Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Rating: ★★★  | 10 hrs 48 mins | Hachette Audio | Paranormal | 10/1/2009 

So, lol this book has been on my TBR shelf forever! It was in one of my early In My Mailbox’s nearly 8 years ago and I finally got around to reading it this year for book club.

Soulless is set in a steampunk Victorian London where supernaturals--werewolves, vampires and ghosts--live alongside humans. 26-year-old half-Italian spinster Alexia Tarrabotti isn’t a supernatural but she isn’t quite human either. She’s a preternatural--a rare person born with no soul and the ability to turn supernaturals human with just a touch. When supernaturals starting going missing Alexia decides to some investigation, much to the chagrin of Lord Maccon--the surly local werewolf Alpha and de facto head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (B.U.R).

This book starts off with a bang as Alexia kills a rogue vampire with her parasol at a dinner party. I remember when I first read this book I was overwhelmed by how quickly it jumps in with no world-building. At the time I hadn’t read much paranormal outside of the Twilight and Mortal Instruments series and struggled to get into it. But as I re-read this on audio I actually liked that we just jump in mid-action scene. I found Soulless to be an escapist, fast-paced, frolicking, Pushing Dasies-esque paranormal ride that I was just along for it. I was surprised by how quickly I read this.

Now some of the content doesn’t age super well. The Camp Gay vampire, Lord Akeldama, leaned a little too much on stereotype and he felt expendable to Alexia. Speaking of Alexia, I understand she is supposed to be an outcast, but she was rude to the few people who were her friends for no reason. It felt like a lot of the time she was using people except for Lord Maccon, who becomes the love interest.

This book just came out in audio 2 years ago and narrator Emily Gray does a great job setting the tone for this genre-blending paranormal modern l classic!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 3 hours 53 minutes| Tor | Adult Fantasy | 9/24/2019  

Recently, YA fantasy author Justina Ireland posted this on Twitter:
And it explains a lot about my experience reading The Monster of Eldenhaven...and pretty much every other adult SFF. It always takes me a while to understand the world I’m being thrown into and lock into the story.

The Monster of Eldenhaven is a debut fantasy novella that only came out only a few months ago but has already inspired quite the fandom. I only came across it because cosplay and fanart for it kept showing up on my Twitter timeline. When I saw it was a pretty slim book I decided to give it a shot. 

The book begins with Johann, an unnamed creature that steps out of Eldenhaven’s toxic black water and befriends Herr Florian Lichenbloom, a wealthy accountant and secret sorcerer. Johann is just what the delicate seemingly Florian needs to set in motion his plans for revenge. Giesbrecht weaves a grisly story that kind of tap dances on the line between fantasy and horror. Seriously ya’ll; it’s not for the faint of heart or squeamish.

I did part of this audio and narrator Daniel Henning did a good job, though his voice for Johann felt a little too monstrous and broad.

 The Monster of Eldenhaven was an intriguing excursion into a genre I don’t normally read and a perfect Halloween-y read but now I need some fluffy holiday romance in my eyeballs now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 15 hrs 14 mins | Brilliance Audio | YA Fantasy | 09/29/2015 
I'm on a mission to read the Grishaverse series before the Netflix show comes out and right now I have Crooked Kingdom and King of Scars left.

The Plot
Six of Crows takes place across the True Sea in Ketterdaman where instead of mysticism, war and rebellion being the driving force... it's capitalism!

Set in what appears to be an Industrial Era-inspired Amsterdamn, six outcast team up a la Suicide Squad to sneak inside one of the most fortified cities in the world to steal a secret that could change the world of Grisha forever.

Bardugo is clearly doing something very different here from the first series and I enjoyed it more than the Shadow and Bones series.  I think as far as Shadow and Bone goes, there is an established formula or expectation for how a teenagers-rebelling-against-the-enemy story plays out however with something like Six of Crows--which features six main characters on a cross-country mission--there is a lot of room to play and Bardugdo goes for it. Along the way, we do deep deep dives into the characters and what bought them the slums of Ketterdam.

As far as backstories go I'm just going, to be honest--there is a lot of trauma and a lot more slavery than I like in my fantasy.

The Characters
Kaz is a cunning and heartless leader who was reborn on the streets, Jesper is a gambling sharpshooter and Inej is a displaced thief and collector of information. Then we have Nina the loyal Grisha with feeling for Mattias, a falsely imprisoned Grisha-hunter and finally Wyland the prodigal son who will never return with a talent for explosives.

I was worried about how this book would flow with so many characters but the pacing was even and we get a good balance of backstory and the heist with all its wrong turns and plan b's.  The ending went a little over my head. I had a hard time visualizing what has happing but once they reach the end of the heist---woo. I mean...I kind of feel like this could have been a standalone. The very end of the book felt to me like an excuse to keep it going.

