Down the TBR Hole #1

Hello, fellow book junkies! Here’s a fun trick to try when your TBR list gets longer than a Duck Dynasty character’s beard. You know those books you clicked on as “want to read” way back when? They looked wonderful at the time, but in hindsight maybe they don’t need to take up quite so much space on your TBR.  “Down the TBR Hole” is a brilliant way to whittle books off your list. It comes from Lia @ Lost in a Story, and I first saw it on Regina @ Bookish in Bed’s blog, so thanks, Regina! 

How to go Down the TBR Hole:
1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
2. List books in ascending order (oldest first).
3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
4. Read the synopses of the books.
5. Decide: keep it or should it go?

Here are my five picks for the week. Let’s see if any make the cut.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery20893527

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When, oh, when will I finally get around to reading this timeless classic?! Anne of Green Gables is only 320 pages long, so I suppose even if it doesn’t totally keep my interest, it’ll be a quick read. Judging by the quote, it’s a pretty joyful story, too, which is something I can always use more of: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Verdict: Keep

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

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I’m kind of on the fence about this book. Some readers had a hard time with the oppressor-oppressed romance and relating to the main characters.  It’s also a very heavy story–understandable considering the theme. Lies We Tell Ourselves has a lot going for it too. It’s an important story about racial oppression, which is something we have a long way to go toward needing to improve in society today. Apparently, Robin Talley has a great writing style (which is a big plus for me). It’s also well-researched, which is cool since I’ve been liking historical fiction a lot more lately. Oh, and we mustn’t there’s an F/F romance.

Verdict: Keep (for now)

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The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky Is Everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is anyone else weary of stories about characters whose relatives die? This book opens with a nice, voice-y protagonist mentioning that her mother and sister have died. Uh-oh. I get that people die, and it is a very, very sad thing, but there are ways to build conflict and tension in a novel without needing people to die all the time. The opening of The Sky is Everywhere also has the MC saying her grandmother believes “a particular houseplant. . . reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.”  Quirky. I like it. 

Verdict: Keep

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The Everafter by Amy Huntley

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The Everafter has an average 3.71 rating on Goodreads. That’s a little on the low side, but then again rating isn’t everything. I loved The Graces by Laura Eve, for example, and can’t fathom why Goodreads insists it is only a 3.28 star read. Reviews of The Everafter also abound with the word “depressing.” That’s not a good sign. It’s hard enough to stay positive without reading a depressing story. Sorry but. . . 

Verdict: Go

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West 

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I really enjoyed books one and two of Kasie West’s Pivot Point and have been wanting to read something else by her. The Distance Between Us intrigues me with its premise: “Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment. However, the book is also labeled by some readers as a “cheesy romance.” (I should’ve have looked a little closer at the cover). I prefer books that explore human connections beyond stereotypical boy-girl romance, so. . . 

Verdict: Go

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Final score: 3 Keep, 2 Go. I’m making progress!

–Eve Messenger

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Do longer titles mean better books? YA books with the looooongest titles. #amreading

Books with super long titles sort of whisper, “I am going to be so well-written. Just wait and see.” But is it true? Are YA books with longer titles better? Let’s find out.

Here’s a list of fifteen YA books with titles of six words or more, each rated from 1 to 5 stars.

6-Word Titles

Titles 6-words
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sara J. Maas   – 4.5 stars
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – 4.5 stars
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – 4 stars
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King – 4 stars
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil – 3.75 stars
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness – 4 stars
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – 4 stars
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – 3.5 stars

Holy royalty checks, Batman. Did anyone notice that on Goodreads The Perks of Being a Wallflower has over ONE MILLION ratings? A million. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with that many. How could I possibly give this classic book only 4 stars? But I did. Oh, and A.S. King? Her books are so interesting, smart, cool, and different. I love them all. Okay, so there are lots of excellent reads in this six-word title group, but none with five-stars, so let’s see how 7-word titled books fare. . . 

7-Word Titles
titles 7-words

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – 4.5 stars
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina – 3.75 stars

Okay, not bad. The First Fifteen Lives is so well-written. Technically, it’s adult fiction but feels like a bit of a crossover. Still no five-star books. Let’s move on to YA books with eight-word titles. 

