Monday, June 17, 2019

The Care and Feeding of Ravenous Girls by Annisa Gray

Rating: unrated | 304 pages | Berkley | Adult Fiction | Release Date: 02/19/2019

I like a book with a really long title. Just throwing that out there.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is this blend of African-American, Women's and Literary fiction that I'm starting to find myself drawn to more.

This is a very human story of the Butler siblings who are brought together after their seemingly perfect elder sister, Althea, and her husband Proctor are convicted of a crime that shakes up their small lakeside town.

Everyone in this book has something to work through. Althea and her husband are trying to get through their prison sentences with their strong loving bond intact and without losing their teenage daughters, who are now being raised by Lillian, the youngest butler sister--who is also taking care of her ex-husband's grandmother. At 36 and newly single this was not the life she was prepared for. The prodigal daughter and academic, Viola, returns home after separating from her wife and falling back into the clutches of her eating disorder.

Together these sisters navigate the pain of their childhood, the closely held secrets they have buried and the ways their father let the family down.

I like reading books about Black families that takes place in locations we don't often see Black people in the media. This is a story about three Black women trying to find their way that doesn't involve getting a man, getting a promotion or rubbing their fingers on their temples. It was about more interior things and (as Iyanla Vanzant would say) doing the work and coming out whole on the other side. This is like the novel version of those episodes of NPR (which are not my favorite) where reporters re-examine moments from their childhood and look for answers and meaning.

Orange Is The New Black meets Queen Sugar in this solid debut about women finding their way through the unexpected.

Check out the audiobook review on Audiofile!

I was really shocked to discover that Anissa Gray is a career journalist, this is the kind of book that I expected from a life-long fiction writer. I can't wait to see what she write next.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Spin By Lamar Giles

Rating: unrated | 10 hours 50 minutes | Scholastic | YA Thriller | Release Date: 01/30/2019

Last weekend Virginia Beach hosted Something In The Water Festival and they honestly should have just started throwing these books out at the audience. Spin is a love story to the underground music scene and the tradition of Tidewater musicians.

DJ ParSec started from the bottom with nothing but her best friend Kya's tech skills,  mismatch DJ equipment and a passion for music. After blowing up online and gathering a rabid fanbase DJ ParSec was on her way up--- until she is found dead-- now it is up to Kya and ParSec's estranged social media manager, Fuse, to find justice.

Giles knows how to write a solid thriller, he keeps the stakes high and has his characters face danger at nearly every turn, especially from DJ ParSec's most devoted fans whose intense network is keeping tabs on Kya and Fuse.   Along the way Kya and Fuse, who have never seen eye to eye, begin to bond through their shared grief. It was great reading a story about complicated female friendship.

Giles does not hold back when it comes to violence and peril his characters face, but I've always found it interesting that the language remains fairly tame.

Spin really taps into the world of social media fandom with a dash of action, and suspense that will keep you guessing until the end.

Check out the audio review on Audiofile

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Rating: ★★★★ | 18 hours 20 minutes| Fantasy | Hachette Audio | Release Date: 3/18/2017

We’ve been talking about Laini Taylor on this blog since Daughter of Smoke and Bone was featured in this Wall Street Journal article about new books reaching the Harry Potter generation. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series blew me away and Taylor is back at it again in Strange The Dreamer.

In this book, we meet Lazlo Strange, an orphaned librarian who finds himself the center of a story beyond his wildest dreams. Taylor is one of the best storytellers in YA right now and this book reflects that. The worlds and magic systems she creates are so detailed and creative.

At over 500 pages and 18 hours on audio, there were times where you could feel the page count. In the acknowledgments, Taylor says this was originally one book that got made into two and I think with a little less backstory it probably would have worked as one book but there seems to be no room for standalones in YA

At its heart, Strange The Dreamer is as a unique and original tale of trauma and survival.

....I’m not really a fan of YA duologies. They always feel like one story that has been stretched and padded to become two books instead of a story that needed to be told with two books.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: ★★★ |  358 pages | Henry Holt and Co, | Fantasy | Release Date: 06/05/2012 

Wow, reading this book was a blast from the past. Shadow and Bone was first published in 2012, which was our first full year of blogging. The then-unknown Bardugo was part of a group of debut YA/MG authors called the Apocalypsies that included several other YA fantasy powerhouses like Zoraida C√≥rdova, Sara J. Maas, Brigid Kremmer and Marissa Meyer.

On to the book!

Shadow and Bone takse place in the Russian-inspired land of Ravka that has been divided by a dark shadowy wasteland known as The Fold. Wars have broken out at the borders leaving devastation in its wake.

Childhood friends Mal and Alina are soldiers in Ravka's First Army, which is nothing compared to Ravaka' Second Army---made up of Grisha,  individuals who have mastered the small science (magic) and can wield elements in mind-bending ways. When Alina discovers she maybe one of the most powerful Grisha of all time, she is thrown into the opulent Grisha world and at the arms of the Grisha's charming leader The Darkling.

