Down the TBR Hole #2

Yes, folks, it’s time for another stroll down TBR lane to see which books remain on the list and which will go. Strangely, every book that ended up on this week’s TBR Hole list has a terrible cover. Except for Challenger Deep. I think.

Here’s how the Down the TBR Hole game is played (created by Lia @ LostInAStory):
1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
2. List books in ascending order (oldest first).
3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
4. Read the synopses of the books.
5. Decide: keep it or should it go?

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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Genre: YA contemporary
Goodreads rating: 4.14
Number of Pages: 320

I liked Shusterman’s book Unwind, so I thought I’d give Challenger Deep a try. Unlike Unwind, which is YA dystopia, Challenger Deep is a YA contemporary that explores mental illness through the viewpoint of a brilliant boy absorbed in the fantasy that he lives on board a ship headed for the deepest point on Earth: the Marianas Trench.

Verdict: Keep 

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Genre: YA LGBTQIA
Goodreads rating: 3.98
Number of Pages: 470

In this “funny and heartbreaking” book, Cam is a girl who likes girls. When Cam’s parents die, she is forced to move in with her conservative aunt in Miles City, Montana–where she falls for a cowgirl named Coley. Sounds like a winner. 🙂

Verdict: Keep (and move higher up TBR list!)

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Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Genre: YA fantasy
Goodreads rating: 3.88
Number of pages: 384

Jeremy Johnson has lost his mother and now hears the ghost of Jacob Grimm (one of the Grimm brothers) speaking to him. The story is told from the first person POV of Jacob Grimm, who also protects Jeremy from evil. Interesting premise. Readers seem to either love it or hate it.

Verdict: Keep 

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Bright Side (Bright Side #1) by Kim Holden

Genre: New-Adult Romance (aren’t they all?)
Goodreads rating: 4.40
Number of pages: 423

I must have heard something really special about this book if I added it despite the fact that it’s a romance–which I don’t normally read. The ending is supposedly a real tear jerker. Maybe I’ll save it for when I’m in the mood for a good cry.

Verdict: Keep 

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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Genre: Adult Fantasy-Humor
Goodreads rating: 4.25
Number of pages: 412

Oops, I forgot I took a look at this one not too long ago. I adored Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, enjoyed Anansi Boys, and appreciated  most of Neverwhere, but when I recently picked up Good Omens I found I just wasn’t in the mood for the “wink, wink, nudge” writing voice.

Verdict: Toss

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YA Books for Music Lovers #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! Have you ever noticed how so many book lovers are also passionate about music? I know I sure am. Music and books are a wonderful combination, and they have a lot in common. Both books and music are powerful forms of expression and artistry. They transport us, help us navigate emotions, and can even elevate us as human beings. In honor of the beautiful duo known as books and music, let’s take a look at YA books which incorporate music as a theme. (Music about books would be an interesting topic too, but that one we’ll save for another day.)

Without further ado, here are the top ten, music-themed YA books. If you can suggest other good, music-related YA books–especially in YA fantasy–I am all ears. 🙂

–Eve Messenger

10. The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb

This is one of those books that always has a song reference going. The main character is Aden, a high school senior with a beautiful voice who’s looking to get a solo gig. Heavy themes of grief, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction abound, but they’re strangely glossed over. One of the most compelling aspects of the story is Aden’s struggle to connect with her Jewish identity, which she lost as a little girl when her mother passed away.

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9. The Midnights by Sarah Nicole Smetana

Susannah wants to follow in the footsteps of her rockstar father, with whom she has a complicated relationship. The story has a cool, dreamy atmosphere steeped in music, though the plot is a little disjointed . The Midnights represents yet another music-centered story that’s rife with heavy themes likes grief and loss. Wouldn’t it be great to encounter a music-themed story with depth but also an uplifting feel? I’d also like to see more music-themed stories in YA fantasy. That’s why I’m writing one. 🙂

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8. The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Fair warning: You might want to be in a strong emotional place before plunging into this book about three characters dealing with grief and loss. Music is a central theme–Sasha is a music blogger; Logan is a songwriter. And Woodfolk’s lovely, poignant writing will appeal to fans of Nina Lacour and Jeff Zentner.

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7. The Haters by Jesse Andrews

This book totally captures what it’s like to be in a band with friends. Okay, so it’s also littered with F bombs and explicit sexual descriptions that don’t add much to the story. That being said, the adventure this music-loving band of jazz camp dropouts goes on is really entertaining. Jesse Andrews, of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  fame, is a genuinely funny writer who aptly describes the interactions and special chemistry of different personalities in a band, kids who are in the trenches together as musicians but who also have complicated friendships, emotions, and desires.

