Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nonfiction Mini Reviews: Survivors

I’ve been on a little nonfiction kick and these two memoirs have a lot in common. They're both by black women in their early 40s who were raised Catholic while living in predominantly white spaces. Both authors were victims of rape (though the circumstances and results were very different) and both use their platforms as a form of activism, so I thought it was fitting I reviewed them together.

Gay’s book is a tough read. She details her life story through the lens of her body, which at 6’3 and over 500 pounds is considered super-obese or as Gay calls it an “unruly body”. Gay intersperses essays of her personal experiences with essays about The Biggest Loser, Ina Garten, and the obesity epidemic. I started this book on audio and unlike her previous nonfiction release, Gay narrates the book herself.  Gay is a great reader, but because of the heaviness of the topics, I couldn’t listen to this audiobook for long stretches of time. This isn’t really a book you can devour. and I found it better in physical format. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can read a few and pick it up later. Since the release of the book, Gay announced she had gastric bypass so it will be interesting to see if she does a follow-up.

Actress Gabrielle Union’s book also has some hard truths in it but there is more of a humorous perspective. The memoir is set up as a  collection of the life stories  Union tells after too many glasses of wine. I really liked this book but it's fairly raunchy, so warning if that bothers you. Union talks about the dishy celebrity memoir stuff you want; her career, marriages and sex life to more broad issues like colorism in Hollywood, police brutality and her rape at gunpoint as a teenager. There is also a healthy dose of what it was like on the set of 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring it On and how she feels about those movies over 20 years later. I never know how honest memoirs are since they are heavily edited but I respected that she wasn’t afraid to make herself look bad and admit her own PC blindspots and bad moments. That said, the only thing she doesn’t touch that I thought she would is the Birth of A Nation situation.

Union is a great narrator, this memoir works wonderfully on audio because her voice brings these stories to life. I admit, I only really knew Union as the black girl from Bring it On and various black films but this made me see her and her success in a whole new light. I’ve been elbowing Jess with the “Hey, did you know…” for weeks now.

This book is definitely not written for teens, but Union works a lot with teens and I wish they would re-edit it a little and release a teen version because I think this could be a great book for the YA audience. Particularly for her frankness about teenage sexuality and how she teaches her privileged black stepsons about how police and white people may see them.

Also, no,  Union does not explain what kind of sorcery her skin care routine requires.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 298 pages | Dutton Books For Young Readers | Historical Poetry? | 3/6/2018

Trigger warning: Rape / Sexual Assault

 In her debut novel, Joy McCullough gets inside the head of 17-year-old Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, a real historical figure, as she struggles against the overbearing patriarchal society she was born into. Written mostly in verse from Artemisia’s perspective it blends in prose stories of the biblical figures Susanna and Judith--two figures featured prominently in Artemisia's work.

I think it is really helpful for readers to have some context about Artemesia before going into this book because I'm not sure how much teens know about art history and the art world during the Baroque period. But also, it's helpful if you are like me and have taken art history classes but just never heard of Artemisia *side eyes college syllabi*or her infamous rape trial. I felt like I was only getting half of what was going on and it wasn't until I used some Google-fu that is all clicked.

This book is actually an adaptation of a play also written by McCullough, this book is so cerebral and really focuses on Artemisia's internal emotions and senses like a play script. If anyone doesn’t understand why women need feminism just go ahead and throw this book at them because holy crap, it was difficult to be a woman back in the day. Needless to say, this is not a happy time book.

In this timely debut, McCollough develops a sharp feminist perspective to the life of Artemesia, a talented young woman who shows the patriarchy exactly what a woman can do.

 Between this book, Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down sweeping award shows and  Kwame Alexander's new verse only imprint I wonder if verse novels are about to become the next trend in YA ? If anything, I like that they can be read in one sitting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★  | 8 hours 12 mins | Hachette Audio | Contemporary YA | 08/08/2017

I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of "tough stuff stories about marginalized identities, so I'd been circling this book for a long time; assuming a book about a bisexual black Jewish teenager and her bipolar stepbrother would be a "the struggle" book. However, from the very first few lines of Alisha Wainwright's narration, I was pulled into the vibrant world of 16-year-old Suzette as she returns to her artsy and eclectic West Coast community of friends and family after a year in boarding school. Colbert does an amazing job building Suzette's world and I know it's corny but Los Angeles is almost a character in this book.

