dystopian

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

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

It’s Raining Books, Hallelujah!

Hi, fellow book junkies! What a great feeling it is when a bunch of great books suddenly come raining in. By mail, library, and Netgalley, all of the following books arrived this week, and I’m like a kid in a candy store gazing gleefully at the pretty stack they make on my nightstand.  😀

The Reader by Traci Chee –Lushly told YA fantasy about a girl living in a world where reading is forbidden. Read an excerpt here.

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Timekeeper by Tara Sim Netgalley ARC – Gay clocktower mechanic boy. Magic clock mysteriously missing 2 o’clock. I’ve had my eye on this book since hearing about it almost a year ago, and I’m so grateful to have been approved for the ARC.

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My Lady Jane by Hand, Ashton, & Meadows –This lighthearted historical YA novel apparently gets a bit experimental (or maybe just plain cheeky?) The authors occasional break the fourth wall and have their Victorian characters lapse into 21st century slang. I’m intrigued.

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge – Blogger friends tell me the writing in this is so good. Then when Cover2Cover Mom mentioned The Lie Tree also has a dark edge, I ran right out and got it. Oh, and then the librarian told me it won some kind of award. Bonus.

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Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu – Legend was such a fun read that I had to find out what Day and June get up to in the next book, Prodigy. A prodigal investigator vs. a prodigal criminal–June and Day’s dynamic is incredible.

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Currently reading:

Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Eloquent prose–check. Pleasant Irish setting–check. Intriguing plot idea–check. However, the story doesn’t really catch fire until around page 160. I hear there’s a good plot twist, so I’m hanging in there.

Last but not least. . .

Dear book-loving friend, for taking the time to read all the way down to the end of this post, here is a little treat for you. (Remember to replace the word “men” with “books.”)  XOXO Eve Messenger

Best Reads from the First Half of 2016 #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, we’re midway through the year(?!), a fine time to reflect on all the literary delights that have come along so far in 2016. On Lila @ The Bookkeeper’s Secrets  blog I saw this “Midyear Freakout” book tag and had to give it a try. Why? Because talking about books makes reading a thousand times more fun! 🙂

The Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2016

I’ve read so many excellent books this year, and the best one was A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I can’t say enough good things about it–the characters, the world building, and best of all, the writing.

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The Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far

Lair of Dreams, book two of The Diviners series by Libba Bray, has the perfect YA paranormal setting: New York City in the Roaring Twenties. All the characters established in book 1 stay true to their natures and continue to grow in Lair of Dreams. A great new character is also added, and the plot thickens.

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A New Release You Haven’t Read Yet (But You Want To)

I’ve heard Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes is upbeat, thoughtful, and very well written.

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Most Anticipated Release For Second Half Of 2016

Biggest Disappointment

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. It’s sweet, well written, with tons of fans, but I just wasn’t in the mood. DNF.

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Biggest Surprise

Totally on a whim I picked up Pivot Point by Kasie West and ended up really liking it. When faced with an important choice, main character Addison can look into the future and see both outcomes. Author Kasie West turns this intriguing concept into a heart-pumping story with a masterfully executed plot.

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Favorite New Author

Victoria V.E. Schwab is talented, versatile, gracious, and hardworking. I am such a big, big fan of her work.

Newest Favorite Character

Neither of these characters is new, but they are to me. As for my favorite, it’s a tie between Day from Marie Lu’s Legend and Agnieszka from Uprooted by Naomi Novik. These two characters’ literary worlds are as different as can be–Day lives in a dystopic urban future and Agnieszka lives in a magical sylvan past– but both are kindhearted, strong-willed and very, very talented. I adore them both.

 

A Book That Made You Cry

There’s a scene in The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner that hit me hard and definitely made me cry. Yep, that one.

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A Book That Made You Happy

Captain Marvel Further, Faster vol. 1-6 by DeConnick & Lopez.  Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel is everything, the story is fresh and stereotype-free, and best of all is the vibrant artwork by David Lopez.

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Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought So Far This Year

I’ve officially decided the book with the most beautiful YA cover of all time is A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, not only for its colors and gorgeous watercolor art by Craig Shields, but also because the reflection features an entirely different world! Here’s an interesting article about the design process behind this amazing cover.

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Favorite Adaptation So Far This Year

Cheating Alert! I’ve seen very few movies lately, so even though the film was released last year I’m gonna go with The Martian. It’s a smart, solid, well-acted film that I hope was true to the book (which I haven’t read yet.)

What Books Do You Need To Read Before The End Of This Year?