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6. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist  by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

 Nick, a guy in a band, asks Norah, daughter of a famous music producer, to pretend to be his girlfriend after his ex brings a date to his gig. Half-assed pick-up line aside, Nick and Nora spend the entire night hopping to different venues in New York City and forming a deep connection. Except, is it really that deep? The 2008 film adaptation starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings suffers from the same weakness as the book in that Nick and Norah don’t really talk to each other that much. Still, the music is a great factor, and so is the New York City setting.

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5. Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez 

Carmen is a violin virtuoso raised by a stage mom who was once a rising opera star but whose career was cut short when she became pregnant with Carmen. Forging through the cutthroat world of music competition, Carmen unexpectedly bonds with her biggest competitor, Jeremy, both of whom live, breathe and adore music. As a main character, Carmen can be a bit wishy-washy, but her scenes with tutor Helen are super good.

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4. The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

Though this isn’t technically a YA book, The Ensemble is a glorious celebration of music and enduring friendship. Over a 15-year period, starting when they are young, the story follows four high-level classical musicians who perform together in a string quartet. Shades of Mozart in the Jungle.

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3. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

This story about humans and alternative dragons who can take human form, has a strong plot, smart writing, and super unique world building. Plus, all the main characters have a growth arcs that are satisfying to read about. The main character is Seraphina, an unusually gifted young musician hired to work at the palace as a court musician.

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2.  The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Though this isn’t totally centered around music, science-y Haitian girl Natasha and Korean-American boy poet Daniel meet in a record store, Natasha wears earbuds a lot of the time,  they go on an awesome karaoke excursion, and both are music lovers, so I’m including it on the list.

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1.This Song Will Save Your Life  by Leila Sales

Introvert Elise has always felt like an outsider, and music is her escape. At a warehouse party she finally meets people she can connect with and discovers her love of DJ’ing. Serious themes but also lots of humor.

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Mid-year Book Freakout #amreading

August Blog Post - Mid-Year Book Freakout

Thanks to the beautiful book blogger with exquisite reading tastes, Cover2CoverMom, for this awesome book tag because, well, reflecting on books and movies might possibly make me happier than not having to wake up for work in the morning.

Best Book I’ve Read So Far In 2017

Illluminae by Amie Kaufman. It’s thrilling and entertaining. The hardcover version is super creatively presented through e-mails, case notes, diagrams, etc., but let me tell you a little secret: the audio book version is amazing, too. I worried it might not capture the unique storytelling of the hardcopy version, but the audio book was GREAT. No wonder it won the 2016 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance!

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Best Sequel I’ve Read So Far In 2017

Looking back on this year’s books so far, I’m surprised how few sequels I’ve read–or rather, maybe not that surprised, since I’ve always favored stand-alones. Nonetheless, in this category, I’ll have go with A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab. (More about that in a different category below.)

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New Release I Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To

I’m excited about Renee Ahdieh’s newest book, Flame in the Mist. Her writing is lovely and the story takes place in Japan, so. . .

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Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo!!!
Bardugo KNOWS how to write action and adventure. Her female characters are so strong–I’m thinking of Nina and Inej from Six of Crows. Yep, surely Bardugo will knock it out of the park with Wonder Woman.

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Biggest Disappointment

Uh-oh. Okay, this is kind of like a kid being disappointed because Santa brought a shiny new bicycle rather than the motorized scooter the kid was expecting, but I have to say my biggest disappointment might have been A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (gasp! my FAVORITE AUTHOR?!). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book immensely, but the disappointment stemmed from how a couple of huge plot points raised in the first book–that I was dying to see resolved–were glossed over in the finale. Otherwise, A Conjuring of Light was fantastic.

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Biggest Surprise

Because I was intrigued by the story and atmosphere of the movie Carol starring the Cate Blancett and Rooney Mara (probably two of the best actresses working right now), I wanted to read the book it’s based on. The The Price of Salt. gave me one of my favorite new (well, from the 1950s) writers, Patricia Highsmith. Her writing is flawless. I loved every word of The Price of Salt.

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Favorite New Author

See “Biggest Surprise” (above.).

Newest Fictional Crush

Cassie’s love interest–sweet, geeky, sincere Reid–from The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I have a soft spot for awkward, true blue boys.

Artwork by Simini Blocker

 

Newest Favorite Character

EVERY character in Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer . Seriously, you guys, you have to read this one. The world-building will whisk you away.

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Book That Made Me Cry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry definitely made me cry. There were truly noble characters and powerful, moving moments. I definitely wiped tears from my cheeks as I read.

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Book That Made Me Happy

Shocker: I don’t read a lot of happy books, so back we go to Illuminae. It made me happy because it had a fresh concept and was utterly entertaining.

Favorite Book to Film Adaptation I’ve Seen This Year

Wonder Woman!!!!!!!!! The scene when Diana bravely charges into No Man’s Land to draw enemy fire so the others can cross fires me up every time. Did you know the movie studio wanted director Patty Jenkins to REMOVE THIS SCENE ENTIRELY? It is the BEST SCENE IN THE MOVIE. Thank God Jenkins stuck to her guns.