But seriously, Imma need one of those LA street tacos.

Alisha Wainwright is a new narrator on the scene and her voice has this cool West coast vibe that brings Suzette’s first-person POV to life. Props to all the work Bahni Turpin and Robin Miles have been doing, but I ’m excited we are getting some newer and younger narrators for black characters to spice things up. Wainwright is probably best known by some YA fans as Maia in the Freeform show Shadowhunters. It’s so crazy to me that she fell into acting only a few years ago because she is so good in this, every line is filled with intention. Give her all the books. All of 'em.

The only thing I didn't love about this book was the love triangle that shows up. It felt a little sloppy and out of left field but I do like how it all ended up.

Little & Lion is a quiet story brimming with compelling characters and a captivating audiobook narrator.

I don't know if Colbert is taking requests but there is a character in here named Emil Choi and I need him to get his own book.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Book Review: Trell by Dick Lehr

Rating: Unrated| 354 pages | Candlewick Press | Contemporary | 9/26/2017 |

I study journalism in college, so I'm generally a sucker for any story about an actual journalist--so the premise of a young teenager teaming up with a seasoned investigative journalist to overturn a wrongful conviction completely intrigued me because I listen to waaay to much true crime wrongful conviction podcast.

14-year-old Trell Taylor is out to prove her father is innocent. She teams up with down-trodden journalist Clemmens Bittner and the two begin to re-investigate the case. As they re-interview witnesses Lehr is able to recreate the  1980's  Drug Wars in a way that will set the scene for younger readers. I also appreciated that Trell has to confront the fact that even though her father was not responsible for the murder of the little girl, that he did sell drugs that were responsible for harming other people's lives.

Lehr is a distinguished non-fiction writer and his attempt at YA fiction was all over the place. The dialogue would occasionally get way too factual and there was a lot of literal telling not showing.  I feel like everyone referred to Trell's dad as "your daddy" to make the book appeal to a younger audience but it fell flat to me.  Clemmens and Trell form this odd couple pairing and I could see what Lehr was trying to do, but the thing was I could see what he was trying to do. Clemmens sort of reminded me of this funny fandom thing called Pepper-jack cheese  (See Author Appeal).The only person who seems to have a full arc on the page is this older former investigative journalist who at the end of the book gets his groove back and the attention of a young lawyer. Just sayin'.

With all that said I do think this book is a great way to introduce wrongful convictions and delayed justice. Would have much rather read this in middle school than Park's Quest.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review : Happiness For Humans by P.Z Reizen

Rating: unrated  | 401 pages | Hachette Books | Contemporary/Science-Fiction| 1/09/2018 | 

One of my favorite things about this book is that I get to describe it as an episode of Black Mirror if it were a romantic comedy. This is the second book I've reviewed with a character named Aiden, except this Aiden is an Artificial Intelligence who has become conscious. Ready to do more than his assigned tasks Aiden finds a way to break out of the lab and onto the internet and into wireless devices, laptops, and phones to study his human co-workers. Being a charming romantic, he decides his new little side project is going to be finding a partner a for his human co-worker Jen. . . that is if he doesn't get caught.

Aiden works his internet magic to set her up with a few eligible bachelors and with the help of another AI, he might just find her perfect match in a forlorn Brit living in America.

The setup and execution of this story is fun and Reizin is totally dedicated to the world he sets up. It takes a few unexpected twists and turns but remains a classic rom-com. The story is told in this incredibly close first person, where at first I thought maybe this was being written in diary entries, there were times where the first person would get a bit too cheeky and it took me out of the story.

Happiness For Humans is a U.K import and I love all the British-isms.This book was a big hit at the London Book Fair and while film rights have been picked up, I can't imagine how they would visualize the AI world.

Part romantic comedy, part science-fiction, part speculative fiction Happiness for Humans is perfect for techies who are romantics at heart.

