everything. While writing and editing, you maintain your sanity through:

  • social interaction
  • commiserating with fellow writers
  •  physical exercise
  • spiritual whatever.

Work with a Critique Partner (CP)

After you’ve written, revised, and brought out the shine in all elements of your novel, you hand your manuscript over to another person, preferably a critique partner (CP). But first, you must find said CP. This means putting yourself out there on social media, websites, local writers’ groups, workshops, wherever you can find fellow writers/potential CPs who understand your genre and are willing to swap full novel critiques.

You must read other people’s works in progress (WIPs) so they will read yours. It’s a fair exchange, and the time is well spent. When critiquing someone else’s work, not only are you helping out another writer, you are learning a LOT about what makes a manuscript work.

You make more changes to your novel based on CP feedback.🙂

Work with Beta Readers

You send your manuscript out to beta readers. Again, you need to do the legwork first. Interact with fellow book lovers on blogs, Goodreads, wherever readers of your genre dwell in the wild. When your book is ready, summon the courage to ask those people if they’d like to read and provide feedback on your novel.

Make further revisions to your novel based on beta reader feedback.🙂

Read, Read, Read

All the while, you read as many published novels as you can, not only because you love to read, but also to gain an understanding of what’s being published in your genre, what the trends are, and to get ideas on what you’d like to strive for and avoid in your own writing.

Research Literary Agents

In between all the writing, editing, and networking, you also research potential literary agents. And they can’t be just any agents. They must be agents who: represent the kinds of books you write, are good at what they do, are open to queries. Which means:

  • Every time you pick up a novel, you read the acknowledgment page (often it’s the first page you turn to), keeping an eye out for agent shout-outs.
  • You visit promising literary agents’ Twitter accounts and blogs, agency websites, and check out their #MSWL (manuscript wish lists). And you do web searches for their interviews to ensure they’re looking for what you’re writing.
  • You create a free account on querytracker.net to check out what other querying writers are saying about agents you’re interested in.
  • You study agents’ submission guidelines and follow them to a T, fully aware (without letting it freak you out) that literary agents are so inundated they’ll look for any reason to reduce their submission load. This means that every detail of the query letter, email, manuscript format, synopsis, etc. that you send prospective agents must exactly conform to their specifications.

Network with Other Writers

You make friends in the writing community who will console you when you’re overwhelmed with how hard it is to write a book, especially when you need to write a synopsis, which means summing up your entire novel up in 1-5 pages. That is really hard.

Follow Your Favorite Authors (not required but, oh, so fun)

Another thing you’re probably doing—though not specifically required—is daydreaming and getting ideas for your own writing career by following your favorite authors; seeing what they’re up to on their blog and tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest,Vine, Goodreads, Facebook, maybe even meeting them at book signings (a thrill every writer and reader should experience).

Maintain an Online Presence

While writing, revising, networking, reading,and researching agents, you also maintain your own blog and social media accounts, hoping that by developing an online presence as an author you’ll look legit to future agents, publishers, and fans.

Whew, good luck. Write and publish that book!

–Eve Messenger

 

 

 

The Winner’s Curse & the Traveler’s Blessing

Hello, fellow book junkies!

This week, with books in tow, I road-tripped through the American Southwest. As a hiker, I’ve always been most drawn to lush forests, but I can honestly say I now have an appreciation for the grand, mystical, majestic beauty of the desert.

At Zion National Park in southern Utah I got to walk under my first waterfall, something I have always wanted to do. In this picture, a poor hiker is scooting around me, probably thinking, “Get out of the way, weird lady,” but I had to stop and take it all in. Standing beneath Emerald Pools Waterfall, I was so thrilled I cried. Can you see the waterfall hitting the back of my hand?

In Northern Arizona, iron-rich red rocks and distant horizons in every–I mean every– direction made me feel as if I was on Mars. The largest boulders in this picture are four times bigger than my car.

Desert Road Trip Aug 2016 - Cave Dwellers Arizona or Mars

Photo by Mr. Eve Messenger

Traveling through Navajo country, I developed an addiction to fry bread, which is used for sandwiches and tacos (and probably other things), but my absolute favorite was fry bread hot and fresh out of the oven, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Desert Road Trip Aug 2016 - Indian Fry Bread

And here’s the book I read in my hotel room each night. I had no idea The Winner’s Curse would be such a page-turner, but it really was, and Kestrel and Arin’s forbidden love story hooked me so hard. Marie Rutkoski’s book has everything. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Happy reading and safe travels.

