Month: December 2016

Best of 2016 – YA Standalones, Series, Authors, and More

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Hello, fellow book junkies and happy last day of 2016! Before launching into an exciting new year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the best YA books and authors I read in 2016. I surpassed my 100-book reading challenge by 18 books and met many five-star worthy reads but, ultimately, these are the books that left the most lingering impression. Here’s the best of 2016.

Favorite New Author

V.E./Victoria Schwab – Thank you, 2016, for introducing me to the writing genius of Victoria “V.E.”  Schwab. My gateway drug into Schwab ‘s amazing books was A Darker Shade of Magic, followed by: A Gathering of Shadows, Vicious, and This Savage Song. Oh, and I got to meet her at a book signing (my very first one). Yes, I am officially a Schwabling (at least I think that’s what they’re calling us diehard Schwab fans.)

Honorable mention: A.S. King – Her writing style is completely original and imaginative. I may not always love the plot, but I can’t get enough of her writing. I recommend starting with Reality Boy or Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

Favorite Series

Without question, my favorite series was The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater! It had everything: memorable characters, amazing writing, off-the-hook world-building, great plot twists. Once I started with The Raven Boys, I could not stop.

Books So Fun They Felt Like Reading Parties

Captain Marvel, vol. 1-6 by DeConnick and Lopez

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Best World-Building

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Honorable Mention: The Reader by Traci Chee

Favorite Indie Series

Mermaids of Eriana Kwai by Tiana Warner

Best Female Protagonist

Agnieszka from Uprooted by Naomi Novik. A complete original with a powerful gift for magic.

Honorable Mentions:
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Miss Justineau from The Girl With All the Gifts

Best Male Protagonist

Day from Legend by Marie Lu

Favorite New Book Boyfriend

Zach from Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld.

Best Setting

Alternate, modern world, czarist Russia from A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. Dreamy, wonderful, unforgettable.

Favorite Plot Twist

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Best Cover

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Most Devastating Read

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter. I usually avoid sad stories, but Kletter is stunningly talented, and this story about a broken girl really moved me.

Honorable mention: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Zentner got me good on this one. Tears were running down my cheeks before I fully realized what was happening.

Favorite Audiobook

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. Narrated in the best kind of wry, British style by Kathryn Kellgren. This fish out of water story made me laugh out loud, and the audiobook was perfect for listening to while putting around in the car.

Best Small Press Standalone

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It took a few chapters for things to come together, but once they did, there was no looking back.

The #1 Book No One Else Seems to Like But Me

The Graces by Laura Eve – I’m so glad I got a hold of this deliciously deadly, atmospheric book early on as a Netgalley ARC because otherwise I might have been turned off by the low 3.23 rating it currently has on Goodreads. Here’s to teen witches and morally ambiguous characters.

I would love to hear about YOUR favorite books of the year. To step up this challenge and give a massive New Year’s shout-out to bloggers who have brought so much bookish joy and friendship to my year, I hereby tag:

The Orang-utan Librarian

Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories

Amy @ Every Book You Need to Read and More

Danielle @ Books, Vertigo & Tea

Brittany @ The Grisha Lieutenant

Ann @ Ann’s Reading Corner

Amanda @ Cover2Cover Mom

Melanie Noell Bernard

Naz @ Read Diverse Books

Rae @ BookmarkChronicles

Jesalin @ Blogging Everything Beautiful

Beth @ Betwixt These Pages

Lila @ The Bookkeeper’s Secrets

Morgan @ Hopeless Book Addict

Jocelyn @ 52 Letters in the Alphabet

Kim @ By Hook or By Crook

Kelly Deeny
Elena Johansen
FamilyRules
Wallace Cass
Annika Perry
Pat Sherard
The Glitter Afficianado
Stephanie @ Eclectic Scribblings
Deby Fredericks
Nate Philbrick
Sabrina Marsi Books
Mackenzie Bates
Stephanie @ yourdaughtersbookshelf
Karen @ MyTrain of Thoughts
Erica @ Books the Thing
Beth @ Betwixt These Pages

 

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December Flash Reviews

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Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, here’s a recap of the final books I read in the year 2016. Each book was super unique and there were lots of YA speculative genres represented: fantasy, time travel, sci-fi, paranormal, f/f, dystopia0, horror. The flash reviews are listed by how much I liked each book, leading down to two fabulous five-star reads at the end.

