fiction

Best of 2016 – YA Standalones, Series, Authors, and More

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Hello, fellow book junkies and happy last day of 2016! Before launching into an exciting new year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the best YA books and authors I read in 2016. I surpassed my 100-book reading challenge by 18 books and met many five-star worthy reads but, ultimately, these are the books that left the most lingering impression. Here’s the best of 2016.

Favorite New Author

V.E./Victoria Schwab – Thank you, 2016, for introducing me to the writing genius of Victoria “V.E.”  Schwab. My gateway drug into Schwab ‘s amazing books was A Darker Shade of Magic, followed by: A Gathering of Shadows, Vicious, and This Savage Song. Oh, and I got to meet her at a book signing (my very first one). Yes, I am officially a Schwabling (at least I think that’s what they’re calling us diehard Schwab fans.)

Honorable mention: A.S. King – Her writing style is completely original and imaginative. I may not always love the plot, but I can’t get enough of her writing. I recommend starting with Reality Boy or Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

Favorite Series

Without question, my favorite series was The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater! It had everything: memorable characters, amazing writing, off-the-hook world-building, great plot twists. Once I started with The Raven Boys, I could not stop.

Books So Fun They Felt Like Reading Parties

Captain Marvel, vol. 1-6 by DeConnick and Lopez

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Best World-Building

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Honorable Mention: The Reader by Traci Chee

Favorite Indie Series

Mermaids of Eriana Kwai by Tiana Warner

Best Female Protagonist

Agnieszka from Uprooted by Naomi Novik. A complete original with a powerful gift for magic.

Honorable Mentions:
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Miss Justineau from The Girl With All the Gifts

Best Male Protagonist

Day from Legend by Marie Lu

Favorite New Book Boyfriend

Zach from Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld.

Best Setting

Alternate, modern world, czarist Russia from A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. Dreamy, wonderful, unforgettable.

Favorite Plot Twist

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Best Cover

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Most Devastating Read

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter. I usually avoid sad stories, but Kletter is stunningly talented, and this story about a broken girl really moved me.

Honorable mention: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Zentner got me good on this one. Tears were running down my cheeks before I fully realized what was happening.

Favorite Audiobook

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. Narrated in the best kind of wry, British style by Kathryn Kellgren. This fish out of water story made me laugh out loud, and the audiobook was perfect for listening to while putting around in the car.

Best Small Press Standalone

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It took a few chapters for things to come together, but once they did, there was no looking back.

The #1 Book No One Else Seems to Like But Me

The Graces by Laura Eve – I’m so glad I got a hold of this deliciously deadly, atmospheric book early on as a Netgalley ARC because otherwise I might have been turned off by the low 3.23 rating it currently has on Goodreads. Here’s to teen witches and morally ambiguous characters.

I would love to hear about YOUR favorite books of the year. To step up this challenge and give a massive New Year’s shout-out to bloggers who have brought so much bookish joy and friendship to my year, I hereby tag:

The Orang-utan Librarian

Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories

Amy @ Every Book You Need to Read and More

Danielle @ Books, Vertigo & Tea

Brittany @ The Grisha Lieutenant

Ann @ Ann’s Reading Corner

Amanda @ Cover2Cover Mom

Melanie Noell Bernard

Naz @ Read Diverse Books

Rae @ BookmarkChronicles

Jesalin @ Blogging Everything Beautiful

Beth @ Betwixt These Pages

Lila @ The Bookkeeper’s Secrets

Morgan @ Hopeless Book Addict

Jocelyn @ 52 Letters in the Alphabet

Kim @ By Hook or By Crook

Kelly Deeny
Elena Johansen
FamilyRules
Wallace Cass
Annika Perry
Pat Sherard
The Glitter Afficianado
Stephanie @ Eclectic Scribblings
Deby Fredericks
Nate Philbrick
Sabrina Marsi Books
Mackenzie Bates
Stephanie @ yourdaughtersbookshelf
Karen @ MyTrain of Thoughts
Erica @ Books the Thing
Beth @ Betwixt These Pages

 

December Flash Reviews

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Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, here’s a recap of the final books I read in the year 2016. Each book was super unique and there were lots of YA speculative genres represented: fantasy, time travel, sci-fi, paranormal, f/f, dystopia0, horror. The flash reviews are listed by how much I liked each book, leading down to two fabulous five-star reads at the end.

