April Reading Recap and a 5-Star Book #amreading

April 2018 Reads

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, if I had to sum up this month’s reading experience in one word, it would be “eclectic.” Genres spanned from contemporary LGBTQIA to graphic novel to classic Indian mythology to adult fantasy-horror. Most of the books were quite good, and one has entered the golden category of personal favorites.

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – YA Contemporary

I’m going to start this review with a little secret. When I was a child, the vast majority of books I read were written by men. That wasn’t a conscious decision, of course, just based on what was available. When I started writing stories of my own, I caught myself constantly writing about male progatonists. It dawned on me that that was kind of strange since I am female, so I decided to give my literary brain a reboot, and I switched reading books by females about females, almost exclusively. For the most part, I think it worked. Sometimes, as I’m writing, I still fall into gender stereotype traps, in which case deliberately subvert them, i.e., making the wise mentor female.

Now that I’m branching back out into reading more books by male authors, one of the ones I chose was Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli–because I adored the title. While this book does explore important themes of having the confidence to be yourself, it is essentially about a boy who meets his manic pixie dream girl. Sigh. 3 stars

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – Adult Contemporary

Hey, literary world, just because this story features a woman dealing with family issues, can we please not call it Chick Lit?!! Do we call adult contemporary books by males Dick Lit?!! Okay, so back to the book. . . Amnesia stories always intrigue me, especially when they’re sort of a do-over story like this one. As the story opens, main character Alice is regaining consciousness on the floor of a gym, and she is confused as to why people keep telling her it’s twenty years in the future. Humorous at times, What Alice Forgets is a powerful exploration of relationships and remembering to remember what we appreciate about life and the people in it. 4.5 stars

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Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan – YA/MG Graphic Novel

A graphic novel about girls in the 1980s who deliver newspapers? Sign me up! The setting, concept, and artwork arefun. The story had its moments and some surprises but wasn’t super strong. Still, I think I’d like to keep reading about these tough girls from different walks of life.  3.5 stars

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We are Okay by Nina Lacour – YA Contempary LGBTQIA

What a good writer Nina Lacour is. Her stories are kind of on the quiet side, and I’m always glad to have read them. She captures feelings of loneliness like no other writer I’ve seen, and her stories are full of feeling and human connection. The LGBTQIA aspect isn’t a huge part of this book, but it makes an impact. 4 stars

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Ramayana by  Vālmīki, William Buck (translator) –  Classic Indian Mythology

This epic Indian story about Prince Rama, gods, and demons was written by Sanskrit poet Valmiki in 300 A.D. It’s incredible how, within this rich mythological world, the human emotions and motivations are still so relatable. 4.25 stars

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The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern #1) by Shannon Hale – YA Fantasy

What a wonderful thing it is to dive into a new book and discover it’s going to be one of your all-time favorites. That’s what happened to me with The Goose Girl. Everything about it is great–the writing, the magical atmosphere, the characters, and, oh, the plot. The plot is really good. All the feelings I had about as a kid about princesses and fairy tales I found again in this book. 5 enthusiastic stars

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The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – YA Magic Realism

After her mother’s suicide, half-Taiwanese, half white Leigh Chen Sanders travels to Taiwan to connect with her Taiwanese roots at last. The scenes set in Taiwan are full of atmosphere and intrigue, magic and emotion. A woman that Leigh meets there, Feng, is a fascinating character that I think will stay with me for a long time.

The cover is a work of art. The title is gorgeous.  The Astonishing Color of After has a nice writing style, too, as magic realism stories so often do. The plot, however, meanders at times. It takes a while to get to the point, and I found myself skimming pages. Overall, this is a powerful story of a girl looking to connect with dead mother mother through her rich Taiwanese heritage. The romantic subplot takes away from what is a much bigger story of self-discovery. 3.5 stars

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins 388pp  – Adult Fantasy-Horror

Anyone in the mood for a dark, modern fantasy should look no farther than The Library at Mount Char. It is unlike any book I’ve ever read, a cross between Stephen King’s The Stand and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide. The world-building is smart and imaginative, and the characters are fascinating–especially Carolyn and Erwin. A terrific read. The only time it slips is during the last act when the story kind of diverts and turns into an over-explanation of things. If you’ve read it, I’d be interested to hear what you think about that. 4.25

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— Eve Messenger

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Down the TBR Hole #2

Yes, folks, it’s time for another stroll down TBR lane to see which books remain on the list and which will go. Strangely, every book that ended up on this week’s TBR Hole list has a terrible cover. Except for Challenger Deep. I think.

Here’s how the Down the TBR Hole game is played (created by Lia @ LostInAStory):
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?