Books I Must Read in 2016

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stievfater – Book number FOUR of the series just came out and I haven’t even started book one yet.
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente – This gorgeously written book with the deliciously long title cannot be ignored.
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio – I’ve only ever seen rave reviews of this book.
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown – All my go-to book bloggers love this one.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh  – Can’t wait to experience this YA literary phenomenon for myself.
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – 2014 National Book Award Winner, you will soon be mine.
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – Murakami’s brilliant A Wild Sheep Chase was unlike anything ever read before. Must have more!
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – By all accounts, this is an engrossing read, and it’s written by Sarah Dessen so. . .
  • Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I’m dying to catch up on this unique, massively popular YA novel.

Whew, what a fun trip that was down memory lane. I’m sending this book tag out to anyone else who’d like to try it.

–Eve Messenger

Poor, neglected blog. Time to check in.

I wish I were hoverboarding right now above the river, the wilderness, and the Rusty Ruins just like Tally, the protagonist in Uglies, which I am currently reading (my first Scott Westerfeld novel).

Sometimes life gets so crazy busy that even things that are important to me, like blogging, have to get shoved to the side for a while. There are so many things I want to do in life. Unfortunately, a day job is one of them. I like being a teacher, but I’m in a place right now where I truly, honestly feel that writing full-time is what I need to be doing. But tell that to my bank account. 

The good news is I continue to grow and learn as a writer. I’m still mastering the art of completing a polished novel, but with every novel I write I get better and closer to proving to myself (and hopefully to the world) that I have what it takes to make it as a professional writer. I’ve made friends in the writing community, people so far removed from my daily life it’s kind of funny, like I have an alternate life. Which I guess I kind of do. To the rest of the world I’m mom, wife, teacher, friend, errand runner, whatever. But then there’s this inner world apart from all that in which I’m the chick who’s busting her tail to become a successful published author. There are lots of dues to pay.

I try to squeeze in writing 500-100 words however I can each weekday and then several thousand more on Saturdays and Sundays. A full-time teaching schedule, then a part-time job after school (teaching at a private school and Southern California’s cost of living do not see eye to eye), then tending to family and home doesn’t leave time for hobbies, except for reading, which of course is like calling breathing a hobby.

TV? What’s TV?

One of the only TV shows I have time for is Broad City, which is an effing hilarious show. Genuinely funny women being bawdy and crude makes me happy.

My husband also recently turned me on to a show on Netflix called River, which is pretty great.

All the characters in the series look like real people–a television trend I adore, and it has an intriguing paranormal theme, too. Detective River talks to ghosts who help him solve crimes, kind of like a darker, much more British (it’s set in London, yay!) Medium (remember that show with Patricia Arquette?) The acting is excellent. The writing is, too. In fact, one scene brought tears to my eyes, when River, the downtrodden, ghost-seeing, expert detective says:

“I’m a good officer. But, in this world, that’s not enough. In this world you have to be able to nod and smile and drink a pint, and say, “How was your day?” In this world, no one can be different or strange.  Or damaged. Or they lock you up.” [River (2015), season 1, episode 2]

What was it about this line that got me so choked up? Of course, there was something about what he said that I related to, as in we have things about ourselves that we know are smart or clever or special, but people don’t always see them. The charming people who walk with the most confidence seem to get a lot. People like me who bust our tails don’t necessarily get recognition unless we also know how to play politics. That exhausts me.

Give me writing, reading, and talking to people who love those things, too. And a hoverboard.

–Eve Messenger

February Wrap-Up & Flash Reviews

Hello, fellow book junkies! In February I’m happy to report I was able to shorten my tower of owned books by four, and I read seven books in all (. . . sort of–see below). My “Rock My TBR Challenge” is looking good so far.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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This book takes the reader deep into what it must have been like to grow up poor in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. I definitely felt like I was there, and learned a lot about cultural history. There were also some great observations about human nature and family relationships. I’m glad I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though I didn’t love it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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A heavyset teen girl bucks the system and signs up for her small-town beauty pageant run by her mother, a former beauty queen. Good concept. I expected the main character, Willowdean (a.k.a. Dumplin’) to be a big girl who’s comfortable in her own skin, but she isn’t. . . or is she? The theme is frustratingly unclear. There’s a cute jock who loves Willowdean, but we never get any insight into the nuances of their relationship. The writing is good, and there are cute moments with lots of potential, but overall a disappointment.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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A Darker Shade of Magic was the  highlight of my month. I loved the writing, the darkness, the imaginative world-building, the memorable characters, and whoah does Victoria/V.E. Schwab know how to write villains. Her writing is so good that reading it feels as if it´s making me a better writer. Coincidentally, within a week of reading this, my first, V.E. Schwab book, the author tweeted she would be doing a book signing less than 15 miles from my house. Do not pass go, do not collect $200–I had to meet her! In a later post, I’ll share more about what it was like to attend my first book signing event.