XOXO,

Eve Messenger

Book Review: A Mortal Song by Megan Crewe

A Mortal Song cover

 

A Mortal Song is a YA fantasy about Sora (which means “sky” in Japanese), a teenage girl who lives with her kami (godlike spirits) parents on Mt. Fuji. Sora is curious about humans and comes down from the mountain as an invisible presence to visit their homes. I love how Sora bows to the humans before  leaving, even though they can’t see her. That’s so Japanese.

Growing up with a Japanese mom and having spent a lot of time in Japan, I was intrigued by this story’s Japanese setting and incorporation of Japanese Shinto beliefs in kami. I was on the lookout for gaffes and have to say Crewe’s world-building was solid.

Sora’s best friend is Takeo, a kami-like royal guard. As they play and explore on Mt. Fuji, they encounter interesting modern moments like tourists with their cameras.

A Mortal Song takes an interestingly creepy turn with this passage: “dodged the pale trunk of a birch—and nearly darted right through a ghost.” And then, later: “Ghosts were prowling all through that glade.”

Crewe has written many books and has as a strong writing style. For instance: “The second he hit the water, his body shattered into a sparkling mist. It faded into the breeze, and then he was gone, his ki returning to the world from which it had come.”

When battle is waged against all kami, the story turns epic. Sora learns she is a human girl who was switched at birth with the true kami daughter of Mt. Fuji’s prince and princess.  Sora and Takeo must travel to Tokyo to find the other daughter. The true kami daughter–who’s been raised to believe she’s human–is such a unique and interesting character. So much more could have been done with her character, as well as other elements of the story, but unfortunately they take a back seat to. . . romance.

Sora immediately starts falling for a human kid, makes out with him even after he betrays her, and it just doesn’t sit right (at least not with this reader). There are other, much more compelling emotional issues set up for Sora, but they’re dismissed because. . . romance.

The overall concept is a winner, the cover is pretty, and the juxtaposition of ancient Shinto gods and modern-day Japan is interesting. The beginning is especially fun to read. Crew imaginatively weaves in ghosts, demons, and kami (godlike spirits). At one point there’s even a yakuza or two (Japanese gangsters).

If you like Japanese culture and ghosts, you might enjoy A Mortal Song.

 

 

The Girl with All the Gifts – Black Characters Matter

 

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Hello, fellow book junkies! Now that I’m on summer break, I’ve been going like gangbusters with writing and editing three YA novels. One of my projects is a YA fantasy about a girl who can vanish into shadows and longs to see the world but can’t because her family keeps to themselves. Then she learns the shocking reason why.

I recently made a big change in the second draft of that story. It was originally set in the distant past, but I switched it to a couple of hundred years in the future, and now it’s working much better and has an interesting new vibe. I likely got the idea for the time switch from two books I’ve read recently/am reading: Ready Player One and The Girl With All the Gifts, the latter being an adult zombie story with a POV that blew my mind.  (Beware, it gets scary as sh*t.)

The movie version of The Girl With All the Gifts hit UK theaters this week (maybe the US too, but I can’t seem to find it). As a reader who fell head over heals for the character Ms. Justineau, imagine my dismay when I discovered how the producers decided to cast her role.

In the book, Ms. Justineau is depicted as a 40s-ish dark-skinned black woman, in my imagination, kind of like Teyonah Parris:

In the movie, this is how the producers cast her:

Gemma-Arterton02.jpg

?!!? I mean, come on. Nothing against Gemma Arterton, who’s probably a fine actress and certainly is lovely but, well, she’s 30 and so white. Honestly, I felt betrayed and sad, as if the fictional 40-year-old black Ms. Justineau  I adored has been erased.

Other notes about casting for this movie: Glen Close was a good choice, I think, to play the sort of mad scientist Dr. Caldwell, and it seems the movie producers decided to try and balance the color scales by casting the little girl Melanie, who in the book is white, with a black actress.

Okay, but . . .

Ms. . .

Justineau. . .

— Eve Messenger