Monday, December 31, 2018

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

Rating: ★★★★ | 10 hrs. 39 min. | Hachette Audio | Release Date: 5/15/18
I love a good mystery thriller and I picked this one up because I saw Christine Lakin was the narrator. Lakin only performs the first chapter of this book and her performance of Kimmy Crepeaux, a guilt-ridden down on her luck, small town twenty-something opioid addict confessing her role in a double murder, was a stand out and chilling performance. Robert Petkoff takes the lead for the rest of the book and captures the anguish and heartbreak that follows the gruesome confession. They both commit to the distinct New England accent without overdoing it.

In most crime stories getting the confession is the end of the story, but for FBI agent Rob Barrett it's just the beginning as he scours the small town of Port Hope, Maine to prove nothing about this crime is what it seems. Koryta makes excellent use of the setting and current events about class, false confessions, and opioid addiction to weave a mystery that forces Barrett to come to terms with what the truth really means.

I've never heard of Michael Koryta and based on what I've read online and seen in bookstores, at just 36 years old, he seems to be part of the new generation of authors behind the so-called "Dad Books" a la Dean Koontz, Lee Childs, and David Baldacci.

I also see on his website that Kroyta is an award-winning journalist, which is probably why Barrett's journalist love interest was portrayed realistically, HOWEVER this means the book fails the Audie Cornish test where the female journalist sleeps with a source.

Next time I need a page-turning read I know exactly where I'll turn.

Jess' 100 Words Or Less Reviews

I am still learning the ways of non-fiction and Redemption is my first dive into long-form journalism. Redemption takes a close look at Martin Luther King Jr's last 31 hours. As Rosenbloom details King’s movements there are all these moments when you realize King could have been anywhere else that day. Rosenbloom shines a light on the harsh realities about MLK that make him more of a man and less of a legend. I think the conversations we have today about class might be different if MLK had the chance to lead his movement for socioeconomic equality.

A deep dive into the extravagant, family drama and comedy of manners is exactly what we need right now and Crazy Rich Asian’s resurgence to the top of the charts is well deserved. I enjoy a book that takes me into another culture and while Rachel and Nick appear to be the stars of the movie’s marketing campaign, the book is less of a rom-com and more of an upbeat humorous family saga that works great in print and audio. *This book started as a poem and is partly based on Kwan's family memories. I think that leads to the offbeat structure of the book. I'm intrigued enough to continue the series.  I actually prefer this book on audio because to me the footnotes in the book are so distracting it feels like the publishers wanted to make sure this book appealed to Americans. I found it much more enjoyable to pick up on the cultural nuances by context clues.

I read The Woman In Cabin 10  because I heard it recommended as “female rage” book and I have to say--that’s not the book about female rage you want --this book is the book you want about female rage (though it is written by a dude).  When Elizabeth Kendall almost dies at the hands of her abusive ex-husband a cataclysmic paranormal event turns her existence upside down. The pacing, slow reveal, and melding of family life with paranormal elements reminded me a lot of Stephen King. It’s a genre-defying thriller that had me rooting for the anti-hero.*This book needs a more unique title. Carey's previous book The Girls With All The Gifts is a great title, but Somone Like Me can get lost in the shuffle.

Christian Thrillers have fascinated me since The Left Behind series. This timely story is about a young prosecutor speaking up about the uncle who sexually assaulted her as a child. At the same time, she meets a compassionate veteran  who is being stalked. The story never really melted together for me and the romance felt inevitable 

Colleen Coble’s The View From Rainshadow Bay is the story of Shauna, a grieving widow teaming up with Zach, the man responsible for her husband’s death to solve a string of murders and a conspiracy theory that threatens the whole town. I liked the complex relationship between Zach and Shauna as their shared grief turns to something more. Zach is a small town pilot- firefighter-skydiving rock climbing daredevil…he just has a lot going on. There is also a bit of twist that leads into the other books in the series that have me intrigued enough to keep going.