The Dreamcatcher by Barrett – YA paranormal,  F/F relationship, WOC main character. Dark magic influenced by Indigenous folklore (maybe). Adorable romance, but the paranormal element missed the mark. I’m getting nervous about reading books by YA authors who only go by one name. (See review for The 52nd by Dela).  3.5/5 stars

Side Jobs, Short Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher– This adult paranormal detective short story collection was recommended to me by my husband. Interesting concept. Funny, self-deprecating protagonist Harry Dresden is both a private detective and a warlock. The stories were entertaining until I lost interest about halfway through the book. Highlight: Murphy, the female non-magic police officer tiny in stature but with a big don’t-mess-with-me attitude. 3.75/5 stars

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – Eloquent, nightmarish, Russian YA fairy tale retelling set in Brooklyn. Weird is good but not always great.3.75/5 stars

Railhead by Philip Reed– Off-the-hook world-building. Intriguing concepts. Reminiscent of Red Rising, but the characters could have been stronger. 4/5 stars

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee –  YA superheroes and f/f romance. Entertaining, sweet, unique, entertaining–especially if you’re into superheroes. 4/5 stars

Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld – YA dystopian. There was hoverboarding, and gorgeous, stoic Zach is my new book boyfriend so, yes, I am perfectly content. 🙂 4/5 stars

Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs – Intriguing YA time travel/thriller featuring an amazing WOC main character who I rooted for like crazy.High on mystery/suspense, low on world-building. 4/5 stars

Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Erania Kwai #2) by Tiana Warner – YA paranormal filled with thrills and gills. Islander warrior girl befriends/falls in love with mermaid/sea demon warrior girl. Exciting, fascinating, adventurous. Loving this series. 5/5 stars

The Reader by Traci Chee – Officially one of my top eight favorite reads of 2016. This YA fantasy magic-adventure-fairy tale is engrossing and brilliantly structured with fantastic world-building, the kind of deliriously good book that whisks you away. Book two now, please. 5/5 stars

So long, books of 2016. Hello to all the new books to be read in 2017!

–Eve Messenger

5-Star Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

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Hello, fellow book junkies! During winter break, I packed The Reader to take with me on a trip, leaving the dust jacket at home so it wouldn’t get bent up in my suitcase. But then the very moment I finished the book, I was DYING to have that stunning (see picture, above) dust jacket back because The Reader is so unique and amazing that it deserves to look gorgeous, too.

The best way I can think of to describe The Reader is that it is a “thrilling fairy tale.” The world-building is in a league with Leigh Bardugo, the writing style is reminiscent of the brilliant V.E. Schwab, and there’s a fairy tale quality that is all Traci Chee. If you like The Winner’s Curse, A Darker Shade of Magic, and/or Rebel of the Sands, you’ll love The Reader.

Interestingly enough, there was a glitch in the lead-up to my reading this book. When I first heard about The Reader and then checked out the wonderful excerpt, I got so excited I pre-ordered it, meaning not only did I get the book as soon as it came out in September, I also received the little poem/art print and book plate goodies that came with it–which, as pretty as they were, ended up in a pile with book merch bling I’ve received with other pre-ordered YA books. Yes, it’s fun getting free stuff–especially when it’s book-related–but, to be honest, I haven’t figured out a good use for pretty poem/art prints, temporary tattoos, book postcards, book plates, etc. Anyway, it’s nice having them. XD

So, back in September I was excited to read The Reader, but then I discovered–oh, no–there are pirates in it.