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Favorite Review I’ve Written This Year

This year has been so crazy busy I’m happy to have written ANY reviews!

Most Beautiful Book I’ve Bought So Far This Year

The blue and gold cover of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is everything. What a gorgeous color combination. I already liked it from the pictures I’d seen, but when I held the book in my hand, the gold shimmered and seemed three-dimensional. Beautiful!

Books I Need To Read By The End Of This Year

So. Many. The average number of books I read is WAY down from ten books to around four, so my TBR’s backing up worse than my kitchen sink at Thanksgiving. These are some of the many books I’d like to get to before the end of the year:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente-Must read this if for no other reason than it has the longest title I’ve ever seen.
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas – Because EVERYONE is talking about it. 
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I can’t believe I didn’t get to this in high school–sorry, Mrs. Bernard!
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2) by Claudia Gray
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  • Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
  • Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1) by Tamora Pierce – I haven’t read any Tamora Pierce yet and really want to!

— Eve Messenger

I TAG THE FOLLOWING WARM, FUZZY BLOGGING FRIENDS:

Amy @ Bursting With Books

Lila @ The Bookkeeper’s Secrets

Michelle @ Bibliophile Struggle

Tina @ All Of These Prompts

Carolyn @ A Hundred Thousand Stories

Bethany @ The Grisha Lieutenant

May Reads – Monthly Wrap-Up & Flash Reviews #amreading

May Reads 2017

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, it seems lately my blogging is pretty much down to monthly wrap-ups, so here’s my entry for May. I hope you’re enjoying a great spring and that loads of good books are finding their way into your book-loving hands.

— Eve Messenger

Illuminae Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff audiobook – This was a thoroughly entertaining YA sci-fi read. Space battles, romance, horror–Illuminae has it all. Katie and Ezra are my new favorite OTP, by the way. Oh, and the computer. You MUST read this book for A.I.D.A.N. the computer. 5/5 stars

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff audiobook – Once I got over the disappointment that book two, Gemina, did not feature Katie and Ezra, I got into it, though the large cast of characters was a bit confusing. Like book one, Gemina has a chilling horror element that REALLY WORKS. 4.5/5 stars

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (translated)-kindle – The Art of War is one of those classic books I felt I needed to read. It’s short and full of smart philosophies about working in groups and wisely engaging in battle. Coincidentally, Sun Tsu is referenced several times throughout Gemina, another book I read this month. 4/5 stars

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova 336pp – I’m always up for a good story. Labyrinth Lost was about brujas (Spanish for “witches”). What made it special was the infusion of pan-Latin bruja folklore. Honestly, I expected Labyrinth Lost to darker and, frankly, better, but it was enjoyable overall, somewhat reminiscent of (though not at all as poetic as) Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. 3.5/5 stars

Anansi Boys (American Gods #2) by Neil Gaiman – A relative gave this book to me for Christmas because he knew how much I’d love it, and he was right. In Anansi Boys, Gaiman continues to flex his genius imagination, and his characters leap off the page.Thrilling, unusual, and darkly humorous, Anansi Boy is now my second favorite Neil Gaiman book (the first being The Graveyard Book). 5/5 stars

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling  – Of the several autobiographical books by celebrity comic actresses (Amy SchumerLauren Graham, Anna Kendrick) I’ve read lately, this was the best–which makes sense since Mindy Kaling got her start as a writer. The most powerful part of Why Not Me? comes at the end when Mindy responds to a question a girl at a panel once asked her but that Mindy felt she’d answered flippantly. She more than redeems herself! 4.25/5 stars

End of Month Wrap-Up: April & March #amreading

April & May 2017 Reads
Hello, fellow book junkies! I miss all of you fabulous bloggers so much. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t had a lot of time for reading books lately either, so it’s me, not you!

Now on to reviews for books I read in April and March (two of which were two 5-star reads, by the way.)

Adult/YA fantasy crossover
A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab. Okay, so how do I put this? My favorite writer, Victoria Schwab, is EVERYTHING. In A Conjuring of Light, yes, the writing is great. So is the worldbuilding, the characters, and the plot but–as the final installment in trilogy–A Conjuring of Light did not sufficiently answer important plot questions I’ve been dying to know the answers to since book one. If you’ve read the series maybe you’ll agree. To avoid giving away even a smidgen of a spoiler, I won’t say more. 4/5 stars

YA contemporary
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon –audiobook. This was my Nicola Yoon book, and I loved it!! The Sun is Also a Star was beautifully written, moving, philosophical and featured features characters that I really grew to care about. Natasha and Daniel are so very different–a Jamaican girl with a passion for science and a Korean-American boy who’s a born poet–but somehow their love just seems meant to be. I am now officially a huge Nicola Yoon fan. 5/5 stars

