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 #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

NEW YA Book Review: We Are Still Tornadoes #amreading

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Newly out this month from St. Martin’s Griffin is a YA contemporary penned by co-authors Michael Kun and Susan Mullen called We Are Still Tornadoes–a quick, feel-good read.

Set in the 1980s, We Are Still Tornadoes takes us into the relationship between lifelong friends Cath and Scott through letters they write to one another after Cath moves away to college.

As someone who also grew up with a dear friend of the opposite sex (coincidentally, also named Scott), I appreciate how authentically Kun and Mullen capture the open, honest, sometimes goofy, sometimes flirtatious friendship between a girl and a boy.

Cath, Scott and their shared history are totally believable. Scott is very funny. Cath is more cerebral but can hold her own in the humor department. Both are genuinely good people navigating the turbulent seas of post-high school life. They make mistakes, deal with social faux pas, encounter tragedies, and through it all we root for them.

We Are Still Tornadoes’ only weakness is its ending, which would have benefited greatly from more of a build-up and a denouement. No joke, when I arrived at the last page of the story, I kept tapping my e-book screen thinking there had to be more–but nope. Despite the rushed ending, We Are Still Tornadoes is definitely worth the read and deserves a hearty four out of five stars.

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–Eve Messenger

What Makes a Character Noble?

Noble Characters in YA Fiction

Few things are as gratifying as reading about a truly noble character. So who are some of the most noble characters in modern YA fiction? Before we take a look at the list, let’s define “noble.”

A noble character is someone who:

  1. Sacrifices desires and emotional or physical safety for the greater good.
  2. Doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than who she is. (Probably my favorite quality of a noble character.)
  3. Doesn’t (necessarily) seek recognition for doing the right thing, in fact, prefers anonymity.
  4. May, in fact, lead a generally ignoble life, but when the time comes to stand up for what’s right, she does.
  5. Has a strong moral compass and sticks to it, even when ridiculed, pressured to conform, or ostracized.
  6. Can take the easy way out but doesn’t.
  7. Never abandons her friends.

Top 9 Noble Characters in YA

Inej Ghafa, the Wraith – Six of Crows
An expert assassin, Inej can kill a person in seconds with her bare hands, but she never veers from her personal code of ethics. She would die before letting down her friends.
23437156Todd Hewitt – The Knife of Never Letting Go 
Sure, Todd could have kept running when all hell broke loose in Prentisstown, but he had to stop and help Viola because that is how a noble character rolls.
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Celia Bowen – The Night Circus 
Celia Bowen could well be the most powerful magician in the world, but because of her strong moral compass she treats people with dignity and does what she thinks is right.
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Brimstone- Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Without giving away spoilers, let’s just say Brimstone meets the qualifications of being a noble character. Fellow readers of Daughter of Smoke & Bone, would you agree?
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Queenie – Code Name Verity
I finished reading Code Name Verity several days ago and am still in a daze over what a noble character Queenie is.

Thea – The Diviners
Thea is one of those enticing characters who never pretends to be anyone other than who she is. She follows her passions and is kind toward those who deserve it.

Kell – Shades of Magic series Kell could practically run the world with all the powers he has as a Traveler and, though he is treated as a second-rate son by the Maresh family, he remains loyal to crown, especially to his brother, Prince Rhy.
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Katniss Everdeen – Hunger Games
It would have been so easy for Katniss to leave District 12 behind and live the good life at the Capitol but, no, she has to fight for what is right.
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Day – Legend  Day’s defining characteristic is his unwavering loyalty toward family, close friends, and his oppressed community.
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What do you think? Are there other characters who deserve to be on this list?

–Eve Messenger

 

 

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2016 WEEK 1

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Little me with the best dad ever. 

As a child, who was your favorite relative?

My favorite relative was my dad. When he got home after a long day of work, he made time to talk to me, play board games and word games with me, start tickle fights, and make me feel unconditionally loved.

If you could be a tree or plant, what would you be?

I’d be a big tree with wide branches overlooking the forest and seeing up into the sky. Woodland creatures would make their homes in me and be my friends.

