literature

February Reads. End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! This month’s flash reviews will each be accompanied by a complaint. Yes, even for a five-star book. Why? Because I’m feeling ornery–and, yes, I did use the word ‘ornery.’ Happy reading!  XOXO, Eve Messenger

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson  YA fantasy – I’m so glad I finally got a chance to read this book. There’s a sort of love triangle. The main character Lia is a snowflake. Wait, that doesn’t sound good. But this book was so fun to read, thanks to Pearson’s excellent writing skills, imaginative world-building, and strong characters. Complaint: the ending was too abrupt. 4.75/5 stars

Hold Still by Nina Lacour YA contemporary– There is something both bold and gentle about Lacour’s writing style, and I could read it all day long. Read Hold Still if you like A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Complaint: The photography teacher is a bitch. 4/5 stars

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen  adult historical A college student in the Depression-era Midwest loses everything and winds up working in a circus. Rosie the elephant is a superstar. Main character Jacob Jankowski is hugely likeable. The historical details are well-researched. Complaint: I’m not convinced Jacob’s old-man-reflecting-back-on-the-past chapters were necessary to the plot. 4/5 stars

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin YA historical Outstanding writing, interesting concept, memorable main character with a very unique ability. (Full Goodreads review here.) Complaint: Yael’s inner thoughts sometimes veer toward melodrama. 4/5 stars

DNF – The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick -adult historical mystery  Sadly, my affinity for books with “girl” in the title failed me here. Netgalley has been the source of many good books, but this was not one of them. My favorite thing about this book is the pretty cover. The Girl Who Knew Too Much had too much telling, not enough showing. I never got into the characters–or past chapter five. Complaint: I decided to read this book.

The Girl with the Lower back Tattoo by Amy Schumer –celebrity autobiography audiobook – Beneath that bawdy comic exterior, Amy has plenty of depth and intelligence, and she isn’t afraid to express it in her book. Well done. Complaint: Amy occasionally gets preachy. 4.25/5 stars

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – adult contemporary  This book is a brilliant character study, a must-read. Often humorous, A Man Called Ove opens the door to the world of suburban Sweden. One-of-a-kind character Ove (whose name is apparently pronounced oo-vay, which I didn’t learn until I’d read all 337 pages thinking it was ove like “stove”) and the entire cast of diverse characters comes alive under the masterful pen of Fredrik Backman and translator Henning Koch.  Complaint: Ove acts like he’s 90, not 59. 5/5 stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham – celebrity autobiography audiobook Lauren Graham seems just as sweet in her book as she does in her interviews and the characters she plays. She is a good writer, but. . . Complaint: Lauren Graham is too sweet to reveal anything riveting about her life or career.

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January Reads – End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! I’m afraid in January I only managed to read five books. It was kind of interesting, though, how my two favorite characters  both turned out to be animals. Sure, there were lots of interesting fae and human characters–like complex Rhysand from ACOTAR and saintly Joan of Arc from Mark Twain’s book–but the real stars of January were:

  • Corr, the feral, ferocious mythical water horse from Maggie Stievfater’s The Scorpio Races (check out what he does at the end of the book–it’s amazing); and
  • Mischievous, smiley, long-suffering Rosie the elephant from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

JANUARY FLASH REVIEWS

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas-YA Fantasy. I finally got around to discovering what a rich, fascinating, magical world Sarah J. Maas has created with this series. I found myself really liking protagonist Feyre Archeron for her bravery, hot temper, and resourcefulness at teaching herself the skills she needs to survive and keep her impoverished family alive. Oh, does Feyre hate the Fae, which of course makes for great drama when she is forced to live among them. I’m not sure if I loved the plot decision at the end, but I am definitely down to read book two. 4.5/5 stars

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, vol. I  by Mark Twain – This classic novel is the first of hopefully many more e-books I’ll be downloading for FREE from Project Gutenburg If you haven’t already, check out Project Gutenberg. You’ll find tons of old books that have fallen out of copyright and can be downloaded right onto your eReader. Apparently, of all of Mark Twain’s books, Recollections of Joan of Arc was his personal favorite. He spent twelve years researching it! Joan of Arc is, of course, an unforgettable character. In this fictionalized account of Joan’s life told from the POV of a childhood friend, Twain weaves in his trademark sarcasm and ingenious insights into human nature, as well as some of the best dialogue of any writer ever. We learn about elusive, earnest, mystical Joan of Arc, and shake our heads at the antics of her friends and countrymen who come to believe, like Joan does, that God means for the French–against all odds–to win against the English. 4.25/5 stars