The Dreamcatcher by Barrett – YA paranormal,  F/F relationship, WOC main character. Dark magic influenced by Indigenous folklore (maybe). Adorable romance, but the paranormal element missed the mark. I’m getting nervous about reading books by YA authors who only go by one name. (See review for The 52nd by Dela).  3.5/5 stars

Side Jobs, Short Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher– This adult paranormal detective short story collection was recommended to me by my husband. Interesting concept. Funny, self-deprecating protagonist Harry Dresden is both a private detective and a warlock. The stories were entertaining until I lost interest about halfway through the book. Highlight: Murphy, the female non-magic police officer tiny in stature but with a big don’t-mess-with-me attitude. 3.75/5 stars

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – Eloquent, nightmarish, Russian YA fairy tale retelling set in Brooklyn. Weird is good but not always great.3.75/5 stars

Railhead by Philip Reed– Off-the-hook world-building. Intriguing concepts. Reminiscent of Red Rising, but the characters could have been stronger. 4/5 stars

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee –  YA superheroes and f/f romance. Entertaining, sweet, unique, entertaining–especially if you’re into superheroes. 4/5 stars

Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld – YA dystopian. There was hoverboarding, and gorgeous, stoic Zach is my new book boyfriend so, yes, I am perfectly content. 🙂 4/5 stars

Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs – Intriguing YA time travel/thriller featuring an amazing WOC main character who I rooted for like crazy.High on mystery/suspense, low on world-building. 4/5 stars

Ice Crypt (Mermaids of Erania Kwai #2) by Tiana Warner – YA paranormal filled with thrills and gills. Islander warrior girl befriends/falls in love with mermaid/sea demon warrior girl. Exciting, fascinating, adventurous. Loving this series. 5/5 stars

The Reader by Traci Chee – Officially one of my top eight favorite reads of 2016. This YA fantasy magic-adventure-fairy tale is engrossing and brilliantly structured with fantastic world-building, the kind of deliriously good book that whisks you away. Book two now, please. 5/5 stars

So long, books of 2016. Hello to all the new books to be read in 2017!

–Eve Messenger

The Truth about Diverse Books I Read in 2016

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

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

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

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

Books written by authors from minority backgrounds:

Angelfall by Susan Ee (Korean-American author)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books representing marginalized or underrepresented voices:

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (fat main character)

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

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

Timekeeper by Tara Sim (gay main character)

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

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

–Eve Messenger

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

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

The Raven Boys – I Finally Understand What the Hype is About #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies!

If you love dark, imaginative, splendidly written, modern YA fantasy/paranormal stories, you will love The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stievfater. The paranormal thrills are off the hook. And, oh, how we come to adore the wonderful, proud, reckless characters. And the moments, oh, the moments–like when Ronan writes “Remembered” on the car window–and so very many others.

Henrietta, Virginia makes for a fantastic setting, with its stretches of unvisited forest and turbulent blend of old-money, new-money, and no-money families. Stirring through all of this is the ley line with its vast psychic energy.

The Raven Cycle is atmospheric, constantly full of surprises, and is one of the most well-planned series I’ve read. Through each successive book, it becomes increasingly obvious that we’re being led into plot and character revelations by a master storyteller.