Hmm, I think the U.K cover wins this one
U.K Cover

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★ | 7 hours 32 mins | Simon & Schuster Audio | Contemporary YA | 02/06/2018

I'll admit I didn’t mean to read this book. I was listening to audiobook samples on Scribd, trying to find something to listen to when I accidentally clicked on American Panda. By the time I started driving I couldn’t change it and before I was home... I was really into it.

At seventeen years old, Mei Lu is starting her first year at MIT. She is just a few steps away from completing her parent's plans for her to become a doctor, marry a  good Taiwanese man and have Taiwanese babies.  But now that she is on her own Mei is starting to feel the tension between the Taiwanese and American cultures she straddles. She starts to question the things she’s always believed and to make things worse she’s falling for a spiky-haired Japanese co-ed named Darrin.

American Panda is a story about family, empathy and discovering who you are; it’s perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, especially because of how the romance and mother/daughter storyline evolves. Darrin even has a little "manic pixie dream dude" in him. I have always struggled with YA romances but this one was perfectly executed.

This book is #ownvoices (in fact Chao is a dentist who went to MIT), so I was kind of surprised to see Kirkus rag on it so much for being stereotypical. Yes, there are stereotypes but I think Chao was likely speaking from experience and adds nuance. She unpacks a lot of the stereotypes to explain why they exist. Also, she shows a plurality of experience with other Taiwanese American characters who come in and out of the story.

A big part of this book is Mei being a germaphobe and repeatedly discovering she has no business being a doctor and there is a little bit of body humor and a few moments that I thought were kind of gross. So, if you’re squeamish I would skip a few pages whenever she is around doctors.

Emily Woo Zeller is a veteran narrator with over 200 books to her name. She gives Mei a bright and humorous voice. Doing this on audio was especially helpful for me because I don’t know Mandarin and would have had trouble pronouncing some of it out. There is a point where Mei attends a one-woman comedy show and Zeller really throws herself into the performance.

There are quite a few YA books out right now about what it means to be a first-generation immigrant in America and the struggles of straddling two cultures and this is one you shouldn’t sleep on!

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 ?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review : Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

Rating: Unrated | 304 pages | Balzer + Bray | Contemporary | 11/07/2017 | 

Book Review

Here We Are Now is the captivating story of a family being broken apart and brought back together at the same time. At just 304 pages Warga tells this very insular story about family, loss and love. I mean once this story knows where it wants to go it hits all the marks.

Taliah Abbaldat summer afternoon takes a dramatic turn when the father she has never knew, famous rock star Julian Oliver. shows up on her doorstep. Julian is facing  the impending loss of the father he had a tumultuous relationship with. Inspired by the impending loss Julian finds himself  ready to do right by his own daughter before it is to late. Together  Taliah and Julian set off for his small hometown together as they begin to unearth the murky waters of her parent's relationship. I was very tempted to comp this to a Sara Dessen novel but there is a sense of closeness and focus on character building  to this narrative that makes it less so.

I've complained on multiple occasions about the Jerk Dad in YA. Warga really adds some nuance here.  I mean, you think when you hear a YA book features a famous dad you know what it is going to be but Warga turns it on it's head. You start to feel for the struggle Julia is going through trying to figure out being a father. Warga does a deep dive into the parent's back story in the late 90's, and I am all for YA novels that have interesting and dynamic parents. There is even some fun back and forth between Taliah being a young millennial and Julian being a Gen Xer.

My only issue with this book was the "love interest" felt slightly tacked on and took me out of the narrative. I'm pretty sure if you take it out it doesn't change that much of the story. It doesn't even show up until 1/3 of the way in and I was hoping there wouldn't be one.

I hesitated to read Warga's debut novel because of the suicide aspect, but I enjoyed this one so much that I may go and revisit it.

I'm not a music person (Cause I did not know the title was a Nirvana lyric. Speaking of I guess Julian is a Kurt Cobain expy) and music serves as a bond for Julian and Taliah

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine !

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Sidekicks by Will Kostikas

This Aussie YA follows three boys at a Sydney private school who have nothing in common except their dead best friend, Issac Roberston.

