September Reads. End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! In September I had the pleasure of reading ten novels and, though a couple came close, not a single one was a five-star read. Whether that’s a reflection of the books or of me as a reader (returning to work this month was a definite distraction), is hard to say. Every book had strengths and memorable moments. Here’s a recap . . .

YA Paranormal / Urban Fantasy

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin – Creepy in a good way, original (and humid) Miami setting. 4/5 stars

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater – Part of what makes me love a book is getting to enter a brilliantly wrought world with outstanding characters. The Dream Thieves had this. So did the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, which I was so enamored with that maybe it was hard to love the second book as much. The Dream Thieves is still great and made me definitely want to read the rest of the series. Since one of my favorite characters is Blue, I’m especially looking forward to the third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. 4.5/5 stars

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older 304pp – Brooklyn girl gets caught in a world of ancient spirits who come alive out of painted murals. Intriguing concept, bold characters. 4/5 stars

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey Strong writing (author Melissa Grey graduated from Yale) but the plot’s too reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone. 3.75/5 stars

YA Contemporary-Mental Illness

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Much funnier than I expected. Creative writing style, but not a super memorable plot. Saw the twist coming a mile away. 4/5 stars

YA Fantasy Romance

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh I go into every book with an open mind, but since romance isn’t my favorite genre maybe this wasn’t the right book for me. Disappointing. 3.5/5 stars

YA Suspense

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes  – Gifted teenagers help the FBI track serial killers. Enjoyable characters, interesting premise. I’ve read many suspense novels, so my standards are pretty high and this one was a bit predictable. Still a fun read. 3.75/5 stars

Adult Sci-Fi Horror

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch Vividly imagined, quick read, (almost too) screenplay-ready. Memorable story! 4/5 stars

Adult Romance-Humor

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion audiobook Joyful, often hilarious story of a professor with Aspergers who’s on a mission to find a wife. Cleverly written–I love how the MC is often the unintentional superhero of the story. Rosie is a fun character, too. 4/5 stars

Adult Historical-Empowered Women

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier audiobook  In the early 19th century, two bright women from different social classes bond over fossil hunting–in the early days when extinct dinosaurs were still thought to be giant crocodiles. Based on a true story. 4.25/5 stars

–Eve Messenger

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ARC Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Let me start by saying that, even though I’m not big into vampires, Certain Dark Things was a unique and thoroughly entertaining read. This YA paranormal thriller is told from alternating viewpoints of Atl, a naïve young female vampire who’s illegally entered the vampire-free zone of near-future Mexico City; Domingo, a homeless Mexican teen; and Ana, a tough Mexico City cop.

The tenuous balance between humans and vampires, as well as clashes between vampire families and drug cartels, make for an action-packed story. However, the most compelling aspect becomes the relationship between Atl and Domingo. Domingo’s awkward courtship of Atl is genuinely sweet, i.e., this passage told from Domingo’s POV:

“Yeah. I know how it goes. I used to have a girlfriend but that’s not the case anymore,” he told her because he figured it sounded like the mature thing to say. He was attempting to go for “aloof” and “sophisticated,” like they said in the magazines.

World-building is a tricky thing. It can come across as info dumps, which it does early on in this book. However, by chapter 14 the story totally drew me in, and I didn’t want to leave the world and characters.

Moreno-Garcia has a strong writing style. Though in a couple of places descriptions went on a bit long, making me impatient to return to the story, for the most part the descriptions were excellent; for example, this one about the Mexico City district of Colonia Roma:

It was a place for sophisticated older people and hip young ones, with magnificent trees and faded mansions, a taco stand here and there to remind you it was not quite the Belle Époque and you were still in Mexico City.

The Revenant vampire Bernardino is an UNFORGETTABLE character. I also really liked Mexico City cop/single mom Ana. Armed with knowledge gained from listening to her grandmother’s folktales, Ana is one of the only humans in Mexico City with expertise on how to take down vampires. To give you an idea of Ana’s fiery attitude, here’s how she describes a sexist male coworker: “. . . skinny fucker with his cheap tie and his monumental indifference.”

I appreciated Moreno-Garcia’s subtle characterizations, like this one conveying how Atl begins to open up to Domingo. It’s simple but so effective.

He kicked the can in her direction and she kicked it back.