8-Word Titles

titles 8-words
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton – 4.25 stars
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 4.25 stars
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – 4 stars

All three of these books are so enjoyable. Who can resist a book with the gorgeous and unusual title of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender? And that cover!  Alas, neither of these books earned five-stars, so it’s on to the nine-word titles.

9-Word Titles 

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Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – 3.75 stars

Only one YA book (that I could find) had nine words in the title–which is probably my favorite title, by the way. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe–it’s a magical title! I wish I liked the book more. The writing is lovely and philosophical, but the plot meanders a bit.

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And now, for the grand champion, the longest-title on the list. No other books had ten-word or even eleven-word titles, but this one, oh, this one.

12-word title 

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente – 4.25 stars

Yes, a twelve-word title, and a stunner. Wow! Those were all long titles. All combined, the titles of these fifteen books add up to over 100 words! Something else I noticed was that 50% of them include the name of a character. I wonder if that’s a long-title thing.

The search for long-titled YA books continues. What are some of your favorite YA books with titles of six words or more?

–Eve Messenger

Brainstorming Techniques for Writers & Bloggers

I had an epiphany recently that vastly improved my approach to writing and blogging. I’d somehow fallen under the notion that the only way I knew of to generate  writing/blogging ideas was to free-write (write without stopping or editing) until the answers came. And, yes, that kind of worked, but I was getting frustrated with having to write so many blind pages. Free writing didn’t always seem that efficient.

The  best solution is usually the simplest one. There are TONS of brainstorming techniques other than free writing. I knew this but wasn’t using them. Using a variety of brainstorming techniques mixes up the brainstorming process, makes it fun and interesting, and maybe even saves time.

Maybe you’re working on an outline but have a plot hole you’re struggling with, or you’re planning a blog post that’s missing  key ideas. Try some of these brainstorming techniques to fill in the gaps. You probably already know this, but when brainstorming remember to never censor yourself. The BEST ideas come right after the most outlandish ones. Good luck! –Eve Messenger

BRAINSTORMING TECHNIQUES FOR WRITERS & BLOGGERS by Eve Messenger

ROLE PLAY

1. Perspective Shift

Approach your brainstorming topic as if you were in a different place or time, or even as if you were a different person. What if you were in your favorite hiding spot as a kid? What if you were on Mars, in the middle of an ancient forest, in a great library, or sitting at a Paris cafe with  Lost Generation writers? What might your approach be if you were your favorite writer? What if you were the best you living life in your dream situation?

2. Attribute Change

This is like Perspective Shift, except you’re only imagining changing one aspect of yourself. Approach your brainstorming topic as if one attribute about you is different: gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, nationality, profession, etc.

3. Super Power

Imagine you have a super power that lets you get right to the root of your answer. Explore your topic from that super power perspective. If your topic feels murky, imagine you’re Aqua-man (or Aqua-woman), who can see clearly beneath the water and swims quickly and powerfully toward the solution.

BE A REBEL

4. The Opposite Approach

It’s remarkable what good ideas can be sparked by exploring bad ones. Deliberately try to cause problems for your topic. Now write down those problems and see what solutions come.

5. The Five Whys

In this brainstorming technique, you get to be the little kid who asks “why” ad nauseam. Starting with your brainstorming topic/problem, ask why at least five times: “Why is this happening?” Answer. “Why is that happening?” Answer. And so on.

MIX IT UP

6. Z to A

Write whatever comes to mind starting with each letter of the alphabet, Z to A. For example, let’s say you’ve got a lot of half-ideas floating around in your head and you want to solidify which you should write on. First, solidify your question: “What should I write about in my next blog entry?” Then open up the floodgates to your subconscious and let the ideas flow. Each idea you write must begin with the next successive letter of the alphabet.  The trick in brainstorming is to not beat yourself up about bad ideas. In this brainstorming technique, you’ll come up with 26 ideas. Pick the three best ones.

Zoo animals in YA fiction.

Young people are frustrated by not being properly represented in YA fiction.

X-ray closely the dark underbelly of  publicity for YA books.

and so on until you reach “A”. . .