Bardugo pairs the characters with the person they have unresolved conflict/feeling with to develop and grow their relationships. I could see the framework this was sitting on--especially with Jesper and Wylan who I kind of felt were added in at the last minute.

I mean Jesper is a sharp-shooting gambling college dropout lying to his parents who is *slight spoiler* a Grisha but remains one of the least explored characters. It's like she didn't know quite what he was supposed to.

Structurally I didn't really understand why this book was split by POV. It's in the third person so did we really need it to split? I feel like this was something they did because it was YA. I just get a little annoyed when we are rushed to catch up with a POV we didn't get before.

Like with the other Grisha books I still have a hard time understanding the Grisha power and I was even more confused in this book. The limitations and abilities the Grisha have seems to vary and I still can't keep up with all the orders.

I'll dive in here and say I actually had an issue with the way Inej was portrayed. I sometimes feel like the book went out of its way to exoticize her. Her main descriptor is her bronze skin, that she's slim, wise and is often fetishized. This is all in addition to being taken from her family only be saved by the white man.  At points, the book is aware that this exoticizing is bad but it doesn't always show in the text. I mean Jesper is clearly supposed also be dark-skinned as well but it's just wasn't treated the same way to me.

(*Sigh* I wrote this review before the cast reveals and neither of them are dark-skinned so ...yeah.)

My Thoughts vs. Kat's Thoughts
Kat reviewed this book first and unlike Kat I actually like the relationship between  Inej and Kaz.  They both have something they are reaching for which means they can't be together.  I mean sure I could have used a little less of Kaz (I say this so much about YA male characters) being afraid of *the feels* but I don't know... I kind of ship it. Slight spoiler I clocked that Kaz not liking touch thing because I started many a historical romance with heroes like this.

Like Kat I also wasn't loving whatever was happening with Mattias, l just couldn't unsee the metaphors to Nazis but I don't think he is beyond redemption.

The Audiobook Review
The audio features multiple narrators. Kaz was probably the trickiest to do for the narrators because he is described as having a very distinct voice, though I believe one of the narrators tried to do a Mid Atlantic accent which seemed apropos. Unlike Kat I kind of like Elizabeth Evan's voice for Nina, I think she was trying to be cheeky and confident. I've heard Jay Snyder in an adult audiobook before and I would have never seen him as YA because of his deep mature voice but he takes on Mattias, the oldest character in the book. Fred Berman was ideal for Kaz but based on samples I've heard I feel like he was holding back the gravel in his voice just a tad.

 I do have one nitpick about this book so...SPOILER ALERT. Jurda Parem is a powerful substance that turns Grisha into superheroes and everyone is so amazed and afraid of how powerful it makes the Grisha but like...what about The Darkling? Like are we forgetting a Grisha killed thousands of people with a shadow? If you read the first series you'd know how The Darkling lived forever and how Merzots bought people back to life and how Alina was the Sun Summoner and as readers we're supposed to be shocked and amazed by this?

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Cruel Prince By Holly Black

Rating: ★★ + .5 | 8 hours 39 minutes| Hachette Audio | Fantasy | 1/02/18 

Here we go.

I'm a big fan of Holly Black's Curse Workers' series and I've always found it interesting that The Curse Workers series is SO unlike her other writings which feature witches, wizards and fae. Black has been writing YA about faerie for years and Curel Prince has been a big hit. I was intrigued because of the high review Kat gave it and was ready to dive in.

The book follows three sisters who are whisked away against their will to Faerie where they live among the gentry. But to truly earn a place among the Folk, they must make a way for themselves no matter the cost.

17-year-old Jude Durate is fierce and determined so when she has the opportunity to join the Court of Shadows, a group of royal spies, to ensure the next King of Faerie is crowned she takes her chance. I sort of wish the book was about this--but it wasn't. Jude's role as a spy in more of a side plot to make room for all the ...cruelness.

Honestly, I found the first 30% of the book kind of unpleasant, I didn't really enjoy watching the main character basically get tortured only to have her main tormentor, Prince Cardan, on the way to partially redemption at the end. It truly felt like we were supposed to look at the events that happened and understand he didn't mean for it to be that way. Because he can't stop thinking about her. Ugh.

There was a scene where we see Cardan being abused by his older brother and we learn he has a well-read copy of Jude's favorite book and I was like..nope. I see what you are trying to do here and no. I don't care how much eyeliner he wears and all the prose about his cheekbones.

Kat and I kind of disagree about what Black is trying to do with Cardan. I feel like she's setting him up to become our hero because the book s called CRUEL PRINCE. Maybe I'm getting old but I'm just not a fan of toxic males characters getting redeemed because they had a bad childhood or like the same book as the female main character.

Speaking of tormentors I also couldn't unsee Jude and Taryn as having Stockholm Syndrome. They are taken in by Madoc, their mother's ex-husband (WHO SHE RAN AWAY FROM) after he slaughters her. SPOILERS: Of all the characters that die in this book it would have made the most sense for her to have killed him.