Lastly, don’t skip the glossary at the end. Moreno-Garcia clearly put a lot of research into the story, and it’s interesting to read about the different vampire species from all over the world, their habits, and social structures.

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August Reads–End of Month Wrap-Up #amreading

August 2016 Reads - final

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, August was filled with lots of good books (including one 5-star read) and, apparently, many yellow book covers (see picture above).

“Girl” Books 

Yes, I am a sucker for any book with “girl” in the title. Here are two more.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey This adult, zombie horror/sci-fi story was a thrilling and unsettling ride. The little girl is. . . unlike any character I’ve ever read. Warning: this is no shiny-happy book. Highlight: Unconventional, strong-willed, kind-hearted Miss Justineau is now one of my all-time favorite characters.  4.5/5 stars

Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes YA contemporary. As a young girl, protagonist Maguire escaped unscathed from a car accident that killed her brother, dad, and uncle, so she now believes she’s a jinx. If you’re in the mood for a very sweet romance, this is the book for you. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s solidly written with a lot of heart. 3.5/5 stars

Netgalley ARCs

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedotti  Main character Hawthorn Creely comes across as a bored, annoyed, teenage Amelia Bedelia, with a first person POV that didn’t quite work for me. Hawthorn believes popular girl, Lizzie Lovett, disappeared because she turned into a werewolf. Or maybe Hawthorn doesn’t believe that. Or maybe that whole story line falls by the wayside. Highlight: Hawthorn’s mom’s old hippy friends decide to camp out in her backyard. 3/5 stars

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-GarciaHonestly, it took a few chapters for me to get into it, but by chapter 14 I didn’t want to leave this well-written, well-researched YA paranormal set in near-future Mexico City. Though I’m not into vampires (I’m more of a witches gal), Moreno’s clever take on vampires is so compelling. The Revenant vampire was UNFORGETTABLE. 4.5/5 stars

Hype-Worthy Books I Finally(!) Read

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater  At last, I am not the only YA book lover in the world who hasn’t read The Raven Boys. The rating I give it is (*drum roll, please*). . . FIVE STARS. Yes! Fully realized characters, friendship, magic, an Old Virginia setting that’s a character in itself, eccentric fortune tellers/witches–I just loved everything about this book and cannot wait to read the rest of the series. 5/5 stars

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – The Winner’s Curse is a winner! It’s got everything–flawless writing, strong world-building, and the ultimate in star-crossed lovers. 4.5/5 stars

Audiobook

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Highly entertaining and action-packed, I had so much fun reading this book. The world building is fantastic and main character Wade/Perzival is really likable. James Halliday is a futuristic Willie Wonka who promises his $2 billion fortune to the first gamer to finds the Easter egg in Halliday’s virtual reality world. Narrated by Wil Wheaton (“Wesley” from Star Trek Voyager). 4.5/5

Others

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King. How could I resist reading a book with this amazing title?  King’s excellent writing style did not disappoint. The plot wasn’t always strong, but this book paid off big-time by the end–such thought-provoking ideas! Overall, I preferred her book Reality Boy  but am addicted to King’s writing and will absolutely keep reading her books. 3.5/5

Summer Days and Summer Nights– In this entertaining and varied short story collection edited by Stephanie Perkins, YA writers–including big names like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, and Cassandra Clare–contributed stories with a summer love theme. The story that blew me away was Nina Lacour’s The End of Love . It was flawless and made me definitely want to check out Lacour’s other work. (I think I’ll start with Hold Still.4/5 stars

Happy reading, everyone!

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

May Reads 2016 #amreading

May Reads 2016 Final

Hello, fellow book junkies!  I can’t recall the last time I read eleven books in a single month, so May might just be a new record.This month also rang in my first exposure to Netgalley ARCs, which included The Graces, a book I really enjoyed, and The 52nd, a book I really didn’t.

Is there a word that encompasses comics, manga, and graphic novels? “Graphic narrative,” perhaps? Whatever the term, I read three of them this month, a personal trend kicked off this year by my fabulous blogger friend Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories recommending the 2015 female version of Captain Marvel, which I adored. Carolyn is funny and so, so smart when it comes to books, so I hope you get a chance to check out her blog.