7. Cubing – D/C/A/A/A/A

Approach your brainstorming topic from six different angles:

  1. Describe
  2. Compare
  3. Associate (what does your topic make you think of?)
  4. Analyze (what is your topic composed of?)
  5. Apply it (how can your topic be used?)
  6. Argue for or against your topic

8. List

This brainstorming technique is simple and straightforward. Just make a list of the story/passage/character ideas and elements you want to convey.

9. Fill in the Gap

You probably already have some solid ideas for your novel or blog post, but now you’re looking to fill in the gap. Make connections from your solid ideas to the one that’s still missing. Build the bridge. Fill in the hole.

10. Commonalities

Parallel your topic with other similar topics. What does your topic have in common with what other writers have written? List the commonalities and apply them to the topic you’re brainstorming.

11. Sentence Starters

Give yourself sentence starters.
“What if ___________.”
“The way this will work is if ______________.”
“The best solution to this problem is  ________________.”

HAVE FUN WITH SCHOOL SUPPLIES

12. Mind Mapping

This brainstorming technique is probably the one many  of us  learned about in school. Get a big piece of paper or a dry erase board, In the center, write your brainstorming topic. Without censoring yourself, write down all ideas related to that topic–the sillier and more outlandish the better. After exhausting all ideas, start connecting them and branching other ideas off of them.

13. Starburst

Draw a large six-pointed star. At the tip of each point write: who, what, when, where, how, and why. In the middle write your topic/goal/problem. Now answer each of your “tip” questions.

14. Index Cards

Get a stack of ten or so index cards. On each one, jot down a key image or idea from your brainstorming topic. Now shuffle the cards, pull out one at a time, read your idea/image, and  brainstorm responses.

End of Month Wrap-Up: April & March #amreading

April & May 2017 Reads
Hello, fellow book junkies! I miss all of you fabulous bloggers so much. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t had a lot of time for reading books lately either, so it’s me, not you!

Now on to reviews for books I read in April and March (two of which were two 5-star reads, by the way.)

Adult/YA fantasy crossover
A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab. Okay, so how do I put this? My favorite writer, Victoria Schwab, is EVERYTHING. In A Conjuring of Light, yes, the writing is great. So is the worldbuilding, the characters, and the plot but–as the final installment in trilogy–A Conjuring of Light did not sufficiently answer important plot questions I’ve been dying to know the answers to since book one. If you’ve read the series maybe you’ll agree. To avoid giving away even a smidgen of a spoiler, I won’t say more. 4/5 stars

YA contemporary
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon –audiobook. This was my Nicola Yoon book, and I loved it!! The Sun is Also a Star was beautifully written, moving, philosophical and featured features characters that I really grew to care about. Natasha and Daniel are so very different–a Jamaican girl with a passion for science and a Korean-American boy who’s a born poet–but somehow their love just seems meant to be. I am now officially a huge Nicola Yoon fan. 5/5 stars

MG fantasy
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson-audiobook Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians had a title I couldn’t pass up. Yeah, so then I was 1/3 of the way through the book before I realized it was the fourth book in a series I had never read! Oh, well, at least now I know how the series ends. Right? Nope, turns out book five comes out in 2018. Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians (book FOUR) was cute and kookily(?) magical. Sanderson–bold writer that he is–breaks the fourth wall and just seems to have a blast writing this book, I guess I’m just a tough customer to please when it comes to MG fantasy. Could be because I’m not an 11-year-old boy. There’s that. The part I enjoyed most was Alcatraz Smedry’s conflicted Evil Librarian mother. She was interesting. 3.25/5 stars

YA light horror
Wax by Gina Damico Orange Library. Entertaining, original, humorous. This is unlike any YA book I’ve read before, kind YA-lite meets Edgar Allan Poe. 3.5/5 stars

YA dystopian pirates
The Edge of the Abyss (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2) by Emily Skrutskie-Netgalley ARC. Why did I read book two of this series? Oh, right, because even though I didn’t get into the main character Cass in the first book, I appreciated Skrutskie’s unique worldbuilding, strong writing skills, and the fact that the story featured a YA lesbian (budding) relationship. So I continued the series and–surprise!–encountered the same frustrating issues I had with the first book. I did not care about the main character. Cass’ motivations were so haphazard and ingenuine that I may well have strained my eyeballs from rolling them so much. And yet I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading The Abyss Surrounds Us. It’s a unique book with a lot to offer. 3.25/5 stars