Speaking of which....

As far as the world-building I also sort of questioned the plot device that got them to Faerie. Madoc says that in Faerie that they are obligated to take in the children of their spouse but like nowhere else in the book does this happen. Also, we learn Jude's parents were humans who were treated with respect in Faerie but we meet no other humans like this in the book. Where were these humans in Jude's life? All the humans she meets are either bewitched and like I know the book is supposed to leave Jude without allies to motivate her but then The Court of Shadows shows up and I felt no connection to these characters.

Also one of the Carden's minions begins to fall for Jude but it's revealed that he actually told Jude's sister that he would marry her if she let him court Jude. Like I find it hard to believe that Jude, who has experienced all these hardships at the hands of Fae would SERIOUSLY believe Locke was on her side.

With all that said I'm interested to read the second book because I'm really curious if Black plans to redeem all of the characters. I hate saying this about females characters but Jude's rise to power felt like a little inevitable and therefore not 100% earned.

Caitlin Kelly, the audiobook narrator has a very youthful voice and handles a ton of characters. I think she sounded a tad too young for Jude but I'd recommend the audio overall.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

Rating: ★★★★★| 447 pages | Contemporary | Balzer & Bray | Release Date: 2/5/2019
I don’t know what this says about me but when a book or author has a lot of hype I tend not to read it until it quiets down. Angie Thomas was an author like that. I’d been following her ever since she announced her deal on Twitter and I’m happy to see the success she’s gained. I’ve still yet to read The Hate U Give because I’m not in a place to read Black trauma stories but when I was taking a bus trip I saw this on Overdrive and picked it up.

Now, this book exists in the same place as The Hate U Give and does spoil some of the outcomes of that book so be warned if you haven’t read it.

In On The Come Up 16-year-old Brianna “Bri” Jackson is an aspiring rapper from the hood who lives in the shadow of her deceased father’s rap fame. She’s ready to have her come up but injustice, poverty, and complicated family dynamics stand in her way.

I was instantly taken with Bri’s journey as she tries to figure out how to use her rap talents to get attention and then what to do with that attention. I read this on my Kindle and I was shocked to find this was 447 pages, because I read it so quickly. Bri is an outspoken, impulsive hotheaded heroine who knows how to stand up for herself. I feel like when I was a teen there were lots of books about Black kids in lower-income neighborhoods but they rarely featured female characters who got as much depth or agency. Bri has a holistic life that includes her friends and family who are far from perfect but always supportive.

I can see why Thomas’ writing has captured so many teen readers. She is writing not only for teen readers but for teen readers right now. Her characters talk like teenagers and their conversations are filled with pop culture and meme references that may not make sense even 5 years from now but are very reflective of teens today.

My reading has gotten pretty varied over the years but once a year I will read a contemporary YA book that reminds me why it’s my favorite genre. On The Come Up is an incisive contemporary take on teen issues and a love letter to the power of rap music.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Rating: ★★★ | 408 pages | Mystery YA | HarperCollins | Release Date: 10/02/2018
Mia Ferguson and Brynn McNally are the notorious Monsters of Brickhouse Lane. Five years ago they murdered their best friend Summer Marks in the exact way described in their fanfiction and then got away with it. But here’s the thing nobody will believe; they really didn’t do it. On the 5th anniversary of Summer’s death, the former friends reunite to find the truth.

Jess gave me this book for my birthday and it was so much in my wheelhouse. I’ve been a fan of Oliver’s writing since the Delirium series and one of the few true comes stories I’m fascinated by is the Slenderman stabbing. I was excited to see how these elements and fanfiction was going to be used and...I was a little disappointed in the execution. The inclusion of the fanfic didn’t feel natural or realistic and most of what they were “discovering” had no bearing on the mystery.

Also yes, yes, there are some strong Pretty Little Liars vibes, particularly in how the dead girl is treated and the way we go back and forth between past and present to learn not everything is what it seems.

While I enjoyed the ride, the ending did leave me (and judging by the Goodreads question section other readers) somewhat confused. I was left with more questions than answers about why exactly the killer did what they did.

Still, I want to read more mystery YA now !

*stares at copy of Sadie that’s been sitting on my nightstand for 2 years*

*Although, I would like to read something where a female character isn't the one victimized

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Rating: ★★★ | 408 pages | Contemporary | Putnam | Release Date: 4/30/2019
16-year-old Elouise doesn't love being the dancing hot dog at the dilated amusement park Magic Castle Playland but the park is her second home and she plans to make her summer working there her best one yet. But as summer commences absolutely nothing goes as she plans.

From the cover, I assumed Hot Dog Girl was a quicky romantic comedy but it feels more like a CW-style romance drama as we watch this group of teens navigate their relationships to each other. I thought the friendship between Elouise and her best friend, Seeley felt genuine and lived in. Elouise is bisexual and Seeley is a lesbian and their identities are part of the story and friendship but not the entire story.