I'm pretty sure the first TV show I binge-watched on the internet was Pretty Little Liars and this book (which is published by Freeform) is Pretty Little Liars and Burn for Burn with a Southern twist. When a girl from the wrongs side of the tracks is bribed by her enigmatic grandmother to join the High Society of Magnolia County as a debutante. Que the kidnapping, blackmail, theft, lies, high-crimes and misdemeanors. It's an intriguing soapy teen drama that is that is all about plot; favoring twist and turns instead of details. 

The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Year of Men in an L.A. Dungeon by Jenny Nordbak

Rating: ★★ + .5 | 9 hrs. 11 min. | St. Martin's Press | Macmillian |  Release Date: 4/4/2017
 Jenny Nordbak's podcast, The Wicked Wallflowers Club, has been one of my favorite podcasts this year. Their author interviews are always a fun mix of craft talk, raunch, and bookish squee. After hearing Nordbak share a few snippets of her time as a dominatrix on the podcast I decided to check out her book to get the full story.

This memoir follows the two years in Nordbak's early twenties where she secretly trained and worked as a dominatrix at a BDSM dungeon in Los Angeles. Nordbak weaves together the events of her "vanilla" life with anecdotes about her sessions with clients as she becomes Mistress Scarlett. I found the peek into the BDSM scene fascinating and enjoyed getting to know the irreverent found family Nordbak creates for herself.

This book is pretty hardcore though, the content is not for the faint of heart--some of the fetishes her clients have are a lot.  Like there is a guy who liked to be forced to do disgusting things and she recounts all the gross things she and the others would think of for him to do.

While I liked this memoir the perspective kept nagging at me. While  Nordbak is definitely part of the scene and has her own personal struggles it's not clear to me why she is the one who gets to publish a book about this scene. Nordbak is only a dominatrix for two years and leaves because she loses the spark and soon after marries a man who is not in the scene. I feel like someone who was in the scene longer or more experienced could have written a more interesting book.

Many of the other characters we meet are more entrenched in the scene and I think they would have added more point-of-views on the BDSM lifestyle. Like the club's only male dominant who grew up in East Germany or the older desk mistress who is described as having as "seen some shit" or the  Black submissive who is often asked to act out slave or pimp/prostitute fantasies.  I wish it had been more like Orange Is The New Black which is both about Piper's story but also acknowledges others stories.

I did this on audiobook and Nordbak is a good narrator, she had a theater background so there is a performative quality to her narration. I do side-eye the fact that despite there being Scottish, British and German people in this book the only accent she does is an Asian one. She does it once to mimic a client and again as a joke and it just came off as really distasteful.

On the podcast, Nordbak mentions some TV happenings with her book and I think this would make a great Netflix dark comedy.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sam and Ilsa's Last Hurrah

Rating: ★★ | 211 pages | Knopf Books For Young Readers | Contemporary | 4/10/2018


I’m sad to say this book was a huge disappointment. I’ve read and enjoyed nearly everything this duo has put out and I was so ready to like this but it was a hot mess.

18-year-old twins Sam and Ilsa are known for the dinner parties they host in their grandmother’s luxury rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. When their grandmother decides to finally sell, the twins host one last dinner party before everything changes. 

I honestly don’t want to spend too much time trashing this book. There are multiple Goodreads reviews for that. This book has one of the lowest Goodreads ratings I’ve ever seen and while I noticed that going in I also liked Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List--which most people hate.

Reading this felt like someone put Cohn and Levithan’s previous books through an algorithm and had a computer write this book. It has some of the elements of their previous writing but none of the charm. Their books tend to be a bit wander-y and plotless but this one barely had any connective tissue. Plot elements were randomly introduced and then dropped quickly The story was disjointed unfocused and depthless. 

Strangely, the only thing I liked about this book was the epilogue that takes place 10 years later. It made me think that maybe this would have worked better as an adult book with the characters looking back.

Next year I plan to do some re-reading and I’ll be curious to re-read some of the Cohn and Levithan books to see if maybe I’ve changed my mind about them.I do think part of the book’s low score is the authors not reading the room in YA right now. Earnest, angsty Manhattan teens waxing poetic about which of the many options they should take to start their glamorous life isn’t the kind of thing that’s popular right now. 