The intrigue continues unabated from The Raven Boys through The Dream Thieves and on to Blue Lily, Lily Blue. And now–for this reader–there is just one book in the series left to read, The Raven King. As excited as I am to delve into the final installment, I am simultaneously dreading it because after The Raven King there will be no more Blue, Ronan, Gansey, Noah, and Adam. No more Chainsaw screeching, “Kirah!” No more Mara, Calla, Persephone–the three savviest mediums around. No more chilling bad guys. No more Mr. Gray. No more adorable side characters like Jesse Dittley.

Now that I think about it, it is quite possible I am already beginning the process of mourning the end of The Raven Cycle. But, oh, what a thrilling literary ride it has been.

–Eve Messenger

ARC Review: THE CUTAWAY by Christina Kovac #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! A Goodreads friend really liked The Cutaway by Christina Kovac, so I ventured out of my YA zone and, crossing my fingers, requested an ARC on Netgalley. I got a copy (yay!), and totally enjoyed it. 🙂

The Cutaway is a fast-paced, engrossing adult mystery whose biggest strengths are its top-notch writing, a noble protagonist, and the many fascinating insights Kovac (a career journalist) shares about the world of television journalism.

The setting is Washington, D.C., known as “The District,” the protagonist Virginia Knightly, a newswoman with a painful past and a near-photographic memory. When a young female lawyer goes missing, Virginia vaguely recalls cutaway footage of the woman from years before. As Virginia pursues the story on this missing person investigation and uncovers why the elusive footage is important, she enters dangerous territory, both professionally and personally. But Virginia is not a woman to be trifled with–if anyone can compile a top news story while maintaining her integrity, Virginia will.

Though I guessed the villain’s identity a little earlier than I’d hoped I would, overall, the plot was suspenseful and solidly constructed. I’m definitely open to reading more books by Christina Kovac, and I predict The Cutaway will do well when it comes out in March 2017.

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— Eve Messenger

Halloween Book Tag!

Hello, fellow book junkies. ‘Tis the season to be spooky, so I’m super thankful to thegrishalieutenant for this awesome Halloween Book Tag! 

CARVING PUMPKINS-What book would you carve up and light on fire?

I’m mad at The Bone Witch for being so darn aimless, especially after I’d looked so forward to reading it.

TRICK OR TREAT – What character is a trick? What character is a treat?

For this category I chose two different blond guys. . .

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Eli Cardale from V.E. Schwab’s Vicious. Every character in this book is as morally ambiguous as can be, but Eli Cardale is one of the biggest dicks tricks.

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Treat

Matthias Helvar from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. This hunky blond from the icy north gives me the shivers in a good way.Definitely a treat.

CANDY CORN – What’s a book that’s always sweet?

Most books I read these days have somewhat of a dark edge, so I’ll have to reach way back into my reading history (and even farther back historically since this book was published in 1902!) for a riches to rags story I’ll never not be touched by: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

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GHOST – What character would you love to visit you as a ghost?

It might be interesting to be visited by the ghost of Karou from Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone. I think she’d show me interesting things.
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DRESSING UP IN COSTUME – What character would you want to be for a day?

I’d want to be Nimona from the graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, because Nimona gives a total of zero f–ks, and I would like to know what that feels like.
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WIZARDS AND WITCHES – What is your favorite Harry Potter moment?

When Harry Potter first takes the train to Hogwarts on track nine and three quarters and meets Ron and Hermione. It’s just so darn magical.

BLOOD AND GORE- What book was so creepy you had to take a break from it?

It’s a tie between these two books because the idea of pure, cold evil terrifies me like nothing else.

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Happy Halloween!

XOXO, Eve Messenger

I tag:
Jesalin @ –Blogging Everything Beautiful
Amy @ Every Book You Need to Read and More
Britt @ Geronimo Reads
Orang-utan Librarian
Emma the Book Lover
Caitlyn @ Rhodes of Reading
Amanda @ Cover2CoverMom
Alyssa @ Alyssa is Reading
Cinderzena @ Cinderzena Blogs
Jessica @ The Mud and Stars Book Blog