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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Genre: YA contemporary
Goodreads rating: 4.14
Number of Pages: 320

I liked Shusterman’s book Unwind, so I thought I’d give Challenger Deep a try. Unlike Unwind, which is YA dystopia, Challenger Deep is a YA contemporary that explores mental illness through the viewpoint of a brilliant boy absorbed in the fantasy that he lives on board a ship headed for the deepest point on Earth: the Marianas Trench.

Verdict: Keep 

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Genre: YA LGBTQIA
Goodreads rating: 3.98
Number of Pages: 470

In this “funny and heartbreaking” book, Cam is a girl who likes girls. When Cam’s parents die, she is forced to move in with her conservative aunt in Miles City, Montana–where she falls for a cowgirl named Coley. Sounds like a winner. 🙂

Verdict: Keep (and move higher up TBR list!)

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Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Genre: YA fantasy
Goodreads rating: 3.88
Number of pages: 384

Jeremy Johnson has lost his mother and now hears the ghost of Jacob Grimm (one of the Grimm brothers) speaking to him. The story is told from the first person POV of Jacob Grimm, who also protects Jeremy from evil. Interesting premise. Readers seem to either love it or hate it.

Verdict: Keep 

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Bright Side (Bright Side #1) by Kim Holden

Genre: New-Adult Romance (aren’t they all?)
Goodreads rating: 4.40
Number of pages: 423

I must have heard something really special about this book if I added it despite the fact that it’s a romance–which I don’t normally read. The ending is supposedly a real tear jerker. Maybe I’ll save it for when I’m in the mood for a good cry.

Verdict: Keep 

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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Genre: Adult Fantasy-Humor
Goodreads rating: 4.25
Number of pages: 412

Oops, I forgot I took a look at this one not too long ago. I adored Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, enjoyed Anansi Boys, and appreciated  most of Neverwhere, but when I recently picked up Good Omens I found I just wasn’t in the mood for the “wink, wink, nudge” writing voice.

Verdict: Toss

Help! Which Book Should I Start With? #amreading

Decisions, decisions. All three library books I requested from Overdrive became available at the same time! That means I have only two weeks (no renewals) to read all three, and no idea how long it will take before they’re available again. If I were a faster reader, this might not be a problem, but since my days are also filled with writing my own books, taking classes and, y’know, life, I’ll probably only get to one, maybe two, of these three books–and I’m really excited to read all three!

Help! Which book should I start with?

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins 
“A library with the secrets to the universe.” Yep, that definitely captures my attention. Protagonist Carolyn was once a normal American. Now she wonders if the cruel tutor called Father who captured her and her adopted siblings and trained them in the ways of the library might be God. Then Father goes missing, and Carolyn must battle fierce competitors for control of the unguarded library.

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Unspoken (Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass is a girl detective from a sleepy English town who has spoken to a boy inside her head all her life. Haunting atmosphere, humorous,  and charmingly creepy. This looks like it could be a really fun read.

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The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Ruby survived a mysterious disease that killed most American children, and it gave her dangerous powers. Now she’s on the run for the only haven for kids like her. When she arrives, she finds nothing at the haven is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader (who I’m pretty sure she gets in a romantic relationship with). A lot of readers say the first couple of hundred pages are a slow burn but that the ending is completely amazing (which how I felt about Six of Crows).

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–Eve Messenger

 

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

Overdrive is My New Best Friend, Except When Every Book is Checked Out #amreading

Checking out ebooks on Overdrive is one of my favorite things. Who would ever have guessed that would happen? Flashback to three years ago, me on my soapbox, declaring: “I must have hard copies of books. Reading books isn’t the same without something to hold in my hands, pages to flip.” So now I’m pretty much converted. I officially read more e-books than hard copy books. I like being able to enlarge the font or brighten the screen on my Kindle Paperwhite, especially with its cover that makes me feel like I’m holding a real book (thanks for the Christmas present, hubby.)

Which takes me to why I’ve come to love Overdrive. It’s so great to be able to log in to Overdrive using my local library card and get access to all the ebooks in my county library system. And then have them send directly to my Kindle. Lately, however, it seems every single book I want on Overdrive is already checked out. This even includes older books like Unspoken from 2012 and Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds from 2011.

So now I’m in this odd book-reading holding pattern. Since I must have something to read every day, as I wait for books I really want to read, I’m settling for books I kinda want to read–but which aren’t overly long so I’m not too invested once the book I really want comes off hold. You get me, right, fellow book junkies? 😀

Here are the elusive little whippersnapper books Overdrive refuses to release to me yet. All of them so good. All of them so not-yet-available.

Oh, and if Murphy’s Law of library books holds true, after waiting so (im)patiently for all of these books, probably all four will come off hold at exactly the same time, right? Meaning I’ll have two weeks to read them all. (Overdrive doesn’t allow renewals, so two weeks is it.)