I love the cover of this book is kind of weird they put champagne glasses on a YA book.

This book follows the vaguely interconnected world of Cohn and Levithan's books. This quote from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is referenced as being seen on a bathroom. 


Friday, December 28, 2018

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Rating: unrated | 7 hrs. 42 min. | Balzer + Bray | YA Fantasy | Release Date: 10/2/2018 

So about this book. I'm not really sure what to think of it. I like that it's not trying to be what you expect in a YA fantasy. It's not a story about rebellions, handsome princes, faithful sidekicks, and adventure--instead, it manages to be...I'm going to go ahead and say viscerally transgressive.

I can see Damsel being used to that introduce teens the concept of  how to do a feminist reading of a text or apply feminist literary theory (which is totally a class I took in college, okay)  It's chock-full of allegory and symbolism in a way that is raw and at times a bit heavy handed but it's the kind of strangeness and unease that you can't look away from.

And whooo, boy...that ending.  Like I get what Arnold was doing but I was not expecting that. .  .

Check out the audiobook review on AudioFile !

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Pride By Ibi Zoboi

Rating: unrated | 320 pages | Balzer + Bray| Contemporary | 9/18/18 
Jess' Review
Okay. Confession. I know our blog title is a pun on a Jane Austen novel but I have never finished Pride and The Prejudice. Not the book, not the young reader's version, not even the Kiera Knightly version or The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

I've read enough of the Wikipedia page to get a feel for the major events and all of that is to say that I think Pride is a pretty clever remix of the classic story. Set in a quickly gentrifying Bushwick Zuri Bentes is not feeling her new rich neighbors the Darcy family, especially Darius Darcy. Because he is from a wealthy Black family Zuri thinks he will look down on her while Darius knows his affluent background will make him an instant outsider.

I think Brooklyn is obviously a character in this book and Zoboi doesn't make this a gentrification vs. non-gentrification argument, instead, it's about the characters finding a way to hold onto the past while also embracing the changes.

I was able to catch a few references and illusions to the original story, but after a while, I just found myself interested in Zuri's journey as she learns to accept change and carve out a future for herself. At one point Zuri goes to visit Howard Universty and I like Zoboi captured the energy of an HBCU in a way haven't seen in a YA before. I need someone to get this in front of Lin Manuel-Miranda because I could imagine this being staged similarly to In The Heights.

The audio is amazing and almost essential for this story. Check out that review here.

Kat's Review
I pretty much agree with everything Jess said in her review, although I actually preferred reading this in print to the audio version. Acevedo has a strong “spoken word” cadence that didn’t work for me. Pride may be a remix of on one of the most popular love stories of all time but I feel like the true love story in this book is between Zuri and her neighborhood.  I was more interested in her discovery of self and how she exists outside of the community she’s known her whole life than her relationship with Darcy.

In my opinion,  this book is a good example of YA book that is written for teens. It’s no secret that YA has been edging towards it’s an older audience but this book really captured that sort of life you dream for yourself when you’re thinking about going off to college.

I do wish the book dug a little more into its theme about class and the diaspora. Inherited wealth isn’t common for Black people and we never find out how Darius’s family got their money. Are the part of the Black Bourgeoisie in Prince George County?

There is a pink edition at OwlCrate that I totally want/need.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

19 Books We Can't To Read In 2019

It's that time of the year again where we prep for another year of reading by making our list (and checking it twice!) of books we want to read in the new year.

1.The Wicked King by Holly Black
I've never been more invested in a YA fantasy series since Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I can't wait to see where Black is going with this - Kat

2. Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi
An anthology of stories from some of the hottest YA authors spanning the Black American experience - Kat


3. Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
Coming of age YA novel about a pair of teens with a public access television show. Time to see what gut punch Zetner has in store this year - Kat

4. The Opposite of Always by Justin A Reynolds
High school senior Jack gets a chance to go back in time and stop his girlfriend's death - Kat

5. Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks
This debut YA novel from an award-winning graphic novelist follows two families in a legal battle over the ownership of a comic - Kat