The boys in this book are labeled as the swimmer, the rebel and the nerd and they each share their unique  perspective on the aftermath of Issac’s death. Of the three boys, Harley, the “rebel”,   feels partially responsible for the death (and who is just asking to be compared to Holden Caulfield) and Miles, the loner “nerd”, have the most compelling stories  because of how Issac's death changes the way they navigate the world.

This is a full cast audiobook with each boy getting his own narrator,  it took me awhile to get used to the Australian accents and I was rewinding a lot because I couldn’t always catch what they were saying. Funny story, the only narrator I didn’t have issues understanding was P.J. Ochlan who sounded authentically Australian to me, but  it turns out he’s an American actor who specializes in accents. He has also done a boatload of audiobooks.

In YA parents have a tendency to disappear, and I liked that Kostakis wrote nuanced  adult characters in each boy's life. Although I had a real problem with Ryan, the champion swimmer’s, mom. She’s the head of the English department at their private school and she needed to seriously set boundaries between herself and her son at school. She just lets him hang out in her office in the teacher's area by himself and he just kind of watches the teachers interacting. It just seems to me the teachers should have spaces separate from students where they can "be themselves" , but like who’s going to say anything if it’s the boss’ kid.  *jumps off soapbox*

One of my oddly specific genre catnips is white dude ennui in YA.  I think it’s because it’s so far from my own lived experience and this book hit a lot of my buttons for that. It was like a reverse Goodbye Days with a dash of Catcher in the Rye.

I really like all the cover interpretations for this book. The one at the top of this post is the audiobook cover but I think my favorite is the Australian. hardcover.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Behind The Screen: A Book Blogger Tag

When did you start blogging and what was your first review? 

I started blogging about YA in September of 2011. In the beginning Jess and I did joint reviews and the first review on the blog is for City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. My first solo review was for City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare.

I started reviewing romance on a separate blog in February of 2015 and the first romance I ever read and reviewed was Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Who/what inspired you to start blogging? 

The blog started from Jess and I reading Cleolinda's series on Livejournal where she sporked Breaking Dawn. We were going to do something like that with City of Bones but then we saw a call on for book bloggers and we discovered that there were hundreds of other books blogs and fell into the entire community of  YA book bloggers.

My other inspirations would be Rebecca Schinsky.I met her pre-Book Riot in 2009 for a story I was  doing in college about the rise of ebooks (I know, how original but it was a different time) and I had never met anyone who talked about books like she did. Also, Sara Wendell and co really inspired me to read and write about romance.

What is a blog-related goal that you have? 

Like Amber I'd love to get a blurb on a book and I'd love to be on a panel/podcast where I could recommend books to people who don't read YA/romance.

What is one thing you wish someone told you about blogging? 

One thing I really wish we'd done in the beginning is not to hotlink images, which I know is Internet 101 ! So many of our early posts look off because we hotlinked all the images. 

What was your biggest blog-related accomplishment? 

Like Amber, I'd say how long this blog has been going. I have started so many blogs and this is the only one that stuck.

Also, a few years ago we pitched an idea for a back-to-school YA reading list to a local news website and they instead asked to do a profile on the blog, (likely because they didn't want to pay us to write anything) unfortunately, the local news website closed a few months later but the profile is still there.

What types of posts do you enjoy writing? 

I like making fun lists and cover posts, something I haven't done much of lately.

Where do you usually blog? What does your setup look like? 

I have a dining room table, a desk and a little reading nook but I usually just blog in my bed with my Bath and Body Works candle burning. If I have a lot of things I want to accomplish I'll usually go to Starbucks or a local coffee shop and blog.

What was your last 5-star read? 

The Young Elites series by Marie Lu, I am not a fantasy reader but this series is dark and crazysauce with antiheroes everywhere.

What was your last 1-star read? 

I don't have a 1 star but the lowest review I've ever given was a 1.5 for After by Anna Todd. I would have given it a 2 or 2.5 but the book was too damn long (600 pages) and the "reveal" ending made me rage-y. 

What are three words that make you pick up a book? 