Here are the books I read in May:

YA DYSTOPIAN

Legend by Marie Lu
How has Legend not been made into a movie or TV series yes?!  I read it, loved it, and can’t wait to get my hands on the other books in the trilogy. “Day” is everything. 5 stars

YA FANTASY-PARANORMAL

The Graces by Laure Eve Netgalley ARC
Well written, atmospheric, and dark, this is the tale of a new girl in town who longs to be accepted by the Graces, three witch siblings who are the most popular kids in high school. Bonus points for the English seaside setting. Expected publication date: September 2016.  Goodreads review.  5 stars.

The White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black Audio book
Cassel is the only non-magical son of a family of con-artist magic workers. Entertaining, with excellent world-building. The audio book was narrated by Jesse Eisenberg, whose reading style isn’t my favorite. I’ll read the next book in the series, The Red Glove, the old-fashioned way. 4 stars.

The 52nd Netgalley ARC
Immortal Aztec demigods attempt to save a mortal girl from an ancient curse. Oh, what potential this story had, but the silly, rambling tale just didn’t work. Goodreads review. 2 (generous) stars.

YA CONTEMPORARY

The Art of Being Normal by Elizabeth Williamson Netgalley ARC
“Two boys. Two secrets.” In The Art of Being Normal, we get a taste of what life might be like in a London low-rent district similar to the NYC projects. More importantly, we get to view the world through the eyes of two sympathetic, believable high school students trying to be true to themselves. Yes, there are heartbreaking moments, but ultimately this is an uplifting story about what people can accomplish when they believe in one another and themselves.  Goodreads review. 5 stars.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews Audiobook
There are a ridiculous number of F bombs and explicit sexual descriptions littered throughout this book. That being said, the adventure this band of jazz camp dropouts goes on is totally entertaining. Writer Jesse Andrews is genuinely funny and totally gets what it’s like to be in a band. Narrated by excellent, fast (!) reader Michael Crouch, whose impressive narrating credits also include The Serpent King, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Salt to the Sea, and Magonia. 4 stars.

ADULT FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION/PARANORMAL

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Good guys? Bad guys? Who cares? Enjoy Schwab’s morally conflicted ride, with characters unlike any you’ve read before. 5 stars.

YA HISTORICAL

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This moving story sure did make me cry at the end. The plot is so smart. And, oh, what a great character Queenie is. If only I hadn’t had to drag myself through minefields of overly technical details about engines and piloting airplanes. In the end, Queenie was worth it. 3.5 stars.

COMIC/MANGA/GRAPHIC NOVEL

Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal by Wilson, Alphana, Herring
Ms. Marvel is a girl from a loving, immigrant Pakistani family who has to navigate her way through becoming a superhero. A smart, relatable, girl of color does the rescuing–fun read. 4.5 stars.

Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter by Crystal Chan-NetGalley ARC
In addition to the lovely artwork, this manga version did a good job preserving key plot elements and best lines from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original–the ultimate forbidden love story. Goodreads review. 3.75 stars

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
I have a new crush, and his name is Ballister Blackheart. Talk about morally ambiguous characters! Nimona is quite a character, and the story takes a surprising turn. 4 stars.

–Eve Messenger

Current Reads, Netgalley & Morally Ambiguous Characters

Photo: thespiritscience.net

There seems to be a common theme running through the books I’m reading this month: characters who are impossible to classify as either good or evil. This unintentional trend began with Vicious, in which V.E. Schwab punched me in the face with “who’s really the villain here?”

This month I jumped on the Netgalley train. Out of three ARCs I’ve read so far this month, my favorite was The Graces by Laure Eve. Talk about morally ambiguous characters! You never quite know what everyone’s about until the end. The Graces is a contemporary paranormal YA story about young witches, which takes place in a vaguely British seaside town (though the author never identifies the town by name–which is the only thing that irked me.) If you’re interested, here’s my Goodreads review. Check out this fantastic cover.

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I’m halfway through Nimona, which is a crazy adorable comic/graphic novel (I never quite know the difference). And again with morally ambiguous characters–I am so rooting for Nimona and her “boss” despite (because of?) the fact that nothing makes Nimona happier than hatching villainous plans.

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Have any of you read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein? I’m about six chapters into it and having a hard time loving it. The writing is high level, and juicy plot twists are sure to come, but I’m feeling pretty textbookish about it, partly because Code Name Verity is reminding me, like a bucket of ice water over my head, why I do not like war era fiction, or technical stuff, like all the airplane model and engine part references. I want to like this book, so if you’ve read it and liked it, I’d love to hear why.

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–Eve Messenger

“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