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I am not at all into pirates; I mean, I didn’t even get past the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. So this meant The Reader got put on a back burner for three months. As it turns out, there was nothing to fear. Yes, pirates do appear in The Reader, but they are not the central focus of the story and–guess what–I LOVED them! The pirates are noble and loyal and roguish in the best way.

Here’s what The Reader is about: a girl named Sefia who is left on her own after the death of her parents (shocking YA fantasy set-up, right?) In Sefia’s world, reading does not exist, but somehow she comes into the possession of a book. Sefia also has an ability to see golden light beyond normal life, where she witnesses people’s histories. Lots of other things happen, but I won’t go into much plot detail so you can savor the thrilling adventure for yourself. I’ll just say The Reader gets better and better as you go along, and it’s exciting how everything ties together. There’s also a lovely slow-burn romance with a character I sincerely hope we get to learn much more about in book two. Yes, I am already planning to read book two, cannot wait for it, in fact.

To be honest, for the first few chapters, The Reader’s story structure feels too busy. Several POV characters are introduced, there are interjections of distinctly different fonts that mean special things, and some of the chapters are from a book Sefia is reading in the story–which we’re not aware of first, and that’s a bit confusing. After a few chapters, though, the story comes together beautifully and completely sweeps you away.

As a fantasy book for teens, it might hurt a bit that The Reader features some characters who aren’t adolescents, but those characters are so compelling and interesting, I didn’t mind at all.

All in all, I’d have to say The Reader is in my top eight favorite reads of the year. It was the last book I read in 2016, and I’m thrilled to end on such a high note.

5-stars

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

— Eve Messenger

Why are More People Not Reading this YA Series? It’s So Good! Ice Crypt by Tiana Warner

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Hello, fellow book junkies! Earlier this year, I posted a rave review about a book called Ice Massacre (Eriana Kwai #1) by Tiana Warner. I just finished book two, Ice Crypt,and couldn’t wait to let you know about it.

First, let me just say that I’m perplexed about why more YA fantasy book lovers are not reading this series. It is so fun! Okay, I kind of get it. Some people are into mermaid stories; some aren’t. I honestly had no preference either way. I just really love these books. Yes, they’re written by an indie author, but they’re as good or better than some of the more popular YA fantasy series, very professionally done, strong writing, no typos, etc.

So here’s the  setup:

Human inhabitants of the island of Eriana Kwai are mortal enemies with merpeople/sea demons who are starving out the islanders and killing fisherman under the leadership of an evil, power-hungry mer-king. In book one, we get to know Meela, a human girl, who forms a strong bond of friendship with Lysi, a mermaid, when they’re both young girls. Then Meela and Lysi grow up to become warriors and have to do battle with each other. In book #2, Ice Crypt, we get to know Lysi better, and we witness what appears to be a blossoming love affair between Meela and Lysi.

Some things that make Ice Crypt so good:

  • the best kind of camaraderie between friends (both Meela’s and Lysi’s)
  • heroes to care about
  • villains who are super fun to root against
  • an exciting climax
  • surprising plot twists
  • f/f romance that doesn’t overwhelm the story
  • great world-building–especially the merpeople’s undersea existence. It’s interesting how Lysi, being a mermaid, can sense auras and emotions of nearby sea animals and merpeople. For example: “I’d always loved dolphins. They were the only animals whose auras showed as wide a range of emotions as a mermaid’s.”

Highlights

Lysi’s merman comrade in arms Spio is the most endearing kind of goofball, like when he says to Lysi: “She reminds me of what you would look like if you were ten years older and had dark hair. And darker skin. And bigger—”

[Lysi interrupts to say] “So she looks nothing like me.”

“Not really.”

In Ice Crypt, Meela and her human friends experience fascinating adventures on the island, but Lysi the mermaid steals the show. Lysi is a brave, stubborn warrior with a kind heart and lots of attitude, like this observation she makes about a pompous merman who keeps following her around (even though she only has eyes for Meela):

This guy projected so much confidence that I had the urge to swat it away. . .

For anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, I highly recommend this series.

–Eve Messenger

The Truth about Diverse Books I Read in 2016

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Hello, fellow book junkies! See that collage of books up there? Those are the diverse books I read in 2016. As I reflect on this topic, two key things come to mind:

#1 What exactly is a diverse book?
My friend Naz @ Read Diverse Books explores this topic well in his post here, where he defines diverse books as those which “represent the variety of voices traditionally marginalized and underrepresented in the (Western) publishing industry.” Elsewhere on the ‘net I ran across a definition of diverse books as including books written by authors from minority backgrounds.

#2 I must read more diverse books!
During the course of the past year, I thought I had read many more diverse books, but as I reviewed the list, I was surprised that only 12% of them qualified as books written by minority authors and/or representing marginalized voices. I love fiction that explores new cultures and alternate ways of perceiving the world. Expanding awareness is one of my favorite things, so toward that end, I will make a concerted effort to read more diverse books in 2017.

Without further adieu, here are the diverse books I read in 2016.

Books written by authors from minority backgrounds:

Angelfall by Susan Ee (Korean-American author)

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (African-American woman and the queen of modern poetry)

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (Filipina/Indian-American author, Indian mythology)

Legend & Prodigy by Marie Lu (Chinese-American author)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghan author, story set partly in Afghanistan)

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican-Canadian author, story set in Mexico)

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (Scottish/Korean-American author, Middle Eastern setting)

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (Latino author, Afro-Latina main character)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Indigenous American author)

Books representing marginalized or underrepresented voices:

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (fat main character)

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (transgender main character)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Asperger’s main character)

Timekeeper by Tara Sim (gay main character)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (main character born with facial deformity)

I am especially interested in reading more books that feature bisexual female characters. If you have any to recommend, I’d love to hear about them.

–Eve Messenger

Favorite Female Characters of 2016 #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! Out of all the books I read in 2016, there were so many great female characters. Narrowing down the list to my top seven was hard, but here goes.

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New Favorite Female Characters

FOR THE ULTIMATE IN BAD ASSERY:
Lila Bard – Shades of Magic                         Lada Dragwyla-And I Darken

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art by fashion-jerk

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If Lila and Lada were to engage in hand-to-hand combat, it’s hard to say who the victor would be. Lada is big and strong, Lila is sly, both are as fierce as they come.

BECAUSE THEY’RE TRULY HEROIC:
Queenie-Code Name Verity          Miss Justineau-The Girl with All the Gifts

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actual pilot, Ruth Elder

Source: www.bellanaija.com

Omoni Oboli would make a great Ms. Justineau.

Queenie and Miss Justineau are the kind of down-to-earth, genuine heroines that haunted my thoughts long after I finished reading their stories.

GIRLS I’D LOVE TO HANG WITH  (Bonus: They even do magic.):
Agnieszka-Uprooted            Celia Bowen-The Night Circus

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artwork: Sunnirin

Not only are they both very powerful magicians, Angnieszka and Celia are true blue gals I’d love to have as friends.

Sooooo FUNNY:
Samantha Sweeting-The Undomestic Goddess

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Yep, just thinking of this book brings a smile to my face. High-powered attorney Samantha Sweeting somehow winds up as a domestic servant, and her fish-out-of-water story is hilarious.

Who were YOUR favorite female characters of 2016?

–Eve Messenger

2016: Favorite Cover & New Fictional Crush

Hello, fellow book junkies! In the merry month of December, I’m strolling down memory lane and reminiscing about the wonderful books I read in 2016. Today I’d like to share with you about my favorite cover of the year, plus my new fictional crush.

Favorite Book Cover of 2016

First, the nominees. . .