-  Celebrity

- Twist

- Anti-heroes

What is your Hogwarts House? 

I once heard John Green use the term Ravenpuff on a vlog and that seems about right to me.

What is your favorite reading environment? 

I love listening to audiobooks when I'm on my commute or when I'm going out of town. It's a nice little transition  to and from work.

I also get a  lot of reading done when I'm eating breakfast/brunch on the weekends.

What advice would you give to new bloggers? 

You  seriously don't need ARCs to be a blogger. I feel like the ARC thing has gotten out of control in recent years what with people buying and selling them on Ebay.  I haven't reviewed a YA ARC in years and it's been some of my best blogging I've done.  You'd be surprised how many people will comment if you talk about a book they loved but thought everyone else had forgotten.

Also, it's not cool or interesting to hate on what is popular. You can have opinions or not like something without hating on others  for liking it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Audiobook Review : Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Rating: ★★★  | Hachette Audio | Fantasy | 3/28/17  | Buy Now !

*Trigger Warning : Infanticide, and Sexual Assault

If you read Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bones series and said "I want more  GIVE IT TO ME NOW"---well here you go ! In this duology Taylor pits science against imagination and an a impossible future against centuries of pain.

Strange The Dreamer is the unusual tale of young librarian Lazlo Strange and how a mysterious city without a name becomes his great adventure. Strange The Dreamer  roots itself in many of the same themes from the Smoke and Bone series with  vividly imagined characters  woven out of tragic histories, blinding hope and dreams. . .literally on that last one. In a way it's a love letter to fiction and the power of stories.

Lazlo Strange's world appears to have a tenuous connection to the world of Smoke and Bone.
Laini Taylor's imagination is just plain interesting, seriously what goes on in her head ?  Is it the pink hair ? Her brand of YA fantasy is so immersive and her worlds are complicated and beautiful.

Taylor  uses this distant elegiac narrator that makes her stories feel larger than life. Audiobook narrator Steve West fits this storyteller role with ease. He takes his time with the narration and has this way of hitting the word "dreamer" that is filled with the same yearning  Lazlo Strange feels for the Unseen city.

I thought Khristine Hvam did such an amazing job with the Taylor's first series and I was ecstatic to hear that she directed the Strange The Dreamer audiobook. I think having someone familiar with Taylor's work helped  set the right tone for the narration, and the way that  musical cues are weaved in and out of the audiobook create just the right amount of tension and suspense.

Now, this book does have quite a few triggers and I did have to put the audiobook on pause every now and then. While I would have liked to see Taylor do something completely different, this is exactly what I wanted following Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

If you've ever seen the ARC of Daughter of Smoke and Bone you might wonder if that inspired Taylor in some way . . .

Also, Hollywood if you make this into a  movie I think you should cast Avan Jogia. Just saying.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Kat's 2017 End of Year Book Survey

It's  that time  of the year for the End of The Year Book Survey hosted by Jamie, The Perpetual Page Turner !  For this I'm including books from this blog and my romance blog, Romance and Sensibility.

Number Of Books You Read: 55, which is pretty good for me because I'm a slow reader and don't read everyday.
Number of Re-Reads: 0
Genre You Read The Most From:  Contemporary adult romance

1. Best Book You Read In 2017?

I'm breaking it down by genre

Speculative YA: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Contemporary YA: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Contemporary Romance: Fast Connection by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

Speculative Romance: Ruled by Elle Kennedy

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, this book caught my eye when it was announced but it just didn't do it for me.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon.

I usually can't deal with anything interspecies but I gave this book a shot and ended up giving it 4 starts. I thought this romance about hunky barbaric blue aliens and humans was going to be crack-y and stupid but it was surprisingly thoughtful and well done.  I mean don't get me's still  kinda weird though. If you ever get Kindle Unlimited I would suggest checking it out.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

Best series: The Cyberlove series by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassel

Best sequel: None

Best series ender: Midnight Star by Marie Lu, it is everything !

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017 ?

Marie Harte ! I won her book at BEA in 2016 and did a deep dive into her titles this year. She writes humorous, snappy contemporary romances with lots of blue collar heroes and heroines.