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

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The title and concept grabbed me–something about a cult, a girl surviving the bizarre disappearance of her mother and father, and the apparent end of the world. This book veered hard into preachy agenda territory, but overall it turned out to be a good, solid read.

Angelfall by Susan Ee

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This plot grabbed me and did not let go until the epic ending. Excellent world-building, and a plot that new exactly where it wanted to go, like a bullet. The only thing I had a hard time with was that a 17-year-old human girl and a 2000-year-old archangel might have a romantic attraction. He’s gorgeous and doesn’t look like an old man, but he is. The angel also had the unfortunate nickname Raffe (pronounced Raffi), which solidly planted in my head an image of an affable guy strumming guitar while singing Baby Beluga to a bunch of kids. That’s just me, folks. The book was really good.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

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A girl finds out she has inherited the ability to time travel. Sign me up, I thought, but as I read Ruby Red, I kept wishing more would happen. This book turned out to have good staying power, however, because a few days after finishing, I found myself wanting to  return to this imaginary world. I definitely plan to read the next book in the trilogy, Sapphire Blue. I was surprised to learn that the Ruby Red trilogy was originally written in German, which definitely added interest for a linguistics nerd like me. Translators deserve more credit! Sure, they’re translating someone else’s words, but they’re also WRITING A BOOK, so, kudos to Anthea Bell for doing a great job on the translation–not that I read German (I wish I did so I could read my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, in his original language), but the story read well.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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I just want to start by saying I love author Jenny Han, her personality, her openness, her humor, just everything about her. But wait a minute. Hold up. Cue screech of a needle across record album. I could not finish this book. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before ended up being a DNF. The main character was sweet, the concept was intriguing (letters Laura Jean privately penned to all the boys she’s loved end up mistakenly being mailed to them), but as hard as I tried, I could not get through this book. I may have to face that saccharine,  very-young adult books might not be my cup of tea.

I’m sorry to end on a DNF note, especially re: a book that so many people adore but, all in all, it was a really enjoyable month of reading. I hope you’re getting to read lots of good books, too. 😀

–Eve Messenger

Reading While Writing – Is it a Bad Thing?

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There’s this YA dystopian thriller I’ve been dying to read.  Very hyped, mentioned in lots of blogs, highly ranked on Goodreads. I won’t mention the title because — call me superstitious, or maybe respectful or polite — I won’t publicly write negative things about another writer’s published work. Who knows, maybe you’ll guess it from the references I’m about to make. Anyway, I was excited to read this book, but I stopped myself.  I stopped myself from reading any fiction.  Why? Because I’ve heard from other writers that reading while you write can be detrimental.

But reading is the shizzle!

So two days ago I picked up this hyped novel-that-shall-not-be-named (henceforth known as NTSNBN), and I began to read.   Even though I’m working on my own novel.

And it’s been really helpful!  Possibly because NTSNBN is in a different enough genre from my own YA fantasy adventure. Or maybe because it’s a good book but not so brilliant that I’m utterly intimidated. Or maybe (and probably most significantly) because the plot and characters of my own novel are well-formed enough that reading someone else’s novel — both as a positive and negative example — gives me ideas on how to enhance what I already have.

Back when I was tapping and scribbling out the nucleus of a plot in coffee houses, libraries, and all the other free places writers and homeless people hang out, reading someone else’s novel might have been detrimental to my process. Consciously or subconsciously, another writer’s plots and characters could have crept their way into my own writing.   (Though I probably will take the chance and try it while writing the next novel.)

After two days of reading NTSNBN — while working on the 2nd/3rd major revision of my own — here’s how reading someone else’s novel has been beneficial. Throughout the narrative, NTSNBN gives a very clear sense of the main character’s emotional state. It contains too much a lot of internal self-talk. With a keener awareness of this, the next time I sat down to work on my own book, my characters started spilling their emotional guts a lot more.

I like that.

The author of NTSNBN also employs several quirky stylistic devices, such as replacing number words with the alphanumeric, as in ‘2’ instead of ‘two.’  Also, there are long passages that deliberately avoid commas. Thirdly, there is a lot lot lot of  too much  striking out of lines and words, which signify the MC censoring his/her own thoughts.   Though I probably won’t use those devices in my own writing, the stylistic experiments definitely inspire me to try new things.

Lastly, NTSNBN reads really fast. All the chapters flow really well, each with its own grabber that takes you right into the heart of the scene and an ending that propels you further into the story. All wonderful things to keep in mind while revising and polishing my own work.

E.B.M.