Adult contemporary literary-ish
Exit Ghost by Phillip Roth audiobook I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like, but I randomly picked this book off the library shelf one day. And I was sorry I did. Exit Ghost seemed intelligent and voice-y, had an intriguing title, and was written by an author I’ve heard of but never read. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bunch of navel-gazing. I didn’t care how many Depends adult diapers the 80 y.o. writer had to wear or find it at all endearing that he coveted his new friend’s young wife. Honestly, even if a protagonist and a reader are from completely different walks of life (as this protagonist and I are), a well-written story should get me to care. This didn’t. I DNF’ed halfway through. 2.75/5 stars

Children’s historical modern classic
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, written for readers ages 10 and up, works for all ages. It’s full of depth and moving portrayals of human decency. In fact, Number the Stars made me tear up. . . okay, cry, three times. This book restores your faith in the human race. A must-read. 5/5 stars

— Eve Messenger

January Reads – End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

january-reads-2017-final

Hello, fellow book junkies! I’m afraid in January I only managed to read five books. It was kind of interesting, though, how my two favorite characters  both turned out to be animals. Sure, there were lots of interesting fae and human characters–like complex Rhysand from ACOTAR and saintly Joan of Arc from Mark Twain’s book–but the real stars of January were:

  • Corr, the feral, ferocious mythical water horse from Maggie Stievfater’s The Scorpio Races (check out what he does at the end of the book–it’s amazing); and
  • Mischievous, smiley, long-suffering Rosie the elephant from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

JANUARY FLASH REVIEWS

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas-YA Fantasy. I finally got around to discovering what a rich, fascinating, magical world Sarah J. Maas has created with this series. I found myself really liking protagonist Feyre Archeron for her bravery, hot temper, and resourcefulness at teaching herself the skills she needs to survive and keep her impoverished family alive. Oh, does Feyre hate the Fae, which of course makes for great drama when she is forced to live among them. I’m not sure if I loved the plot decision at the end, but I am definitely down to read book two. 4.5/5 stars

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, vol. I  by Mark Twain – This classic novel is the first of hopefully many more e-books I’ll be downloading for FREE from Project Gutenburg If you haven’t already, check out Project Gutenberg. You’ll find tons of old books that have fallen out of copyright and can be downloaded right onto your eReader. Apparently, of all of Mark Twain’s books, Recollections of Joan of Arc was his personal favorite. He spent twelve years researching it! Joan of Arc is, of course, an unforgettable character. In this fictionalized account of Joan’s life told from the POV of a childhood friend, Twain weaves in his trademark sarcasm and ingenious insights into human nature, as well as some of the best dialogue of any writer ever. We learn about elusive, earnest, mystical Joan of Arc, and shake our heads at the antics of her friends and countrymen who come to believe, like Joan does, that God means for the French–against all odds–to win against the English. 4.25/5 stars

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater-YA paranormal – The Scorpio Races is a song of a book that’s flowing and lyrical, and maybe just a touch slow-paced. The love story is enthralling because each person in the relationship is their own brave, utterly competent, strong-willed soul from an island that breeds them that way. The mythological water horses are haunting and memorable, especially Sean Kendrick’s mount, Corr. 4.25/5 stars

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick-audiobook – Cute, humorous, and unflinchingly honest, this autobiography was read by the author herself, Anna Kendrick, who reads really, really fast. 4/5 stars

The Abyss Surrounds Us (The Abyss Surrounds Us #1) by Emily Skrutskie – This YA post-apocalyptic pirate adventure is one of several YA books I’m reading that feature f/f and/or fem bi characters. I found myself much more drawn to pirate girl Swift than to the main character Cassandra Leung, probably because Cassandra’s motivations weren’t always believable. Still, there’s no doubt Emily Skrutskie is a skillful writer. The Abyss Surrounds Us is one of those debut novels that noticeably improves as it goes along, and I look forward to seeing what Skrustkie comes up with for the next installment in this series. 3.75/5 stars

–Eve Messenger

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