Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Spring Bookish Haul

It took a little while for the East coast to shake off winter, but spring is finally here and in March and April I picked up some new books and bookish items for my shelf.

Novelly Yours CandlesThe Dreamer & The Muse | Two 4oz jars | Strange the Dreamer inspired soy candles
I've seen these Novelly Yours Candles all over Bookstagram and Twitter. It's pretty tricky to buy candles online without smelling them, so I searched for scents and fragrances featured in candles and soaps I already owned. I navigate more towards vetiver, sandalwood, jasmine, and musk; after some searching, the Laini Taylor collection felt like the perfect fit. Taylor is a favorite on the blog and Strange, The Dreamer was an ideal follow up to her debut YA series.

Of the two candles, The Dreamer is my favorite.

*The free sample I received was Cinder

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I remember when I was fourteen I tried to read the Oprah book club pick One Hundred Years of Solitude. At the time it wasn't for me, but I've always wanted to read an Oprah Book Club pick. Tayari Jones was at the Virginia Festival of The Book, so I picked up a copy. 

Any new bookish items on your shelves?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review : The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Rating: Unrated| 323 pages | Lake Union | Contemporary | 12/5/2017

I don't think I would have stumbled upon The Wake Up if I hadn't been given the chance to review the audio.  It caught my interest because it is published by Lake Union, an Amazon imprint that is marketed as "book club fiction" and because it's one of those books by an author who has written a  bajillion books, yet I've never heard of her.

I'm sure most people will recognize Catherine Ryan Hyde as the author of the book that inspired the movement and movie, Pay It Forward. So every time the person in front of you pays your toll...she's why (unrelated, someone once paid for my lunch at my work cafeteria and I paid for the person behind me and they were totally freaked out, even after I explained it to them...btw cashier's must hate this, right ?)

Set in a small rural town in Northern California, The Wake Up tells the unconventional story of Aiden Delacorte, a mild-mannered middle-aged rancher who wakes up one morning with the ability to feel the emotions of the animals around him, which proves to be a challenge for a man who makes money off the pain of animals.  This hyper-empathy sends his life spiraling in a new direction at the same time he opens his heart and home to his girlfriend, Gwen, and her two children.

The book follows Aiden as he tries to trace the source of his outstanding empathy. It leads him to therapy where he exams his childhood and the stepfather who saved him, Aiden uses these lessons to connect with  Gwen's emotional distance and destructive young son, Milo, who is struggling to overcome the shadow of  abuse

The Wake Up is steeped in family drama, love, redemption but still has a very light touch The great outdoors and the love of animals plays a big part in the healing process for the characters.  To me, this book read like inspiration fiction and except for a bit of language, it's pretty clean I thought it was a great pallet cleanser with characters you could root for and moments that will warm your heart.

Moreover, I like to call this book a cure for toxic masculinity. I mean you have this archetype of a lone rancher and you think when he is plagued with emotions he would try to push it away--but instead, Aiden accepts it. He talks about his feelings and he even goes to therapy to help sort out his emotions. There is a scene where  Milo and Aiden are driving home from a therapy appointment and they talk about what they are going through and I just wouldn't have expected to see that.

The book does try to reason out Aiden's empathy, but I like to think of it as a gentle dose magical realism infused with a contemporary narrative. If you are looking for a positive story about family and starting over The Wake Up won't put you to sleep.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Audiobook Review : Scythe by Neal Schusterman

Rating: ★★★★ | 10 hours 32 mins | Simon & Schuster | Sci-Fi/Dystopian | 11/22/2016

I picked up Scythe when it was a daily deal on AudibleI didn't know too much about it, I didn't even know it was a YA book, I thought it was a middle-grade book or a graphic novel.When I dived in I found another one of  Shusterman's expansive worlds dealing with ethical and moral issues in an unconventional way.

Scythe takes place in a world much like our own...except everyone is immortal. With natural death a thing of the past, death now must be dealt out by the hands of a select few highly-trained individuals known as Scythes.  It's a daunting task because even though death comes in human form, fundamentals of death are still intact. When a Scythe comes for you it is swift, resolute and inescapable.

