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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BEST YA DEBUT NOVELS of 2016. Author Q&A: Roshani Chokshi – The Star-Touched Queen

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Happy February, fellow book lovers! Ah, February. . . the month of love, what better time to do something extra special to honor one of our greatest loves, young adult fiction? Every Tuesday in the month of February I’ll be posting interviews with authors of 2016’s best YA debut novels–yes, BEST YA debut novels, meaning every book has ALL the earmarks of a MUST-READ:

  • compelling premise
  • unforgettable characters
  • lyrical and/or voice-y writing style
  • a speculative/fantasy element (yes, I am admittedly biased)
  • and a pretty cover. 🙂

Today’s Must-Read Debut YA Author is. . .

The about-to-become-very-famous Roshani Chokshi (“Rosh” to her friends).  She’s talented, gorgeous (half-Indian and half-Filipina!), and one of the nicest people in the world.

Roshani at ALA Midwinter Conference

The Book:

The Star-Touched Queen is set for release in April 2016. In case you can’t wait to start reading, St. Martin’s Press plans to release a teaser of the first several chapters in March!

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Why The Star-Touched Queen is a must-read:

Indian mythology, gorgeous writing style, wildly imaginative world-building (trees that bear memories instead of fruit!?), and a cover so beautiful it feels like stepping into a dream.

The Interview:

Eve:   Roshani, YA fans are already talking about your gorgeous Pinterest page. Where did you find such beautiful pictures to represent The Star-Touched Queen?

RC: Thank you! I guess I got ridiculously lucky on Pinterest. But I also typed in strange things in the search box, like, “gothic jeweled fruit” and “bloody hands.” You’ll get some interesting stuff…

Eve:  What made you fall in love with your novel?

RC: I love this question! I fell in love with it because of its ease. It’s not a new story. It’s threaded with a thousand and one familiar tales, from fairytales to folklore all across the world. But what made me so excited about writing it was tweaking little things and pushing the worldbuilding farther.

Eve:  Are you planning a book tour? If so, what is a question you hope someone asks?

RC: Not sure yet! I know we’re doing a blog tour, and I’m very excited for that. I hope someone asks me what my job would be in the wizarding (and witches!) world of Harry Potter.

Eve:  Now I have to ask. . . What would your job be in the wizarding world of Harry Potter?

RC: I would love to be MINISTER OF MAGIC!!!  Thank you for asking. 🙂

EveThe publishing industry is a notoriously slow-moving machine. From writing to publication, how long was the “birthing” process of your book? What have some of the highlights been?

RC: From writing to sale…about two years. The highlights have been working with my agent and editor who have been incredible champions throughout all my doubts, rewrites and crazy revision ideas.

Eve:  Many YA writers also seem to be music lovers. Did you create a playlist for your novel and, if so, what are some of the songs on it?

RC: Yes! “Satellite” by Guster, “Nagada Sang Dhol” from the Bollywood film Ram-Leela and, don’t laugh, “679” by Fetty Wap. My brain is a many-fangled beast…
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EveYour eclectic song choices make me want to read the book even more! Speaking of music, YA authors Libba Bray, Natalie Standiford, Barnabas Miller, and Daniel Ehrenhaft have been known to perform at publishing industry events with their band, Tiger Beat. If you were in an authors band, what instrument would you play?

RC: Glass harmonica. It’s just so strange. I must possess it.


Eve:  I LOVE the glass harmonica. Great pick. . .  What are some books you recently read that you loved?

RC: UPROOTED by Naomi Novik recently ate my soul (in the best way possible) and I also loved RADIANCE by Catherynne Valente.

Eve:  Having an online presence is a big deal for writers. How do you balance writing and social media?

RC: I think putting my phone on Do Not Disturb has been the most helpful. Maybe it’s just me, but I  can get anxious on social media. So, if I’m not careful, it can take up way more hours of my day than it should.

EveIn the early days of crafting your novel, were you shy about sharing what you’d written with others?

RC: Very much!!! But that’s part of the beauty of writing. We want it to be read, seen and felt. So taking that first step with beta readers and critique partners is a wonderful and terrifying moment.

Eve:  Do you have a critique group and, if so, how did you find them?

RC: Yes. I found them on sites like Ladies Who Critique or Twitter!

Eve:  Your novel has such an evocative title. Who came up with the title, The Star-Touched Queen? Was this the same title you used when querying agents?

RC: When I queried agents, I used the title “THE GLASS GARDEN.” After signing with my agent, we sold the book when it was titled THE BRIDE OF DUSK AND GLASS. AFTER selling, we changed it to THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN thanks to the geniuses over at MacMillan.

Eve:  What’s your typical writing schedule? Do you reward yourself for meeting writing goals?

RC: I try to get most of my writing done in the morning-early afternoon. The light in myRoshani Chokshi fave reward cadbury bar favorite room is at its softest, and it makes me feel deliciously inspired. I do reward myself! Every 1k gets me half a Cadbury bar. I do, however, frequently break these rules…what are rules for after all…

Eve:  Many writers have dark moments while working on their novels, times when they’re not sure they’ll ever finish. If you encountered hurdles like this, how did you overcome them?

RC: When I get this way (and it does happen), I read my favorite books. I return to the worlds of Neil Gaiman, Laini Taylor and Catherynne Valente. I let them guide me back to why I love writing.

Eve:  Was there any particular epiphany you had while writing your novel when you said to yourself, “Hey, I can do this. I’m going to publish this thing.”

RC: No, actually! And I WISH I DID! When I finished TSTQ, there was a great surge of “wow. I did the thing!” But that was what I was celebrating. Not the idea that I could actually find it on bookshelves one day.

Eve:  Lately, YA book lovers seem to be saying there is an overemphasis on romance in YA fiction. What are your thoughts on this?

RC: I love reading romance in YA. But I don’t think it’s critical to a plot. There are some books, like SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, which deftly handle characterization and takes the focus away from the characters’ romantic entanglements. Other beautiful books, like ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS by Sarah McCarry, have romance but focus on the friendship and the experience of growing. I have no problem with romance, but I personally prefer books where romance is not the ONLY motivation for the character.

Eve:  Who are some of your favorite fictional characters and why?

RC: Howl, from HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE because he was vain and wonderful and my first serious book boyfriend.     Howl from Howl's Moving Castle

Kaye, from Holly Black’s TITHE because she was fierce and gritty.      Kaye from Tithe

Razgut, from Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy because he was pitiful and deranged and wildly funny.

 

Eve:  What’s something you really hope people say after they read your novel?

RC: I hope they forget they were reading. I hope they think they’ve tasted fairy fruit and fallen in love and spent time wandering through Otherworldly palaces.

Eve: Best of luck to you, Roshani. Ever since I read your short story, The Star Maiden, in Shimmer magazine, I knew you’d be a great success. Thank you for all your fantastic answers to my questions.

RC: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about writing. I deeply appreciate it.

Eve: Where can your fans reach you?

RC: Pretty much everywhere!