What would be your preference, awake before dawn or awake before noon?

My preference would be to awake before dawn, though I rarely do this anymore. I love the quiet of early morning, running and cycling, getting lots of writing in before the day begins.

Would you like to sleep in a human size nest in a tree or be snuggled in a burrowed spot underground?

If it’s big, really comfortable, and not too high off the ground, I’d go for the human size nest in a tree.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that I “woke up” and starting reaching out to friends and family. I realized I was sort of cocooning, but I’m reconnecting now and it feels good. Next week I’m looking forward to the relief of being done with a couple of major events that have been zapping my time and emotional energy.

–Eve Messenger

And the Muslim Woman Sang

My mother was born in Fukuoka, Japan. She fell in love with an American soldier (my dad) and moved with him to a small northern Virginia town. Though she arrived there well after World War II, my mother came to know all too well the sideways glances and outright scorn of white people who viewed her as the enemy.

Here’s another true story. My best class in high school was Freshman English with Mrs. Kiyoko Bernard. Woven among our exploration of great literature were stories Mrs. Bernard shared with us about her life. Like the story about how she and her young Japanese-American husband were forced by the U.S. government into an internment camp during World War II. This remarkable woman who touched our lives with her humanity and her encouragement suffered the degradation of having to bear her first child in an internment camp.

In the heart of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles is the Japanese American National Museum. JANM is beautiful, always clean, with many windows allowing in natural light, knowledgeable docents, and engaging Japanese cultural exhibits and activities. As a Japanese language teacher, I have taken my students on field trips there many times. But the museum’s purpose extends beyond expanding awareness of Japanese-American culture. Founded by survivors of Japanese internment camps who pooled government restitution money to build the museum, JANM exists as a reminder that, even in the land of the free, especially during the toxic climate of war, fear can drive the masses to ignore, subscribe to–even call for–foul human actions.

In 1942, by executive order of the president of the United States, everyone of Japanese descent, including natural-born U.S. citizens like Mrs. Bernard, were forced out of their homes, businesses, and schools. The lash of wartime anti-Japanese rhetoric fell swiftly. Here’s the story my dear friend and second mother Pauline once told. Pauline grew up in Bellflower, California, when it was still a small farming town. One morning in 1942, when Pauline was twelve, she arrived at school to find many of the classroom seats empty. To her horror, she realized that all of her Japanese friends were gone. Pauline’s parents and other good-hearted neighbors attempted to keep the land for the Japanese farmer friends. Others took advantage and bought the well-worked Japanese farms on the cheap.

Meanwhile, Japanese-American soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were fighting and dying in Europe for the very country that was forcibly interring their family members.  38 years later, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter called for an investigation into the government’s internment action. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians determined that interring Japanese-Americans had been a clear violation of their human rights and was stoked by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Here is another true story. It is not set in the 1940s or the 1960s or even the 1980s. It happened very recently in the large metropolitan area in which I live.

My old friend Luke, whom I’ve known since high school, has a lovely wife Cathy who’s always been kind and generous toward my family, especially my children. Cathy is very involved in her church. During winter break, she invited my daughter and me over to decorate Christmas cookies. Some of Cathy’s church friends were there. The political discussion became uncomfortable.

One of Cathy’s church friends shared this story:

Across the street from her a Muslim family had moved in, and the church friend felt very unsettled about this. One day the Muslim mother, a woman in her thirties, even crossed the street with her six-year-old daughter and rang the church friend’s doorbell. The church lady was terrified. She peered through the peephole and panicked. What should she do? Her husband was at work, leaving just her and her own young daughter at home, and a woman in a hijab was standing there on her doorstep with a little Muslim girl beside her.  So here’s what the frightened church lady did. Through her closed door, she insisted she would only open the door if the Muslim woman proved her patriotism by singing the national anthem.

And the Muslim woman sang.