No one wants to take on the horrific task, but when teenagers Citra and Rowan are chosen to be apprentices they have no choice but to comply. Together they must train and learn to maneuver through the changing politics of Scythehood

Shusterman has a tough hill to climb with this book because you, as a reader, have to buy into an immortal society where it's accepted that Scythes must exist to glean (read: kill people) at their choosing. Even though this is an accepted part of society the fear and sadness is still very present. The death scenes are tragic though most are fade to black. Though they can be shocking I think showing people's fear and emotional pain is necessary. I had a tough time with Shusterman's popular novel Unwind because this element was missing.

This is another engrossing read from Schusterman. The ending felt a little rushed but the story remained imaginative. The ending brings everything full circle, so it can totally be read as a stand-alone, a rarity in these YA days.

I'm on a roll with male narrators and seeing as there is a female protagonist I kind of side-eyed Greg Tremblay as narrator, but he is masterful.  He does a particularly good job with a Scythe named Goddard who is the benevolent possibly sociopathic and slightly flamboyant Scythe, who has begun to take too much pride in his bloody work. Tremblay gives him a voice that is both sweeping and glib.

I'm listening to the Out of Uniform series on the other blog and I'm excited to see he does book as Greg Boudreaux #4.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Rating: ★★★ | 15 hours 35 mins | Harper Audio | Adult Fiction | 02/06/2018

Spanning the late 70s to early 90s, The House of Impossible Beauties is a fictionalization of the real-life figures at the center of House of Xtravaganza--a Puerto Rican drag queen family.

If you're wondering if this is the documentary Paris is Burning in book form, let me tell you--yes, yes, that is literally what this is. In interviews, the 28-year-old author Joseph Cassara has said he was inspired to write this book after watching the documentary. I really don’t know how to review a book like this, so I’m just going to do a feels dump and start with what I liked.

I came across this book because I was looking for something narrated by  Christian Barillas after Jess gave him a glowing review last year. In this 15 hour behemoth of an audiobook Barillas gives a wonderfully emotional and varied performance. New York City is diverse and he was doing everything from old-school Italian accents to the “Nuyorican” accents to several dead on “white guy” voices. 

Maybe it’s my YA sensibility but my favorite storyline was the relationship between Juanito and Daniel, two runaway gay teens who find a home in the House of Xtravaganzas. I later found out this book started out as a short story about just them and it shows. At times it felt like their story was in an entirely different universe than the others.  But holy moly, this book leans really hard on the "tragic queer" and Bury Your Gays trope.

The majority of this book is told from the POV of Angel and Venus Xtravaganza, two real transwomen who were featured in the documentary. While most things in this book line up with what really happened to them, it’s almost like the book goes out of the way to make them more tragic. In an interview in The Millions, Cassra says he basically wrote this book in the bubble of the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop and it really shows. I don’t understand how you can write a book like this, using real people’s names and lives and not make an effort to do some first-hand research before querying. I also think this is also one of the reasons we only have one ball scene in the entire book.

Speaking of that The Millions interview, at one point Cassara says his intent with this book was to just shine a lens on how tragic and unfair life was and that he is “not really interested in books that feel didactic” and “didn’t really think about politics at all." And IMO, I think that is part of what makes this novel feel so weak. Everything about the drag scene in the 80s (and heck, even now) is inherently political. There is just so much that could be unpacked, especially since many of the characters are real people and so much of what happened to them has to do with the politics of the time.

But also, the House of Xtravaganza is still very much alive (including a founding member who Cassara kills in the books) and their members have been influencing pop culture for years. I can't imagine how they would feel reading a book like this that ignores their legacy in favor of a tragic story. It feels weird critiquing this book because Cassara is gay and Puerto Rican with New York roots so in some ways it is his story to tell.

I'm being a black sheep though because this book has been getting quite a bit of critical acclaim, even though for me this book about revolutionaries felt unrevolutionary.