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater-YA paranormal – The Scorpio Races is a song of a book that’s flowing and lyrical, and maybe just a touch slow-paced. The love story is enthralling because each person in the relationship is their own brave, utterly competent, strong-willed soul from an island that breeds them that way. The mythological water horses are haunting and memorable, especially Sean Kendrick’s mount, Corr. 4.25/5 stars

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick-audiobook – Cute, humorous, and unflinchingly honest, this autobiography was read by the author herself, Anna Kendrick, who reads really, really fast. 4/5 stars

The Abyss Surrounds Us (The Abyss Surrounds Us #1) by Emily Skrutskie – This YA post-apocalyptic pirate adventure is one of several YA books I’m reading that feature f/f and/or fem bi characters. I found myself much more drawn to pirate girl Swift than to the main character Cassandra Leung, probably because Cassandra’s motivations weren’t always believable. Still, there’s no doubt Emily Skrutskie is a skillful writer. The Abyss Surrounds Us is one of those debut novels that noticeably improves as it goes along, and I look forward to seeing what Skrustkie comes up with for the next installment in this series. 3.75/5 stars

–Eve Messenger

It’s Raining Books, Hallelujah!

Hi, fellow book junkies! What a great feeling it is when a bunch of great books suddenly come raining in. By mail, library, and Netgalley, all of the following books arrived this week, and I’m like a kid in a candy store gazing gleefully at the pretty stack they make on my nightstand.  😀

The Reader by Traci Chee –Lushly told YA fantasy about a girl living in a world where reading is forbidden. Read an excerpt here.

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Timekeeper by Tara Sim Netgalley ARC – Gay clocktower mechanic boy. Magic clock mysteriously missing 2 o’clock. I’ve had my eye on this book since hearing about it almost a year ago, and I’m so grateful to have been approved for the ARC.

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My Lady Jane by Hand, Ashton, & Meadows –This lighthearted historical YA novel apparently gets a bit experimental (or maybe just plain cheeky?) The authors occasional break the fourth wall and have their Victorian characters lapse into 21st century slang. I’m intrigued.

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge – Blogger friends tell me the writing in this is so good. Then when Cover2Cover Mom mentioned The Lie Tree also has a dark edge, I ran right out and got it. Oh, and then the librarian told me it won some kind of award. Bonus.

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Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu – Legend was such a fun read that I had to find out what Day and June get up to in the next book, Prodigy. A prodigal investigator vs. a prodigal criminal–June and Day’s dynamic is incredible.

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Currently reading:

Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Eloquent prose–check. Pleasant Irish setting–check. Intriguing plot idea–check. However, the story doesn’t really catch fire until around page 160. I hear there’s a good plot twist, so I’m hanging in there.

Last but not least. . .

Dear book-loving friend, for taking the time to read all the way down to the end of this post, here is a little treat for you. (Remember to replace the word “men” with “books.”)  XOXO Eve Messenger

July Reading Wrap-Up & the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies!  I’ll say it right out, July was a total hodgepodge of reading, and somehow I read a record number of books: 16–too many to review in one wrap-up, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Surprise Faves

I’m one of those people who can’t watch violence of any kind. If a character on television is being beaten or stabbed, my hands are clamped firmly over my eyes until a family member says it’s safe to remove them. That is why it came as a surprise that two of the most entertaining books I read this month–Ice Massacre and Red Risingalso happen to be the most violent. In Ice Massacre, a band of island girls battle mermaid-sea demons.See my review here. As for Red Rising, I didn’t mind that the story of godlike military academy cadets battling each other on Mars was heavily influenced by Hunger Games. What did give me pause was the contrived reason for their barbaric battles. But guess what? I still enjoyed the book– kind of like crushing on a bad boy you know you shouldn’t have feelings for.

July 2016 violent but entertaining Ice Massacre & Red Rising

And The Award for Most Haunting Book Goes to. . .

There’s this thing I like to call the “linger effect,” when a book haunts me long after I’ve finished reading it. That’s what happened with The Walls Around Us, penned by the queen of atmospheric writing, Nova Ren Suma. In The Walls Around Us there’s a cutthroat ballet dancer, violent girls in a detention center, paranormal happenings, and just. . . can someone give this book a better cover, please?

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Off-the Hook Writing & the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle

Three books this month that featured notably exceptional writing were This Savage Song,  Station Eleven, and Reality Boy.

I have no qualms about declaring Victoria V.E. Schwab as my favorite author. I even say it right out on my blog’s “about me” page. V’s books transcend genre, and This Savage Song is no exception. I just adore the monster boy August. (Note to publishers of Nova Ren Suma’s book: THIS is how to do a good cover. . .)