Kat reviewed this book in 2013 and I think I liked it better than she did. I think the book is setting up for an interesting series. I will say it was kind of jarring how quickly we sort of glossed over Alina's origin story and her time at the Os Alta which is like a Grisha magical school. I also felt the order of the Grisha was so confusing. I kept having to flip back and forth to the information page to understand everyone's category.

I like the relationship between Mal and Alina and I think for fans this is the biggest draw. There was plenty of nightmare fuel and even a few twists that felt sort of predictable. People are enamored by this series (though I'm guessing it's mostly the Darkling)  and I'm curious to see how Bardoguo evolves as a writer in her second book

Slight spoiler, but I feel like the early 2010s were full of YA Bad Boys destined to be Draco In Leather Pants.

I'm reading this series because Kat wants me to read Six of Crows, but I want to go in with the context. Also, I've been wanting to binge a series and when the Netflix show comes out I can be on Twitter going all  "Well, but actually"

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Loves and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Rating: unrated | 336 pages | Scholastic Press | Contemporary | Release Date: 1/29/2019

Rukhsana Ali lives two very different lives. With her friends and brother, she is a happily out and dating her girlfriend Arianna. But when she is among her traditional Muslim Bangladeshi community--which includes her marriage-minded mother--her sexual identity is a closely held secret. When Rukhsana is caught kissing her girlfriend, she finds herself fighting for her happiness and possibly her freedom.

Sabina Khan's debut is a layered story that takes a close look at how family and identity can sometimes be at odds, but how there can also be a happy medium if you fight for it. Even though Rukhsana doesn't understand all her family's beliefs, she still has a lot of love for her culture and traditions that she does not want to lose because she is in love with a girl.

But I will say,  I felt like this book had some severe tone shifts.  The book starts off like any other YA contemporary about a teen struggling to balance two lives. In the beginning, it's pretty light and then there is a lot of tension in the build-up as Rukhsana lives in constant fear of being caught with her girlfriend.  After she is outed she travels with her parents to Bangladesh where things get very serious and harrowing, the book takes on an urgent tone. All the fears and anxiety that Rukhsana' had early on in the book come to life. She is given a dramatic ultimatum that leaves her looking for an escape.

All this pain and betrayal sort of comes to a head and vanishes when (slight spoiler) a character is Fridged, a trope where a character's death is used to further or push forward the protagonist's story. It's not just any Fridge---this is a Bury Your Gays Fridge that segues the book almost immediately back into a lighter tone.  Like the death of this character instantly causes Ruhksana's parents to accept her and the book takes on this humorous tone as her parents learn to navigate LGBTQIA spaces. It's startling really. I feel like Khan wanted this book to have a positive ending which I appreciated--but it sort of jumped out of nowhere.

I mean there is a point where they lock Ruhksana in a room, take her passport and drug her but then it's like ---LOL, Mom is trying to set me up with a Muslim girl again. Also, her family spends a ton of money at one point and it's like...shouldn't that be an issue?

With (all) that said I did enjoy Khan's debut and I'm really curious to see what she does next.

Check out the audiobook review here! 

So, like I have on more thing to say related to tone. I think this book is hard to make a cover for. I mean I really like the cover and the color choices for this book- but it has a fierce, modern, resistance-y-The Hate U Give inspired cover that doesn't quite hit the dark tones in this book. Like I know illustrated covers are all the rage but I don't know if it works for everything.

Monday, April 1, 2019

We Are Here To Stay by Susan Kuklin

Rating: Unrated  | 4 hrs and 12 mins |  Penguin Randomhouse | Non-Fiction 
We Are Here To Stay is a no-frills collection of interviews that gives voice to young immigrants affected by the precarious renewal of Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals  (DACA). It's not an easy read but it's certainly an important one. We meet immigrants from Mexico, Samoa, Korea, and Ghana. We Are Here To Stay sheds light on the various reasons families come and stay in America, while also displaying the diversity of the immigrant experience. I think the one thing that stood out is despite all the hardships, many of the individuals in this book still believe that America is the best place for them.

Check out the audio review here!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Our ApollyCon 2019 Recap

This year Kat and I made it to our first big romance reader event!  ApollyCon is only  2 hours north of us and has been on my radar for years. What started as a signing for Jennifer Armentrout fans has turned into a 3-day fan convention. The big reason I wanted to go this year was to meet Elle Kennedy. Kennedy has become very well known for her New Adult Briar U series but I'm a big fan of her romantic suspense Killer Instincts series and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet her.
The signing floor

We arrived on Friday evening to register at the event hotel, The Hyatt Regency Crystal City, a very chic hotel with a restaurant and coffee bar.  We didn't stay in the event hotel and after getting our badges we grabbed dinner at Shake Shack.