Lithub did a really interesting feature on the cover design process for this book. This was my favorite of all the mock covers:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Audiobook Review: Batman Nightwalker (DC Icons #2)

Rating: ★★★ | 12 hours 36 minutes | Listening Library | 1/02/18 

After getting caught playing vigilante on the streets of Gotham City, 18-year-old Bruce Wayne is sentenced to scrubbing the floors of Arkham Asylum as community service. There he crosses paths with Arkham’s newest inmate Madeline Wallace,  who is believed to be the mastermind behind the notorious Nightwalker street gang. But Bruce thinks there might be more to Madeline than meets the eye.

When DC announced it was working with YA authors to write teen versions of their superheroes I knew Marie Lu would be a perfect choice. Her books are all about super capable teens fighting the system and saving the day. She’s an auto-buy author for me, but this book was just kinda meh for me. The plot focused  so much on what is not said, that if I didn't know this was a Batman prequel I would have DNF’d it. It does find its legs in the end but the middle section just dragged.

I do like what Marie Lu did with the character of Bruce Wayne. She got rid of the billionaire playboy aspect of Bruce Wayne’s personality and made him a more well rounded inquisitive teen obsessed  with technology and understanding the meaning of justice. This book also has something to say about police brutality, street harassment and even has Bruce unpack some of his privilege. I don’t know if all the Icon books have a social justice aspect but it did make sense in this one.

I’m curious about what the rules are for DC Icons books and if they are supposed to be connecting to a bigger arc. I didn't notice any references to the last book, Wonder Woman, but we do get a few mentions of Metropolis and the Luther family.

Audiobook narrator Will Damron delivers a solid narration but there were times when I would just zone out because his voice was so one note. Also his Alfred Pennyworth is a dead on impression of the Alfred voice from the Batman The Animated Series from the 90’s.

That said, I really like that more superheroes are getting YA books, it’s a great alternative for someone like me who enjoys superhero films but isn’t into comics.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Jess' Mini Book Haul

A few weekends ago I went to my local outlet mall and had a chance to check out Book Warehouse. It was like being in a physical version of the Book Outlet. They had a ton of series titles and their romance section was well stocked and decorated with flower petals. I give them props for respecting romance. Anywho, all the books were 10-80% off and I had to limit myself.

Audiobook Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Rating: ★★★ | 8 hours 39 minutes| Hachette Audio | Fantasy | 1/02/18  

Jude and her twin sister Taryn were taken from the mortal world as children by their mother’s vindictive ex-husband and raised within the gentry of the Faerie world, where they have always been seen as outsiders especially by Cardan--youngest prince of Faerie--who delights in torturing them. Jude has had enough of being a victim and is ready to show she deserves a place in the Faerie courts. Her ambition gets her mixed up in a world of espionage, power plays,  violence and oh so many plot twists.

I just ate this story up, which is saying something because I am def not the ideal reader for a book like this. I have always struggled with fantasy and have no base for Faerie mythology,  but Holly Black draws the world so vividly I was able to put most of it together and quickly learn the rules of Faerie, If you like lush descriptions of fantastical beasts, clothes and greenery this is your book.

Jude as a protagonist worked for me because I am always here for  unlikable #sorrynotsorry female YA anti-heroes. She’s very present in her own story and yes, she makes a lot of really bad terrible impulsive choices, but you still find yourself rooting for her. I was a little nervous about what kind of relationship would develop between Cardan, the titular cruel prince, and Jude but I think Black nails it..

Audiobook narrator Caitlin Kelly is new to me and she is one of those narrators that breathes life into a  narration. She pays attention to the dialogue tags and interprets them expertly. Kellly has this great catalog of uncanny male voices, her voice of the haughty prince Cardan was one of my favorite. It just fit the character perfectly. She can even do a little kid voice that didn’t have me lunging for the fast forward button. I don’t know how she isn’t doing all the audiobooks.

This book has been a runaway hit in the YA world and I know doesn't need anymore positive reviews, but overall I was all in. That said I'm really not sure there is room for three more books in here...

According some Goodreads users this book exists in the world of The Darkest Part of the Forest and Black’s Tithe series. I've always strayed away from these books thinking the Faierie thing wasn't for me, but now that I've got one under my belt I may try it again.

Also, obligatory I would literally pay money for more Curse Workers. Is there a GoFundMe ? Patreon ?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...