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Title details for Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan - Wait list

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Title details for The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan - Wait list

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) by Alexandra BrackenTitle details for The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken - Wait list

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Title details for Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney - Wait list

–Eve Messenger

 

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

Mid-year Book Freakout #amreading

August Blog Post - Mid-Year Book Freakout

Thanks to the beautiful book blogger with exquisite reading tastes, Cover2CoverMom, for this awesome book tag because, well, reflecting on books and movies might possibly make me happier than not having to wake up for work in the morning.

Best Book I’ve Read So Far In 2017

Illluminae by Amie Kaufman. It’s thrilling and entertaining. The hardcover version is super creatively presented through e-mails, case notes, diagrams, etc., but let me tell you a little secret: the audio book version is amazing, too. I worried it might not capture the unique storytelling of the hardcopy version, but the audio book was GREAT. No wonder it won the 2016 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance!

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Best Sequel I’ve Read So Far In 2017

Looking back on this year’s books so far, I’m surprised how few sequels I’ve read–or rather, maybe not that surprised, since I’ve always favored stand-alones. Nonetheless, in this category, I’ll have go with A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab. (More about that in a different category below.)

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New Release I Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To

I’m excited about Renee Ahdieh’s newest book, Flame in the Mist. Her writing is lovely and the story takes place in Japan, so. . .

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Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo!!!
Bardugo KNOWS how to write action and adventure. Her female characters are so strong–I’m thinking of Nina and Inej from Six of Crows. Yep, surely Bardugo will knock it out of the park with Wonder Woman.

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Biggest Disappointment

Uh-oh. Okay, this is kind of like a kid being disappointed because Santa brought a shiny new bicycle rather than the motorized scooter the kid was expecting, but I have to say my biggest disappointment might have been A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (gasp! my FAVORITE AUTHOR?!). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book immensely, but the disappointment stemmed from how a couple of huge plot points raised in the first book–that I was dying to see resolved–were glossed over in the finale. Otherwise, A Conjuring of Light was fantastic.

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Biggest Surprise

Because I was intrigued by the story and atmosphere of the movie Carol starring the Cate Blancett and Rooney Mara (probably two of the best actresses working right now), I wanted to read the book it’s based on. The The Price of Salt. gave me one of my favorite new (well, from the 1950s) writers, Patricia Highsmith. Her writing is flawless. I loved every word of The Price of Salt.

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Favorite New Author

See “Biggest Surprise” (above.).

Newest Fictional Crush

Cassie’s love interest–sweet, geeky, sincere Reid–from The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I have a soft spot for awkward, true blue boys.

Artwork by Simini Blocker

 

Newest Favorite Character

EVERY character in Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer . Seriously, you guys, you have to read this one. The world-building will whisk you away.

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Book That Made Me Cry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry definitely made me cry. There were truly noble characters and powerful, moving moments. I definitely wiped tears from my cheeks as I read.

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Book That Made Me Happy

Shocker: I don’t read a lot of happy books, so back we go to Illuminae. It made me happy because it had a fresh concept and was utterly entertaining.

Favorite Book to Film Adaptation I’ve Seen This Year

Wonder Woman!!!!!!!!! The scene when Diana bravely charges into No Man’s Land to draw enemy fire so the others can cross fires me up every time. Did you know the movie studio wanted director Patty Jenkins to REMOVE THIS SCENE ENTIRELY? It is the BEST SCENE IN THE MOVIE. Thank God Jenkins stuck to her guns.

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Favorite Review I’ve Written This Year

This year has been so crazy busy I’m happy to have written ANY reviews!

Most Beautiful Book I’ve Bought So Far This Year

The blue and gold cover of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is everything. What a gorgeous color combination. I already liked it from the pictures I’d seen, but when I held the book in my hand, the gold shimmered and seemed three-dimensional. Beautiful!

Books I Need To Read By The End Of This Year

So. Many. The average number of books I read is WAY down from ten books to around four, so my TBR’s backing up worse than my kitchen sink at Thanksgiving. These are some of the many books I’d like to get to before the end of the year:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente-Must read this if for no other reason than it has the longest title I’ve ever seen.
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas – Because EVERYONE is talking about it. 
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I can’t believe I didn’t get to this in high school–sorry, Mrs. Bernard!
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2) by Claudia Gray
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  • Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
  • Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1) by Tamora Pierce – I haven’t read any Tamora Pierce yet and really want to!

— Eve Messenger

I TAG THE FOLLOWING WARM, FUZZY BLOGGING FRIENDS:

Amy @ Bursting With Books

Lila @ The Bookkeeper’s Secrets

Michelle @ Bibliophile Struggle

Tina @ All Of These Prompts

Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories

Bethany @ The Grisha Lieutenant