I went to sleep early so I could get up and get a ticket for Elle Kennedy's signing. I got in the ticketing line a little before it opened and met some readers who were also first-time attendees. I was able to get tickets for all of the authors I wanted including Christina Lauren--which I did not think would happen.

I met Elle Kennedy during the second half of the signing, she was very excited to talk about her Midnight Series and I wish I'd had the chance to tell her how much I appreciated her writing characters in their 30's.  I just feel like since I've been reading romance,  romantic suspense has never
had a big moment.

The event was very well planned and I think the organizer's decision to split the rooms was a great idea. It allowed readers to take their time browsing the signing floor and kept lines short--so much so that pretty much all of the ticketed authors opened up. Novelly Yours Candles was also there and The Bookworm Box was selling mystery bags!

After the signing, we attended the decades themed after party and some people really brought it with their costumes.

Jess' Haul
Some big moments that stood out for me were how approachable the authors were across the spectrum, whether they were  NYT bestsellers, independent or traditionally published. I mean Christina Lauren were literally just standing there interacting with fans. Their publicist Kristin was very nice, they had sold out of Christina Lauren in the bookstore and she tipped us off when more came in. I also had a chance to meet Kirsten Callihan, Kennedy Ryan, Suzanne Young, Chanel Cleeton and Brigid Kremmer. My opening for most of them was "So I heard your interview on this podcast . . ."

I also met romance narrators--Lia Langola, Bailey Carr and Emma Wilder--whose work I can't wait to check out! Also on the audio front, I chatted with Andi Arndt at the Lyric Audiobook table.

Jennifer Armentrout and her team put a lot into this event and her fans really appreciate it. At the end of the after party Armentrout  (and cover model Drew Leighty) took pictures with and hugged everyone in line. The way she thanked and interacts with her fans is very personal.

My only critique is that I do feel like a lot of the event planning, announcements and cancellations happen on Facebook and Instagram which can leave some readers out of the loop. I also heard there were some upsets regarding the Sara J. Maas signing.

I'm totally up for ApollyCon 2020 and plan to spend the year reading up on all the authors I learned about at the event. The weekend went pretty fast and we grabbed quick meals (read: Door Dash is your friend) between signings at fast-casual chains we don't have in RVA like Nando's Peri Peri and &Pizza

First of all: The people behind ApollyCon are so well coordinated they probably could have saved Fyre Fest. I feel like so much happened in such a short time, but I'll hit the highlights.

I took a much more laid back approach than Jess. I didn't go to the signings when the doors opened and didn't get up early for tickets. The only ticketed author I wanted to see was Sarina Bowen but nothing of hers I wanted was for sale in the official bookstore. When Bowen's line opened up to everyone a few hours into the signing; I went to see if I could just get a bookmark signed and she told me I could purchase the copy of Steadfast she had on display! She was so nice about it and we even chatted about having the same clear credit card that always gets lost. I can't remember anything book-ish we talked about but it was a pleasure meeting her and narrator Tanya Eby.

I came to ApollyCon with a bag of books from my shelf but I managed to somehow come home with more books than I brought with me? Here is a list of what I purchased:

- Signed by Marni Mann. Her story in the Mixtape anthology left me wanting more so I picked this up. Her husband seemed super supportive and was at her table acting as a great publicist.
Kat's Haul
- Josh and Hazel's Guide To Not Dating by Christina Lauren. I didn't think I'd meet them because they are so high profile but an hour before the signing ended they had literally no line so I rushed out and got this.
- Dusk Til Dawn by Andie J. Christopher. I loved her interview on Wicked Wallflowers and I am so excited for her new book. Plus, she brought her dog along.
- The Corner of Forever and Always by Lia Riley. I chatted with Riley about being an Avon Addict and about a coffee shop in her book. She was so nice and took this book off the display and gave it to me.

I also chatted with Chanel Cleeton, Amanda Bouchet, Miranda Keneally, Sophie Jordan, Andrew Shaffer and Sonali Dev. Everyone was friendly and I felt bad that I couldn't buy physical copies of everyone's books but my digital TBR and library request list has grown.

I thought the decade's themed afterparty was so fun, the costume game was on point. At the afterparty, I spotted Tif Marcelo (after seeing her ApollyCon posts on Twitter) and said hi since she is coming to visit my local indie in May. She was so personable and open.

My other favorite part of this event (and all events) is being around so many readers and specifically these readers who all speak the same language of romance novels. It's always fun to overhear people having IRL conversations about the things I only see on the Bookish Internet.

I hope I can go next year and if so, I want to take time to talk to authors who I am not familiar with.
If you are thinking about going to Apollycon 2020 tickets go on sale May 9th at 8PM and be ready because they go fast!

Two authors at the event were reading Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston...can't wait to see the splash this book makes.


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