I had some trouble with Elouise. She schemes and uses people (Seeley included) in a way that is meant to be adorable but gave me some Zach Morris is Trash vibes. Instead of facing consequences for her actions (like stealing someone's bank statement to see how much they make) she is seen as endearing and even rewarded for it. It made it hard for me to root for her getting her romance in the end.

I did this on audiobook and the narration was stellar. Brittany Presley’s bright, energetic voice molded to fit the cast of teens in the book. The audiobook features phone sound effects during the texting scenes and I thought it was a nice touch. As more books incorporate texting, e-mails and social media I hope we get more of these audio cues. It added a lot of clarity.

Hot Dog Girl is a somewhat tedious but endearing story of friendship, love and growing up.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 6 hours 30 minutes | Contemporary | LBFYR | Release Date: 8/20/2019

16-year-old Dove “Birdie” Randolph obediently follows every expectation her strict mother sets out for her. But the summer before her junior year her estranged Aunt--recovering from addiction--moves in with the family and Birdie starts to challenge everything she’s ever been told.

This book delivered a lot of what I expect from Colbert; quiet, deeply character-driven, slice-of-life YAs that can serve as an introduction to sensitive topics to teens. I liked the journey Dove went on as she learns about addiction and recovery from her aunt and starts dating a new boy.

Dove’s mother owns a hair salon and I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot about black hair in YA and it was kind of refreshing but I struggled a lot with Dove’s mom as a character. She came off as judgemental and harsh and I’m not sure the book redeems her well enough.

A large part of this book revolves around a secret. As an adult who has consumed a lot of media, I literally clocked the secret from page one and genre-savvy teen readers will too. I wish Colbert had revealed it sooner because it happens so late in the book that by the time Dove learns it, there isn’t much room for it to really land. There is a secondary revelation that I didn’t see coming through.

This looks to be the first and only book narrated by Andrea Lang. I thought she did a great job giving voice to all the characters. She must also be a fast reader too because this book is over 300 pages but the audiobook is only 6 hours long.

Colbert delivers another story about coming-of-age when you have complicated family dynamics.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Siege and Storm and Rise and Ruin by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: ★★★ | 435 pages | Henry Holt and Co. | Fantasy | 06/04/2013 
In book two of the Grisha series Alina and Mal have deftly escaped the clutches of the Darkling and, with the help of a mysterious pirate,  head back to Ravka to raise an army. But the Darkling won't let them go without a fight. Now drunk with power, he sails the seas to bring Alina back to his side. 

I thought this book was just okay. Honestly, I'm reading the series so I can read Six of Crows (And so I can watch the Netflix Show).  Mal and Alina escape Ravka in the first book and I was intrigued by the idea of exploring other countries in this world, but somehow the characters literally end up back where they started.

First I'll talk about (SPOILER AHOY !) the swaggery pirate who turns out to be the prince of Ravka (I saw this one coming since the first mention of him in book one). I thought he was probably the most interesting character in the book, I could never tell what he was going to do next.

But I guess the important thing in this book is Alina's "transformation" I guess? Once back in Ravka she takes the place of The Darkling and her rise to power felt...unjustified. I never got the sense she was a true leader. I mean she only went to the Grisha school for like a year and just because she's the Sun Summoner she has leadership skills? I feel like there is this odd mix where the characters get to act like teens but are also trusted also do adult stuff? One minute she's getting all the Grisha to mix lunch tables and getting the nerds to go to P.E (I mean the Materialki go to fight training)  but also signing off on military request? I just don't feel the power from her.

Like, there are no actual adults who take charge during this whole kerfuffle. I know it's YA and teens are going to take the lead but there could just be ONE? Who could be like a mentor? 

All the while Mal gets really broody.  Mal becomes Alina's guard knowing it's the closest he can get to her. He broods because he has to watch her be with Nikolai and fight her connection to the Darkling. So to cope he becomes a drunk bare-knuckle brawler ? I mean...okay.

Seriously there is some sort of love rhombus going on because literally every dude in this book kisses Alina at some point and I'm just not feeling a lot of these ships. I get why some people might like the Darkling, IDK what it is about powerful brooding bad boy (and I totes saw what Bardogu was doing there with that scene of them kissing in the church and making vows. MMMHMM) but the character-type feels overused to me.

Also, what's the deal with the Apparat? I never understood why his character was a villain, he seemed well-meaning to me. I was kind of shocked how "evil" he sounded in the audiobook. I just don't understand the antagonism towards the religion in this book.

This book felt a lot like Insurgent in which a bunch of secondary characters are introduced who you just know are gonna die. 

IDK, I'm having a hard time being invested in this world. I can't keep any of the Grisha order's straight and it was even harder on audio when I couldn't flip back and forth. Whenever they say any of the Grisha types I just have no idea what they are talking about. Some of the orders are used interchangeably and some aren't.