6. Naturally Tan by Tan France
A memoir from the resident fashion expert on Netflix's Queer Eye  and  the first openly gay Muslim man on television - Kat

7. Squad by Mariah MacCarthy
This YA novel follows a high school cheerleader who has to find what life is like without cheerleading. MacCarthy is a playwright and feminist life coach so I'm really curious what her take on this story will be - Kat

8. A Prince On Paper by Alyssa Cole
A modern-day wallflower becomes the fake fiance for a playboy step-prince - Jess

9. The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
The sequel I didn't know I was waiting for to Poston's funny fandom romcom Geekerlla - Jess

10. We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal
A fellow YA book blogger on the come up with a debut fantasy - Jess

11. Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev 
An arrogant surgeon finds her match with a chef ready to prove there is more to him than just his pedigree - Jess

12. With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
This book has a vibrant cover and the heroine is a teen mom who is a talented cook with dreams of working in a kitchen - Jess

13. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
In this companion to The Kiss Quotient, a Vietnamese mother brings her autistic son a wife from Vietnam who shows him there is more than one way to love, - Jess

14. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston In this enemies to lovers romance, the First Son of the USA and the Prince of Wales stage a fake friendship that turns into something more - Kat

15. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Pop Culture Happy Hour host, Linda 
Holmes' debut romance novel about love, family and baseball - Jess


16. Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
A ballerina sets off on a road trip to secretly audition at a dance conservatory and her neighbor tags along. Guys, not only is this the type of book I would have read in high school, this is the book I would have written in high school  - Kat

17. The Demon World by Sally Green
The sequel to the Smoke Thieves one of the few YA fantasy novels to catch my attention - Jess

18. The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

I inhaled The Governess Game and The Duchess Deal so imma need this - Kat


19. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
I've done my waiting. 8 years of it - Kat

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: ★★★★ | 15 hrs 4 min | Henry Holt & Co. | YA Fantasy | Release Date: 9/29/2015 
Ya’ll remember this book? I can’t believe it came out almost 4 years ago! I am the queen of reading popular YA stuff super late so here I am. I picked up Bardugo’s debut Shadow and Bone when it first came out and never got into it. I actually criticized it for not having enough “political nuances, rich detail, and brutality." Well, let me tell you she stepped her storytelling game up because that pretty much sums up all of Six of Crows. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about how this book is violent AF.

Six of Crows is exactly what the logline says. Five outcasts attempt the heist of their life at the leadership of 17-year-old Kaz Brekker, the cold-hearted leader of a notorious street gang in the slums. Bardugo does such a wonderful job slowly revealing the complex and often brutal backstories of our six antiheroes while also keeping up with an intricate fast-paced heist plot.

Going into this book the only character I knew about was Kaz and I get why people like him, he is such a Draco in Leather Pants but frankly, he and the other male characters didn’t do it for me. I feel like we never got enough story from sharpshooter Jesper or demolition expert Wylan to get a sense of them and call it a sign of the times but I had a real hard time caring about whatever redemption arc was happening for Matthias “Nazi Metaphor” Helvar.

On the other hand, I was all in for the two female characters in the crew, I thought they had the most compelling backstories and goals, particularly Kaz’s right-hand girl Inej Ghafa--she was my favorite character and I have Some Thoughts about the relationship between her and Kaz.

This is a full cast audiobook and each narrator bought something different to the table. I do think they all struggled with Kaz because his voice is specifically described as having “the rough, abraded texture of stone against stone”. The female narrators were my favorites, I’ve talked about enjoying Laura Fortgang before and while I liked what Elizabeth Evans was doing her voice doesn’t sound particularly YA. Brandon Rubin and Jay Snyder, who narrate Jesper and Matthais are both fairly deep voiced and didn’t even bother with trying to imitate voices and just did their thing. Fred Berman’s Kaz was good. He shined when got to do a scream-y part of get emotional. You could tell he just waiting for his moment.

My luck with YA fantasy has really turned around this year. I’m in for Bardugo’s Six of Crows and can’t wait to meet the other character and worlds in the future books. Seriously, who is this Nikolai character  I hear people talk about ???

