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

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5-Star Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5-stars

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

— Eve Messenger

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

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

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

So here’s the  setup:

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

Some things that make Ice Crypt so good:

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

Highlights

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

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

“Not really.”

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

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

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

–Eve Messenger

The Truth about Diverse Books I Read in 2016

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

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

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

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

Books written by authors from minority backgrounds:

Angelfall by Susan Ee (Korean-American author)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books representing marginalized or underrepresented voices:

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (fat main character)

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

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

Timekeeper by Tara Sim (gay main character)

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

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

–Eve Messenger

Favorite Female Characters of 2016 #amreading

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

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New Favorite Female Characters

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

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art by fashion-jerk

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

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

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actual pilot, Ruth Elder

Source: www.bellanaija.com

Omoni Oboli would make a great Ms. Justineau.

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

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

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artwork: Sunnirin

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

Sooooo FUNNY:
Samantha Sweeting-The Undomestic Goddess

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

Who were YOUR favorite female characters of 2016?

–Eve Messenger

2016: Favorite Cover & New Fictional Crush

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

Favorite Book Cover of 2016

First, the nominees. . .

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

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

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New Fictional Crush

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

 

 

 

 

–Eve Messenger

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

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

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“New Favorite Author”

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

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

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“Biggest Reading Surprise of 2016”

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

— Eve Messenger

December Book Challenge: Days 1 and 2 #amreading

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

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

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

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“First Read of the Year”

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

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

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

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

–Eve Messenger

November Reads – End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

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Helloooo, fellow book junkies! You know what I’ve been noticing? A trend toward more classics being mentioned in YA blogs and posted about on Goodreads. Classic literature is magical, so I approve of this trend.

As for me, well, no classics this month (hypocrite, Eve), but I did enjoy reading a mix of genres–which, for me, translates to “not just YA fantasy.” As usual, most of the books I read were standalones–with the exception of books three and four of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, a series I began a month ago and just had to finish. Don’t you love when you find a delicious series you just can’t get enough of?

BOOKS I READ IN NOVEMBER:

YA Fantasy-Paranormal

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3) by Maggie Stievfater 391pp 5/5 stars

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater 5/5 stars

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather 368pp-kindle – The good: It’s written by the 11th great granddaughter of a Salem Witch Trials judge, and she compares bullying between the Puritan trials with modern-day high school. The Salem, Massachussetts setting is super interesting. The writing is not bad, but it’s got this weird internal narration the MC does throughout, like having to explain what’s really going on in her head every time she says, does, or encounters anything. Hard to explain. Check it out. The story’s got some good supsense but, yeah, that writing style, I’m not so sure about. 3.75/5 stars

The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge 410pp -Historical, gothic, disturbing, downright literary lines of prose. Unique worldbuilding. I’ll definitely read more books by Francis Hardinge. 5/5 stars

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison – All the things I liked: Loved the concept of a fairy godmother so ditzy she only gets to be called “fair.” The adorable cover. A strong opening. That the MC lives in Herndon, VA–pretty much my stomping grounds as a little girl. What I didn’t like: It read as MG, and at 165 pages in, I stopped caring. DNF.

YA Contemporary

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King 326pp – A.S. King is her own writer, through and through. Her books are unique, smart, and unconventional, and I just can’t put them down. As with most A.S. King books, this one has paranormal overtones and a certain darkness–maybe even despair–but is first and foremost a compelling and well-written YA contemporary. 5/5 stars

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen 304pp Netgalley ARC – I happened to read We are Still Tornadoes and Please Ignore Vera Dietz back to back and was surprised by  how similar their themes were (lifelong friendship between a girl and a boy) and how very differently they were told. Dietz is the dark side of the coin, Tornadoes is the light. Full review here  4/5 stars

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Amy Berkower/Writers House) 198pp audiobook – No light fare, this is one of those heart-wrenching, eye-opening, important stories I pray will be read by the people (victims and abusers) who need to see it. 4/5 stars