Rating: ★★ | 422 pages | Henry Holt and Co. | Fantasy | 06/17/2014
I finally reached the end of a YA fantasy series and I don't have that much to say. Rise and Ruin does a tidy job of wrapping up Alina and Mal's story but overall I just felt kind of meh on it. It's the same basic song and dance of Alina and Mal escaping, trying to find the Amplifier and having a big battle with the Darkling.

There are a ton of side characters who die, but to be honest, I had no idea who any of them were so I can't say I was emotionally invested. I did enjoy hearing the backstory of Morozova and the Darkling origins but HOLY MACKEREL can we not with graphic violence against toddlers?

I can imagine fans of the series being miffed because of how little the Darkling is in this book. It wasn't until I was reading other reviews that I even noticed it.

Look, it made me really mad that they gave the Darkling a funeral. I'm sorry---but I am not for redeeming villains who murdered innocent people.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Silent Reading Party Experience

From Silent Reading Party Instagram

Last month we headed to The Graduate Hotel Richmond to par-tay...and by party, I mean read books!

I’d read about the Silent Reading Party in and wanted to see what it was all about. The reading parties are organized by Richmonder Sarah Choi, and in the year she’s been hosting the event it has really taken off. I woke up bright and early at 6:30AM the day ticket went on sale to make sure I got two tickets for Jess and I to attend. I was glad I did because the 50 tickets were sold out in less than a minute. I just think that’s so amazing that people are vying for tickets just to sit and read.

The day of the party we arrived early and from the moment you walk into the reading space, there is no talking. Sarah greeted the readers with a silent wave and we were given cards to take to the bar to order our drinks. I got the Treasure Island cocktail. It was good but maybe not what I needed--I’m more a caffeine drinker when it comes to reading beverages.

The reading venue was the lobby of a boutique hotel in downtown Richmond. I liked that there was some hustle and bustle from the lobby so it wasn’t totally silent. Sitting in a space with a bunch of people quietly reading was such a surreal scene to be apart of, you sort of feel like you are in an interactive art exhibit. There was an array of readers from all age groups reading on everything from physical books to e-readers to iPads.

Speaking of books, I was a total nerd about it and bought two books. I read some of Broken Girls by Lauren Oliver and two stories in Hungry Hearts anthology. Jess took along A Conjuring of Light by V.E Schwab and Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

I have a short attention span when it comes to reading so we left after about an hour and half--which was fine because participants can come and go as they please.

Overall, I thought it was a cool event and it was fun to go to a place in the city that I wouldn't normally visit. I also just love that people are excited about reading! I totally see myself going again when I need to carve out some dedicated reading time.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

We're Celebrating Eight Years + Giveaway

Eight years ago Kat and I were recent college grads, living at home and searching for post-college jobs while wondering the shelves at Books-A-Million. We started the blog as a place to (I'll admit)  to  poke fun at the burgeoning Paranormal YA craze that was so different from the Teen fiction we devoured as teens in the mid 00's

Instead, we discovered how amazing these books could be and stumbled across a community of, dedicated readers and passionate bloggers. I talk more about our "origin" story in our first blogaversary post.

During the past eight years we've expanded to include all fiction, started a romance sister site, traveled to bookish conventions, partnered with publishers and trade publications while promoting authors and books we want to tell you about.

To celebrate we are giving away 1 9oz Candle From Novelly, Yours.

U.S only

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Beckoning Shadow by Katharyn Blair

Unrated | 480 pages | Paranormal YA | Katherine Tegen Books | Release Date: 07/02/2019

The Beckoning Shadow feels like a unicorn of a book in the world of YA because it's paranormal and...get this..it is standalone.

Vesper Montgomery was your average caramel frappuccino-drinking-carefree, high school cheerleader--until she discovers she is an Oddity-- a  human with superhuman powers that have to be kept hidden unless she wants to risk the wrath of the mysterious Wardens. Vesper has the rare ability to control and pull out people's fears. When she loses control of her powers she becomes a danger to her family and decides to run.

Then one night in San Francisco Vesper stumbles upon a crew of Oddities who are putting their powers to use in a series of underground cage matches for the chance to undo one moment from their lives. Vesper wants in. This former high school cheerleader ditches the pom-poms for a pair of boxing gloves and the cage match of her life.

I jumped at a chance to review this book because I've always wondered why the popularity of MMA fighting in New Adult has never leaked over to YA since most fighters start young.

To win the competition Vesper teams up with Sam, a young human MMA fighter who knows more about the world of Oddities that he should.  There was just the right amount of stakes and plot to keep this book going but then Blair introduces a murder mystery which was interesting but a lot of the reveals were like ..."Hey, remember that guy? He's really THAT GUY" it fell a little flat.