One thing that kept me off this book for so long was thinking I needed to finish The Grisha series. I would say you don’t need to have read it to read this series so long as you are willing to just roll with the fact that magical people known as Grisha exist without getting much background about how their powers work you are good to go.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

Rating: ★★★★ | Release Date: 05/8/18 | Urban Fantasy | 376 Pages | HMH BFYR
The servants bound to the home of the Parisian witch Mada Vittora may appear human but are in fact beasties--animals enchanted into humans. When Mada Vittora is mysteriously murdered Anouk, her newest beastie and the other servants find themselves on a high stakes adventure across Paris to discover the truth of their origins and find a way to stay human before time runs out. 

I went into this book knowing literally nothing and was completely sucked in to this unique and thrilling urban fantasy. I think magic systems are so key to how believable a story is and Shepherd builds a complex and imaginative magic system with steep consequences and rules.

This book does the thing that I really like in YA fantasy where a girl gets hero jounrey’d , discovers she has more power than she thought possible and takes a level in badass along the way. I appreciate that Shepherd is able to write a female-centered fantasy without a lot of violence. One thing that has turned me off some YA fantasies lately is just all the sexual violence and abuse heaped on the (particularly female) characters before they can gain power. It’s one of the reasons Ember in The Ashes didn’t work for me and almost turned me off the genre.

I have read some critiques of Shepherd’s portrayal of the POC, gay and trans side characters. Pretty much everyone who isn’t Anouk has to give up something in service of her but I’m willing to reserve my judgment until the end of the series. I have a feeling Shepherd is setting up for a wider plot arc and will expand the world and characters.

And let me tell you, this book ends in one of the biggest cliffhangers I have ever read and I can't wait for the next one.

I hope HMH releases this as an audiobook, I feel like Rebecca Soler would kill it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

Rating: unrated | 288 pages | Little Brown For Young Readers| Contemporary | 8/07/2018 
Finding Yvonne is a small slice-of-life story of a formerly ambitious and passionate violinist who has lost her spark for music.  Losing her passion is a big struggle for Yvonne because to her father-- a  successful chef /restaurateur--and Warren, her potential boyfriend/ father's sous chef, passion is everything. Then a fateful meeting with a pair of talented eclectic street musicians in Venice Beach sends Yvonne spiraling down a path that leads to inspiration, heartache, and possibly love.

My first thought on this book was that this was totally a book teenage me would have liked. Yvonne is a black middle-class girl who is learning to bake and loves food. I've been reading a lot of books with black girl protagonist from all sort of background and it's made me realize just how limited the options were back when I was a teen.

One of my biggest pet peeves in YA is what I call the Jerk!Dad, where the Dad is a jerk for no apparent reason. Yvonne's father manages to straddle the line and I'm glad we are starting to see more nuance in the YA dad department. Yvonne's father is successful and supportive but he uses pot and work to keep barriers up between him and Yvonne.

Colbert does an amazing job of building the specific world and community her characters live with less than 300 pages.

Check out the audiobook review on AudioFile !

Sunday, December 9, 2018

New Cover, Who Dis

Wolf By Wolf y  Ryan Guadin

I was never wowed by the original cover for Wolf By Wolf but the new one makes this YA Speculative Historical look like a Steampunk novel.

The Near Witch by V.E Schwab (Victoria Schwab)

This cover change feels pretty inevitable. The new cover compliments Schwab's Shades of London, series, but the blurb on the cover is odd to me. I feel like it's a really obvious ploy to get readers to associate Schwab with Gaiman...also I noticed they used her gender-neutral pen name. So, yeah.

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

I think the new cover might appeal to an older audience. I'm definitely getting some Elsa vibes from the female figure. I like that they kept the original typography and I'm all for san serif fonts they just give a cleaner appearance.

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

When this book first came out I could never tell if it was adult or YA because the cover was so neutral. I actually really like the original design but the new cover tells you way more about the book and will certainly appeal more to teens.

Girl of  Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I think this cover has that minimalist illustrated look that's pretty big with fantasy novels now.


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