 

 

–Eve Messenger

 

 

 

 

Writing and Balancing Social Media #amwriting

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graphic courtesy of Ryan Lanz @ A Writer’s Path

As writers, most of us have four jobs: our day job, family life, writing, and social media. For obvious reasons, we have to spend time at our day jobs. We also have to spend time with our families because, well, relationships make life worth living. As for writing, that’s non-negotiable. Except it is. Even when our life’s ambition is to publish novels, we don’t always make enough time to write, and sometimes (often) the culprit is our fourth job, social media.

If you’re like me, you worry that you might be spending too much time on social media. Try not to beat yourself up about this too much. Marketing experts and industry specialists universally agree (I know, that surprised me, too) that, if you’re serious about building a writing career, social media is necessary. Authors must be visible to the public, accessible, and connected to what is happening in the publishing world.

Yay, so we don’t have to worry that we’re spending too much time on social media!

Well, maybe.

How Do You Know You’re Spending Too Much Time on Social Media?

Most of us have an innate sense for when we’re spending an unhealthy amount of time online. And our manuscripts definitely know because they’re not growing as fast as we’d like them to.

According to literary agent and writer’s-best-friend, Jane Friedman, “If it’s starting to drag on your resources and time to do other things more important to you (such as writing), then it’s time to re-assess.”

Why is social media so tempting?

“When we go on these sites, our underlying drive is to satisfy that innate need to connect to others. It comforts us and fulfills us to know that we are not alone.” Well put, Melissa Joy Kong.

Speaking mostly for myself, I’ll hazard a guess that writers are particularly susceptible to social media’s siren call. Since we writers are not the world’s most extroverted creatures (hence, we immerse ourselves in imaginary worlds), the “comfort” of social media is logically a huge temptation.

Now for the Big Question . . . How to Balance Writing and Social Media?

#1 Set Goals and Prioritize

Just like setting goals for your writing, also set goals for the time you spend on social media. Joshua Graham recommends that you “Make to-do lists every day and put tasks in priority order.”

#2 Quality over Quantity

Don’t try to do it all; stick to social media platforms you enjoy and do them well. If blogging every day doesn’t negatively impact your writing time, then go for it. However, Chuck Sambuchino suggests, “It’s very possible to have a platform with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, as long as you focus on the absolute quality of your efforts.”

#3 “Batch” Your Time

There’s this term efficiency experts use called “batching” time. This means setting aside blocks of time for, in our case, writing. During that time block, all you should do is write. Then you can set aside other blocks of time for blogging and each social media platform. You’ll get far more accomplished if you’re not constantly switching between blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and, of course, all-important writing.

If resisting social media during your writing block is too difficult, consider downloading the Anti-Social app ($15), which you can program to block overly tempting websites during time periods that you set.

#4 Frontload Blog and Social Media Posts

During your “blog time block,” frontload blog posts. For example, set aside each Sunday afternoon to write all your blog posts for the week. You can also write and schedule social media posts in advance using programs like Hootsuite.

#5 Set a Daily Limit on Your Social Media Time

What is a reasonable amount of time to spend on social media? “It varies from person to person” is an answer I hate, so I won’t say that. Instead, I’ll give you Jody Hedlund’s wise answer, which is: “The time we give to our writing should be greater than the time we spend on marketing.” This makes sense, right, writers?

Here’s my favorite answer. (Way to be bold with your very specific answer, Katie Wagner.) In her video blog, Wagner says you should engage in social media for “fifteen minutes, three times a day.” During each fifteen-minute social media block spend:

  • Five minutes posting;
  • Five minutes responding to posts from others;
  • Five minutes reading and commenting on other people’s blogs and social media accounts.

There you have it. If you follow all these suggestions, you will never again have to worry about spending too much time on social media.

Right?

Well, except that we’re writers and we’ll always find reasons to worry. Plus, we’ll probably still spend too much time on social media. But even if you incorporate one or two of these suggestions into your daily or weekly routine, you’ll be making more time to write, which will move you ever closer to your ultimate goal of publishing novels.

If you’ve found other ways of balancing writing and social media, please share!

— Eve Messenger