On one level I like that this book is genre-savvy, it sort of breaks the fourth wall to poke fun at the "let's start a rebellion" trope you see in most YA. The stakes aren't about changing the world order-- but about the characters having a chance to overcome their personal shortcomings. The different types of power are unique and I thought it was really creative how Vesper uses her power to pull out fears to fight.

On the other hand, I also think the world-building was revealed in such a strange way. Like we don't get a feel of how Oddieties fit into the normal (as they call it Baseline) world. Vesper mentions that everyone has heard the stories of Oddities, yet no humans ever talk about it. Its's like...what stories? It gets ironed out in a  pretty big exposition dump, but I think trying to construct the world distracted me until it was fully explained.

With that said I'm ready for paranormal YA to have a big comeback. Blair has solid pacing and writes vivid action scenes. This gave me some 2010's YA feels, I'm curious to see what this author does next.

I think the title of this book does it a serious disservice. It just sounds like every other YA Fantasy. I couldn't remember the title of this book for anything. The characters have a strong relationship with the poem Invictus... why couldn't that be the title?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Rating: ★★★ | 12 Hours 2 Min | Crime/Suspense | Harper Audio | Release Date: 12/01/2015

I am one of those people who really got into true crime after listening to the Serial podcast. I like how true crime gives you a snapshot of people's lives and how chance encounters and small moments can change lives forever.

Because I dive so much into true crime I don't generally gravitate towards crime fiction however, I was in the mood for some plotty fiction with momentum and maybe some plot twists--- crime fiction seemed to fit the bill and  What She Knew was one of the top audiobooks on Scribd. It's ominous background and san-serif text instantly told me it was suspense/crime fiction.

Set in the small city of Bristol, England What She Knew flips POV between Rachel, a recently divorced single mother and Detective Inspector Clemo; their paths collide when Rachel's eight-year-old son is abducted in broad daylight. Rachel has an emotional outburst during a press conference that makes the public suspicious of her. As the case hits the national spotlight both Clemo and Rachel endure public outrage, dark family secrets and lies that threaten to crumble the investigation.

 Because of the first person POV it feels in the beginning like there is some unreliable narrator stuff happening or that there was going to be a major plot twist, but honestly most of this book felt like a procedural with the kind of bonkers out of left-field reveals you'd find in a 2010's episode of Law and Order SVU --that had nothing to really do with the main crime.

Audiobook narrators Penelope Rawlins and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart are a dynamic pair. They really work the silences in the text and give emotional moments room to breathe. They capture the hopelessness of the situation as everyone scrambles to find the missing child. Rawlins narration mimics Rachel's fragility as she endures harsh accusations and is publicly shamed for losing her own child. Bruce-Lockhart gets that tough authoritative tone as Inspector Clemo, but I really liked his no-nonsense lilting portrayal of the Scottish police chief.

I like reading books that take place in other countries and it was a nice change of pace to read a British book that didn't take place in London. I think my only real barrier to entry was trying to understand how their police system works.

When I finished this book I thought it was a little outlandish and that the portrayal of the media and police was over the top...then I listened to True Crime Obsessed talk about The Disappearance of Madeline McCann  which just had a lot of rampant and harmful speculation, so I wonder if Gilly McMillian was inspired by the case at all ?

Suspenseful and a little head scratchy this is a book that will keep you on your toes, but doesn't quite hit the landing.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

★★★+.5 | 12 hours 32 minutes | Adult SFF | Harper Audio | Audio Release Date: 11/10/2009
In this 1990 Sci-Fiction/Fantasy debut novelist Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett tell a satirical story about the end of the world. I went in knowing this book was about an angel and a demon teaming up to stop armageddon, but Good Omens also involves a book of prophecies, a witch hunter, the four horsemen of the apocalypse and...an 11-year-old antichrist.

I have a vague memory of a teacher talking about this book when I was 9th grade but I'd kind of forgotten about it. I was reading a lot of Left Behind books at that time so I can't imagine what I would have thought about this tongue and cheek interpretation of the end days. The only reason I picked it up this year is so I could check out the Amazon Prime show. A show that I was Streisand Effected into knowing about. I had no idea this show was even a thing until the controversy.

I found this book to be imaginative and kind of weird and the humor felt very British. There are a lot of plots threaded into the story and I feel like some of it may have gone over my head. I’m sure this is a book like this holds up well to re-reading, In fact, I started the show and the show is essentially a scene by scene remake of the book and things kept clicking while I watched the show that I hadn’t noticed when reading.

 The audiobook narrator Martin Jarvis does such a good job bringing the material to life and his voice work is outstanding. I don't know if I'm just biased but his Crowley sounded eerily like David Tennant. His female voices left a lot to be desired but everything else he did was so excellent. That said, this book relies a lot on footnotes and parentheticals in a way that didn't always come through as cleanly in the audio version.

Like I said, the show appears to very much be a line by line adaptation (with some added bits here and there) so I don't think you'd be missing anything if you just dived right into the show. Either way, I'm glad I checked this out.