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Then there was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Literary post-apocalyptic ? Sign me up. There is a reason this beauty won a National Book Award. In St. John Mandel’s expert hands, the story kept morphing in unexpected ways.

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Here’s where we get to the part about the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle. On a whim, I picked up the YA contemporary Reality Boy and was blown away by A.S. King’s writing. “Reality Boy” is 17-year-old Gerald who’s enraged and damaged by his seriously dysfunctional family and how his home life was broadcast on a reality show when he was a little boy. I tried looking up other A.S. King books on Goodreads and, no matter how I typed her name, with or without initials, neither she nor her books came up. Thus, I have determined that A.S. King resides in the Bermuda Triangle of Goodreads. Okay, so I found a workaround, and the next A.S. King book I plan to read is Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Great title, right?

A Book That Hurt My Brain (in a Good Way) but Didn’t Touch My Heart Like I Thought it Would

A book that stretched my brain–not always painlessly–was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? This adult memoir penned by well-known UK author Jeanette Winterson was loaned to me by a friend who raved about how Winterson so eloquently expresses the condition of being an adoptee (which both my friend and I are). The poetry and classic literature Winterson weaves into Why Be Happy made me feel smarter.  🙂
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Disappointments

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – I’m actually kind of mad at this book. I went into it with high expectations. I mean, it was made into a movie, right? Everyone knows about it. It must be amazing, right? Well, the writing style is decent, and the story does introduce us to the beautiful culture Afghanistan, but the whiny, ungrateful, traitorous main character and the melodrama turned me off.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – Rich world building, mythical creatures, tons of characters with exotic names, Japanese cultural influences (bonus!), best of all, the main character Tea has the dark power to raise the dead–including her brother Fox (my favorite character). What I didn’t realize when I started the The Bone Witch is that it is the highest of high fantasy–not my favorite genre. For me, genre isn’t a deal breaker but never connecting with the main character is. And I didn’t.

Sleeper Hit

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman – It’s not perfect but well worth reading.
Goodreads synopsis: When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

July Reads At a Glance w/Star Ratings

YA PARANORMAL
Red Glove (Curse Workers #2) by Holly Black audiobook 4/5 stars
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma 4/5 stars
Inborn by Amy Saunders approx. –Netgalley ARC 3/5 stars
The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman  4/5 stars
Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner –Netgalley ARC 5/5 stars
(Secret Project) by Megan Crewe  –by author request, not allowed to post review until August.

YA HIGH FANTASY
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco-Netgalley ARC 3/5 stars

YA DYSTOPIAN FANTASY, or whatever the f*** brilliant new genre V.E. Schwab decides she’s writing
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab 4/5 stars

MIDDLE GRADE FAIRY TALE
The Wishing Spell, Land of Stories #1 by Chris Colfer  loaner from friend 2.5/5 stars

YA SCI-FI DYSTOPIAN
Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4/5 stars

YA CONTEMPORARY
Reality Boy by A.S. King 4/5 stars
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews audiobook 3.75/5 stars
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins buddy read w/Beth, Sophie, Emma @ The Books Are Everywhere 4/5 stars

ADULT POST-APOCALYPTIC
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 4.5/5 stars

ADULT CONTEMPORARY
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini audio book 3/5 stars

ADULT MEMOIR
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson  loaner from friend  3.75/5 stars

— Eve Messenger

What’s Your Favorite Kind of Bookmark? #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! I popped into my blog today to spark a bit of discussion about bookmarks.

One of my favorite types of bookmarks are the homemade kind. A friend of mine drew an amazing bookmark for herself. It’s folded into four panels. On each panel is a Pegasus representing each of the four elements so, for instance, the Pegasus of fire has flames rising from its wings, etc. I covet that bookmark so much. I’ve dropped hints but. . .

If I were a better artist, I’d probably make myself a four-fold bookmark of Kell from ADSOM wearing each of four different coats.

Then again, I lose bookmarks like cuh-razy, so I’m probably better off not investing too much time and money into them. Still, it’s fun to have pretty and unique bookmarks to choose from. Lately the bookmarks I use the most include:

  • the bookmark I bought from a local museum–I would show you a picture of it but, I kid you not, I can’t find it right now. That’s how bookmarks and I roll.
  • whatever slips of paper are randomly lying around when I decide to close my book.

What kinds of bookmarks do you like to use? Do you receive lots of bookmarks as gifts? Are you one of those people who never needs a bookmark because you can always remember what page you left off on?

“My Intimidating TBR” Tag & A New YA Release I’m Dying to Read

My new friend, Sean @ KingdomBookBlog, gave me a fabulous reason to think about books by tapping me for this “My Intimidating TBR” book tag. If you would like to join in the fun, please consider yourself tagged!