For feminine attitude and vivid artwork,  Shadowshapers and Captain Marvel are hard to beat.
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And, somehow, the cover of The Star-Touched Queen nearly manages to capture the ethereal beauty of Roshani Chokshi’s writing.
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The cover of This Savage Song is so eye-catching. I like the combination of black and red, and the best part is the font. Plus, seeing covers on the computer, it’s easy to miss the fine detail that goes into the artwork, but if you look closely at this cover, inside the violin is an image of an urban alleyway. Pretty cool.
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There’s something about The Graces cover that appeals to me–the symmetry, perhaps? Another thing about this book, I really liked it, but for some reason it has a low 3.23 on Goodreads. I disagree!
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And the winner is. . .

A Thousand Pieces of You. This cover is a genuine work of art. Look at those watercolors and that genius reflection. This is a cover for the ages.

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New Fictional Crush

And, lastly, a quick word about my new fictional crush. I know, I know, I’m several years behind on Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but I am 24768
finally getting caught up and loving how adventuresome, stoic, and gorgeous Zane is in Pretties (Uglies #2). He will definitely give David a run for his money. I choose you, Zane!!

 

 

 

 

–Eve Messenger

Favorite New Author & Biggest Reading Surprise of the Year – Days 3 & 4

Hello, fellow book junkies! It’s December, a fine time for reflecting on all the wonderful books read in 2016. For days 3 and 4 of @AnneReads’ “All the Books of 2016″ challenge , I’d like to share with you about my new (for the year, and possibly all-time) favorite author and my biggest reading surprise of 2016.

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“New Favorite Author”

This past February I was blown away by  a little tome of amazingness called A Darker Shade of Magic, written by V.E. Schwab. The writing, characters, and world-building were all outstanding. If you want to know how I felt about discovering this new author, imagine the scene in the movie Young Frankenstein when Madeline Kahn sings.

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A week later, V.E. Schwab blew into my town to promote A Gathering of Shadows, so that’s when I decided to attend my first book signing. 🙂 I wrote about it here. In addition to adult fiction, V.E. Schwab publishes YA under the name Victoria Schwab. She’s super connected to her fans. Check out her honest, funny Twitter feed here.

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“Biggest Reading Surprise of 2016”

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Omigosh, there’s a revelation about one of the characters in Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven
Boys that took me by such surprise that it’s quite possible I may still be recovering from it. If you’ve read the book, you surely know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t read it, then by all means get started. The Raven Cycle series is so good!!!

— Eve Messenger

December Book Challenge: Days 1 and 2 #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! I am thrilled to share this first in a series of retrospective bookish challenges for each day of December. I first noticed “All the Books of 2016” (created by @AnneReads for #bookstagram) on Cristina @ My Tiny Obsessions‘ blog and knew right away I had to do it. Think about reading? Delight in all the books I’ve read this year? Yes, please. XD

In case you’d like to do it too, here are all the challenges @AnneReads came up with:

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For this post, I’d like to start with challenges 1 and 2. . .

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“First Read of the Year”

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My first read of 2016 was The Diviners by the “divinely” talented Libba Bray. This spooky paranormal YA story set in 1920s NYC was a fun book to start the year with. I happily lost myself in the adventures of Bray’s amazing characters and felt transported right out of the 21st century. At 578 pages, The Diviners was the second longest book I read–the longest being book #2 in the Diviners series, Lair of Dreams, at a whopping 618 pages. Which brings me to my next topic. . .

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“Shortest Book I Read”
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If graphic novels don’t count, then the shortest book I read was The Day We are Born by Philippa Cameron at 210 pp. I wish I had more to say about this book but, alas, the story did not rise to the level of the evocative title.

However, if graphic novels do count, then the shortest book I read in 2016 was Captain Marvel Higher, Further, Faster, More vol. 1-6 by DeConnick & Lopez–which I ADORED. Captain Marvel was 100 pp. of pure escapism, rich illustrations, and many strong, inspiring female characters. Endless gratitude to Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories for turning me onto this series.

Happy Reading & Happy Holidays to all you wonderful book lovers out there.

–Eve Messenger