There are a lot of people in YA who pushback against the idea of YA in the 90s being historical. And guys, this book is set in 1990 and it read extremely historical. It's not just about the pop culture references. The way in which computers, young people and technology are talked about made it feel very much of a past time.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Unrated | 368 pages | Contemporary YA | Harper Teen | Release Date: 06/04/2019
This book is made for every teenager who loves Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters. Ordinary Girls is a send-up of Sense and Sensibility (you know....that Austen book our blog is named after and neither of us have read). It tells the story of the two totally opposite Blatchley sisters and their mother as they trt to save their old Victorian house.

Fifteen-year-old Plum Blatchtly is the most sensible of the group, she's a dreamy introvert who often finds herself taking charge in her unconventional family and develops a sweet romance with the roguish boy from down the street. As a character, you can tell she idolizes the women of Austen's time and her speech and cadence reflect that.

The Blatchley women are quirky, free-spirited and not above a humorous situation. From furniture-less dinner parties, broken water pipes and small fires they endure quite a year.

Ordinary Girls is a well-meaning and earnest YA novel made for fans of the Jane Austen aesthetic.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Out of the Pocket By Bill Konigsberg

 Unrated |  Contemporary |  Dutton Juvenile | Release Date: 9/18/2008
Bill Konigsberg is my favorite type of YA author, the kind who has been writing for years but suddenly gets a big highly marketed title with tons of buzz (usually because of the big push in diversity) from the book influencer world.

Konigsberg's sixth book, The Music Of What Happens, is on a ton of most anticipated YA  list for 2019 and Out of The Pocket was his debut all the way back in 2008.

Bobby Framingham is the star quarterback of his Southern California high school football team. He is most at home with this team on the field and trying to find the best way to come out to his friends and family without losing the community he holds close. After being publically outed, Bobby is thrust in the national spotlight.  Now out of his comfort zone, he has to be the best quarterback he can be, hold his team together and support his father after he is given a life-changing diagnosis.

Out of The Pocket feels like a microcosm of teen life in the late 2000s, I was in high school during the time this book takes place and for me, this book was like a blast from the past. It's this strange time where we were using landlines and watching cable TV while at the same time using cell phones and Google. I could go on and on about the references to the pop culture like Avril Lavigne and Borat. But I think what this book really reminded me of was how 'casual homophobia' was just apart of our culture.

2008 was just ten years ago but back then Don't Ask Don't Tell and DOMA was still in effect, gay marriage was not nationally legalized and MTV had to run PSAs telling people not to use gay as a slur.

I really wonder what Gen Z would think of millennials after reading this?  I mean I remember being in high school and hearing people say everything was "gay" and a teacher making a joke about how kids ran around calling each other "homos".

I think if teen me would have picked this up I would have likened it to Chris Crutcher's novels. Crutcher wrote sports fiction which tackled race, violence, and class. This book enthralled me even though I know absolutely nothing about sports. Konigsberg has a slightly lighter touch
but if you enjoy this Chris Crutcher may be a great read-a-like. I can't guarantee his books age well but I think they are worth a try.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

You'd Be Mine by Erin Hahn

Rating: Unrated | 304 pages | Contemporary/Romance | Macmillian | Release Date: 4/2/2019
I've seen this book recommended as Nashville meets A Star Is Born which I don't think is fair because this book was so much better than A Star is Born. Like, this book was what I wanted A Star Is Born to be. I will say music is my pop culture blind spot. I'm not a music person but I'm fascinated by media about music.

Annie Mathers' is a bright, talented and humble country girl raised by two country music icons whose lives came to a tragic end six years ago. Now she's is ready to head out on her own and tour with the bad boy of country music; Clay Coolidge. Clay and Annie become a sensation on tour with enough chemistry and talent to sell out stadiums.

What the world doesn't know is that Clay Coolidge's swaggering party frat boy persona is just an act that Jefferson Daniels wears to cover the pain of losing his brother and grandfather. The more Jefferson embraces "Clay" the more he sinks into depression and alcoholism and when Annie and her band join his tour for the summer, they pull him out of his siloed world and remind him what it is to be young, talented and free. 

The characters in this book all have a lot of fun together, they form a bond only performers (and theater kids) can understand. Clay and Annie's bands both have fiddlers who have an instant spark and passionate summer romance.

I liked that Annie is presented as Christian and it's not used as shorthand for virtue or to foil to Clay's sinner image. Religion is a genuine part of her life and something she leans on to deal with her past.

But here is why I ultimately think the romance in this book works:

There is a grovel. 

A grovel is something romance novel readers used to describe the moment when the (typically) hero in the romance has to come back and make a change to win back the heroine. Clay is a teen alcoholic and his illness takes him to some dark places that he has to pull himself out of to earn his HEA with Annie.