MG fantasy
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson-audiobook Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians had a title I couldn’t pass up. Yeah, so then I was 1/3 of the way through the book before I realized it was the fourth book in a series I had never read! Oh, well, at least now I know how the series ends. Right? Nope, turns out book five comes out in 2018. Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians (book FOUR) was cute and kookily(?) magical. Sanderson–bold writer that he is–breaks the fourth wall and just seems to have a blast writing this book, I guess I’m just a tough customer to please when it comes to MG fantasy. Could be because I’m not an 11-year-old boy. There’s that. The part I enjoyed most was Alcatraz Smedry’s conflicted Evil Librarian mother. She was interesting. 3.25/5 stars

YA light horror
Wax by Gina Damico Orange Library. Entertaining, original, humorous. This is unlike any YA book I’ve read before, kind YA-lite meets Edgar Allan Poe. 3.5/5 stars

YA dystopian pirates
The Edge of the Abyss (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2) by Emily Skrutskie-Netgalley ARC. Why did I read book two of this series? Oh, right, because even though I didn’t get into the main character Cass in the first book, I appreciated Skrutskie’s unique worldbuilding, strong writing skills, and the fact that the story featured a YA lesbian (budding) relationship. So I continued the series and–surprise!–encountered the same frustrating issues I had with the first book. I did not care about the main character. Cass’ motivations were so haphazard and ingenuine that I may well have strained my eyeballs from rolling them so much. And yet I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading The Abyss Surrounds Us. It’s a unique book with a lot to offer. 3.25/5 stars

Adult contemporary literary-ish
Exit Ghost by Phillip Roth audiobook I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like, but I randomly picked this book off the library shelf one day. And I was sorry I did. Exit Ghost seemed intelligent and voice-y, had an intriguing title, and was written by an author I’ve heard of but never read. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bunch of navel-gazing. I didn’t care how many Depends adult diapers the 80 y.o. writer had to wear or find it at all endearing that he coveted his new friend’s young wife. Honestly, even if a protagonist and a reader are from completely different walks of life (as this protagonist and I are), a well-written story should get me to care. This didn’t. I DNF’ed halfway through. 2.75/5 stars

Children’s historical modern classic
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, written for readers ages 10 and up, works for all ages. It’s full of depth and moving portrayals of human decency. In fact, Number the Stars made me tear up. . . okay, cry, three times. This book restores your faith in the human race. A must-read. 5/5 stars

— Eve Messenger

Dogs, Dad, and THE Best Audio Book #amreading (barely)

Hello, fellow book junkies! Four months into 2017, and I’m already eleven books behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge. What’s up with that?  I blame it on decompressing after the death in January of my beloved dad. (Sorry to start on a sad note, but it really does get better…) My focus has understandably been off. In my free time after work and family, instead of reading or working on my novel or blogging, suddenly watching TV shows like Chewing Gum (what a hilariously irreverent Brit-com), Long Lost Family, and Feud-Bette and Joan, and practicing Spanish on Duolingo is a lot easier than try to focus on reading words. In actual books. Oh, and I freely admit to spending too much time on Twitter rubbernecking the train wreck that is our current White House administration. Fortunately, I’m starting to wean myself off that because it is just not healthy. So, yeah, the number of books I read in a month seems to correlate to my mental state. My past two months of reading productivity has been super low–three books a month compared with an average of nine books a month before that.

TV Shows April 25

A word about dogs. . .

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned him here in my blog before, but I have this good buddy named Teddie. He is fourteen years old, follows me everywhere, is a white poodle and the smartest dog I have ever known. I swear Teddie is part human. My Yorkshire Terrier, on the other hand, is dumb but with a heart of gold. Except she hates the sound of crying babies. She growls whenever she hears the sound on television.

Here is Teddie all smiley in the car, probably working out how to drive. . .

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An Astoundingly Good YA Audio Book. . .

And finally, because this blog is about my love of reading and writing YA lit, I must mention that I am ADORING the audio book version of Illuminae by Kaufman and Kristoff. Oh, the characters–“Bite Me” Kady, chivalrous-despite-himself Ezra. The interstellar world! And the storytelling style is OFF THE HOOK. What’s really astounding is that the audio book–with its many narrators, ship sounds, computerized voice–VERY effectively captures the genius storytelling style of the print version’s many POVs, redacted confidential reports, ship-to-ship communiques, etc. The audio book fully deserved to win the 2016 Audio Award for Multi-Voiced Performance. Illuminae may be is the most fun audio book I’ve ever listened to.

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Happy reading!

Eve Messenger

P.S. If you love languages, free website http://www.Duolingo.com is the bomb-diggety.

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