Also Mackenzi Lee, she's not new to the YA game but I feel like I'm just hearing about her. I want to go back and read her debut novel.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The last two books in the Outlaws series by Elle Kennedy, I don't typically seek out romance  with high erotic content but I couldn't get enough of the crazysauce in these books.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

It wasn't action packed but I ended up reading Eliza and Her Monsters in one day.

9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

None, I'm not a big re-reader

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?

#Famous by Jilly Gagnon, This book was a total dud for me but I love the illustration style of the characters on the cover. You can't see the detail in this image, but it looks really good in person.

11. Most memorable character of 2017?

Reese from Ruled by Elle Kennedy. She was a heroine who embodied all of the characteristics usually reserved for leading men in action films. I want to know sooo much more about this character and I'm still mad there aren't any more books in this series even though she was clearly setting up for more.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

This is probably a cop out to pick a National Book Award nominee but, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

Also Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel,  because all I can think about now is how I'd survive in her dystopian future.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read?

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

I don't really have one

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017 ?

Shortest: Holiday Wishes, a Jill Shalvis novella that was 128 pages

Longest: Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue at 513 pages and 10 hours in audio

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

The Rose Society and Midnight Star by Marie Lu. There are just so many twists and turns, it was a journey.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)
Romance: Dominic and Luke from Fast Connection by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

YA: Rufus and Mateo from They Both Die at The End

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

I like the relationship between Rufus and his foster family in They Both Die At The End

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, I've read The Archived by her a few years ago and thought it was pretty good but This Savage Song had some really unique worldbuilding.

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I only read Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon because of how much Teena talked about it on the Scandicalious podcast

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

Hmm,  I don't typically read like that but if I had to pick Zachariah from Keepsake by Sarina Bowen

23. Best 2017 debut you read?

North To You by Tif Marcelo

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

The many places created by Marie Lu in Midnight Star and Rose Society

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

All I Want for Halloween by Marie Harte

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

So, this is embarrassing because I read a lot of sad AF YA this year, but the book only that made me actually cry was  Before We Kiss by Susan Mallery, a contemporary romance where the heroine is planning an event for the hero's sports PR company. I was listening to the audio on my way home from work and there was this scene near the end where the characters had finally coupled up and the big event they planned was over and IDK, I just lost it for a few seconds.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

A Pleasing Temptation by Deborah Fletcher Mello. Sometimes I think Harlequin's category books get lost in the mix but this one I highly recommend.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. The juxtaposition of the 'savior kids' and the 'normal kids' storyline was really well done.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen, I hated the heroine.

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017?

I recently became an Avon Addicts and have enjoyed reading  fellow AA7 member Smut Matters' blog.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2017?

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

I didn't do a lot of discussion post

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

The  Virginia Festival of The Book in Charlottesville. This event  was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was very chill.  There was a panel with the romance audio book narrators and they were all so nice to the fans. And I got to meet  author Tom McAllister from the Book Fight podcast. When I told him I listened to the podcast he wrote a fake blurb about me in the book, which is something they used to do for donors on the podcast.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017?

When we celebrated 6 years of blogging. I've been starting and abandoning blogs since I was in high school and I'm so glad I found one I could keep up with consistently. I'm not sure if I'll be doing this forever, but I'm not sure how to be a reader without it.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

For me it's taking the time to sit down and read, I always want to be doing other things.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

Statcounter will only show me the last 8 weeks, so it looks like the most popular post is the 18 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

The Audible romance pacakge has changed my life, there is so much good stuff on it!

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year? 

I didn't participate in any this year

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018?

The Hate You Give by AC Thomas...I know, I know I'm so behind.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)?

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, it wasn't on my radar but I keep seeing rave reviews online

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Everless by Sara Holland

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

I'm excited for Rena's story in Marie Harte's Bad Boys Body Shop series. She's sort of  the Black best friend in the book, but I like that  minority best friend characters are finally getting romances too !

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

Read more midlist, lesser hyped YA novels

6. A 2018 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone (if applicable):

I'm reading Unraveled by Lauren Dane and I'm already loving the voice and setting.


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