Wonder by R. J. Palacio audiobook – Half a million(!) people have a reviewed this book on Goodreads, and it still has a 4.41 rating. That’s pretty outstanding. Wonder was sweet and featured both YA & MG characters in an authentic way that developed a sort of “six degrees of separation” around the central character Auggie. A sweet story, another “important” story that I think I was supposed to get more choked up about but didn’t. 4/5 stars

Adult Contemporary-Humor

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella 404pp audiobook – I’m so glad I finally checked out Sophie Kinsella’s writing. What can I say? This book made me happy. XD  This fish- out-of-water story with a bit of romance thrown in (not too heavy-handed but a bit steamy) kept me grinning. Okay, and it reminded me to remember what’s important in life. That’s a good combination, right? 4/5 stars

Adult-Mystery

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac 320 pp Netgalley ARC – I’ve read many mystery and suspense novels, but it’s been a a while, so it was fun to get lost in a gripping mystery again. What made this one especially interesting was the behind-the-scenes look at television journalism from the insider perspective of writer Christina Kovac, who’s worked for years managing news rooms. Full review here 4/5 stars

Adult-Autobiography

Digging Deep in Volleyball and Life by Misty May Treanor – Once in a while it’s nice to add a dose of reality to my steady diet of fiction. As a big fan of women’s volleyball, Misty May is one of my idols, so it was interesting to read about her journey to gold superstardom (she also lives in my county–I know people who know her. :)) Shocker: Misty came super close to being named Desiree–which definitely doesn’t have the same ring as “Misty May.”

Shhh. . . let’s chat over here in this quiet corner for a moment so I can tell you. . . well. . .

There’s one more. . .um, thing? I read. I’m shy to admit  it because it was darn naughty, but it was also darn funny, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you I read. . .

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Happy holidays!

–Eve Messenger

The Bookish Scenarios Tag #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! I won’t lie; it was super challenging to narrow down each of these categories to just one book  (you know how it is, right, when you love so, so many books?). Everyone should try this book tag, though–it’s a fun one, so I hereby tag all of you! Thanks to Jess @ Blogging Everything Beautiful for telling me about it. 🙂

[1.] You have to get rid of all your books and you can only keep one from each of these genres – contemporary, fantasy, non-fiction and one other genre of your choosing. What books do you keep?

Contemporary: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Fantasy: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Non-Fiction: The Gypsies by Jan Yoors

Fantasy/Speculative: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

[2.] You’re at the bookstore and you hear a teenager telling their mom they don’t like to read, but their mom insists they pick something. You walk over and recommend a book you think is great for people who aren’t big on reading – what book is it?

I’d say, “Start easy with this amazingly awesome comic book, reluctant reader, and work your way up.”
Captain Marvel, vol. 1. by DeConnick and Lopez

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[3.] You’re not feeling yourself and need a pick me up. Which book do you read to put yourself in a great mood?

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. As scary as this novel gets at times, the main character Agnieszka is so full of love, there are great friendships, and the homespun (but very powerful) magic is a joy to read about.

[4.] You go back in time for a day to your childhood years. What book would you most likely have caught yourself reading?

I’d have to go with Fairy Tales from Around the World. It was a very old series I found in the far corner of our small-town school library. I haven’t run across it since, but in third grade I couldn’t get enough of it.

[5.] Your friend surprises you with a 4-day trip and you have 1 hour to pack. Which book do you bring to read on the way?

I’d pack my Kindle so I could choose from several books already loaded onto it: How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Geir, and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

[6.] Your house has been robbed! Don’t worry – everyone is safe, but your bookshelf has been raided. What’s the book you really hope is safe?

A Darker Shade of Magic, signed by V.E. Schwab at my very first book signing.

[7.] Your friend borrows a book and returns it in awful condition. Do you a) Just pretend you haven’t noticed b) Ask them to repurchase it or c) Secretly do the same to something of theirs?

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or d) Wonder what the heck happened to me that I would go back on a promise to myself–after many, many unreturned books–to never loan out books unless I’m okay with giving them as a gift.

–Eve Messenger