1.) What book have you been unable to finish?

I’m sorry to say my only DNF of the past year was a book many people adore, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

2.) What book have you yet to read because you just haven’t had the time?

So many books fall into this category! I’ll go with Legend by Marie Lu because I really want to read it! In fact, it’s been sitting in a TBR stack right here on my desk beside where I’m typing at this very moment, but poor Legend hasn’t made it to the top yet.

Legend (Legend, #1)

3.) What book have you yet to read because it’s a sequel?

I don’t think my blog would be my blog if I didn’t mention V.E. Schwab in at least every other post so, yes, the book I read because it was a sequel was A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. 🙂

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4.) What book have you yet to read because it’s a new release?

If I positively can’t wait to read a new release, I do this silly thing called BUY THE BOOK. However, there is a new book I’m dying to read but can’t since it’s not scheduled for release until September 2016–The Reader by Traci Chee. Protagonist Sefia vows to save her kidnapped relative, but rescue means learning to read in a world where literacy is forbidden.  A sample chapter is available here–you’ll need to scroll past several other sample chapters to get to it.

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5.) What book have you yet to read because you read a book by the same author and didn’t like it?

I can’t remember a specific book I went out of my way to avoid because it was written by an author whose writing I didn’t care for.

6.) What book have you yet to read because you aren’t in the mood?

Hmm, good question. Probably The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks. It’s the kind of whimsical, fantastical, well-written story I would enjoy, but something about the dense typeface gives me pause.

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7.) What book have you yet to read because it’s humongous?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. At 579 pages it isn’t ridiculously long, but I’m a little on the fence about reading it–if it were shorter I would fall off the fence on the side of reading it. 🙂

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8.) What book have you yet to read because it was a cover buy with bad reviews?

I adore pretty book covers but don’t buy books purely based on them.

9.) Which book on your TBR is the most intimidating to you?

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)

–Eve Messenger

Devastating & Beautiful – The First Time She Drowned

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The First Time She Drowned is the first book I’ve read in a long time that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t put it down. It drew me in with some of the most beautiful prose of any YA book I’ve ever read, and the plot is structured in such  a way that it keeps you guessing all the way through. Pretty clear clues are given early on as to a pivotal event in Cassie’s life, so the revelation isn’t a big surprise and it doesn’t need to be.

Written by former Hollywood actress Kerry Kletter, The First time She Drowned is a brilliant YA contemporary debut novel, but be warned that the protagonist Cassie endures genuine cruelty, the kind of cruelty that may be devastatingly familiar to you, the kind that may cause you to have to process the feelings it evokes. Too often, books exploit traumatic experiences for the sake of compelling plot lines. This book doesn’t do that. The First Time She Drowned doesn’t exist to aggravate old wounds; it gets blood flowing to emotional injuries so we can heal.

Rating: 5 stars

–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

 

 

 

 

Library-Hopping Adventure #amwriting #amreading

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Huntington Beach Public Library – As an elementary school student, I used to ride my bike here and spend the afternoon reading books and magazines.

For a huge book nerd like me, libraries are a retreat, a sanctuary even. Sometimes, like today, a library can even be an adventure. Some libraries are tiny, old, and in need of fresh paint. Others are vast, with elevators, conference rooms, fancy patrons’ plaques on the wall, row after row of study carrels, sometimes with gardens and statuary on the grounds outside. As long as friendly books line the walls, I’m happy; I feel safe.

When I have time, I like to leave the house to write. With fewer distractions and a deliberate plan that includes getting dressed up and packing supplies (laptop, bottled water, sometimes notes), I usually accomplish a lot more. In the evenings and early mornings, I’ll write at Starbucks, but libraries are my preferred destination. Usually I write in our awesome, recently remodeled local library or sometimes at the university library a 15-minute walk from home. On the weekends, I might visit the regional library in the next city where a friend works as a children’s librarian.

I live 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, but today I happened to be in a coastal town called Corona del Mar. I had my laptop with me, so after completing my errand I decided to go on a little writing adventure to a library I’d never visited before. Thanks to Siri, it was easy to find the nearest library just a couple of miles away. I took the elevator up to the second floor and set up my laptop in a cozy alcove near a window overlooking a perfect Southern California day. A short while later a woman joined me in the alcove. She tapped away at her laptop, too, and it was nice to have writerly company.

I had so much fun today on my mini-adventure to a new library that now I want to library-hop every week. Maybe, with each new library I write in, I’ll take a picture and post it on my blog.

–Eve Messenger