Because a majority of the characters are 18-20 this read a lot like a New Adult romance. Hahn has a great ability to build and break relationships, cultivate drama and in a way I associate with New Adult. I wonder if Hahn ever considered this route? I see that she is also a former Twilight fanfiction writer, many of whom have found great success in the NA genre.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Rating: ★★★★ | 320 pages | Contemporary | Roaring Brook Press | Release Date: 6/4/2019

When 17-year-old Chloe Pierce gets the opportunity to audition for her dream ballet school she’ll have to break her overly cautious mother’s rules for the first time to audition. Her carefully planned day trip is quickly derailed into an unexpected weeklong road trip, when her troublemaking neighbor Eli Greene--and his dog Geezer--tag along for the ride.

I read this book while on vacation and it was the perfect YA vacation read. Forest has crafted a solid debut about discovery, friendship and confidence-building in a fun rom-com package. In our 19 to 2019 I said this looked like the kind of book teen me would have enjoyed and it totally was!

What I like most about this book is that it features an all-Black and brown cast but there are no “on page” moments of racial trauma or microaggressions. There are a couple moments in the book where I thought it was going to go there but I found myself relieved when it didn’t. I see microaggressions pop up a lot in YA stories that are not about racial trauma. At times it feels like they are included as a “teachable” moment for white readers. I think those narratives are important but sometimes I feel like teens of color need a break. Now, there is a brief moment where Chloe notices her body is developing differently than the other white ballerinas in the book, but it felt more observational than aggressive.

This book is also perfect for a younger YA audience who may want to read a romance that has kissing but no mentions of sex.

I Wanna Be Where You Are is the perfect coming of age YA summer read about how sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. Can’t wait to see what Forest does next!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Five Great New Audiobooks About Living On Your Own Terms.

Summer isn't over yet and AudioFile Magazine is here to share some must-listen unique young adult audiobooks for those last days of summer.

What is it about individuals and society? They’re not always coming from the same place, that’s for sure. Here are our picks of five great new audiobooks about living on your own terms. Some edgy, some sweet, some joyful, some weepers. All awesome. Here’s to having an audiobook in your ear. 

                          - Aurelia C. Scott, AudioFile Magazine blogger

CROWN OF FEATHERS by Nicki Pau Preto 
Read by Samantha Desz, Jacques Roy, Joy Osmanski, Gibson Frazier, Cassandra Campbell
Simon & Schuster Audio | Unabridged | Earphones Award Winner
This flawless full cast carries the listener away to the fantasy world in Niki Pau Preto's first novel. Guided by Veronyka, a war orphan who disguises herself as a boy in order to join a group of rebels who ride phoenixes into battle, you’ll immerse yourself in this tale about relationships, loyalty, and finding something you care about.

PAN'S LABYRINTH: THE LABYRINTH OF THE FAUN by Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke | 
Read by Thom Rivera
Harper Audio | Unabridged 
There’s nothing like fairytales for chills and thrills. In Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke’s atmospheric version of del Toro’s twisty film about a girl who undergoes a series of tests to attain immortality, chills and thrills are abundant. Beautifully voiced by Thom Rivera, who gives realistic characterizations to everyone from the girl to cruel Captain Vidal.

LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. Ali |
 Read by Priya Ayyar, Tim Chiou, S.K. Ali
Simon & Schuster Audio | Unabridged | Earphones Award Winner
Love between two very different Muslim teens who meet on spring break is movingly voiced by Priya Ayyar and Tim Chiou, with the author entering as referee when the teens’ (fictional) diaries conflict. No one said love is easy. But it’s always worth the effort. 

FIVE MIDNIGHTS by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Read by Almarie Guerra
MacMillan Audio | Unabridged | Earphones Award Winner
This deliciously scary murder-mystery based on Puerto Rico’s mythic boogeyman-monster is fully inhabited by Almarie Guerra’s narration. A 16-year-old "GringaRican" living with her uncle for the summer and a 17-year-old recovering addict try to figure out why his childhood friends are dying on the eve of their 18th birthdays. Just don’t listen late at night.

SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS by Jessie Ann Foley | Read by Ron Butler

Harper Audio | Unabridged | Earphones Award Winner 
We’ve all said it, knowing that the phrase can’t begin to comfort someone’s pain. Well this is what it’s like to be on the receiving end - inside the pain of losing an older brother and finding a way through to the other side. Terrifically performed by Ron Butler, who sensitively portrays 16-year-old Pup Flanagan and everyone else in his large and varied family.

For more audiobook reviews, features and extras check out Audiofilemagazine.com!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Content Warnings: transphobia, homophobia and domestic violence

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 288 pages | Contemporary | Flatiron Books | Release Date: 5/21/2019

Eric and Morgan are best friends who share everything--including a birthday. On their 13th birthday, Morgan is ready to tell Eric they identify as a girl even though they were assigned male at birth. But that moment never comes and in each chapter, we visit Morgan and Eric on their shared birthday and watch how their lives grow and change through adolescence.

The cover calls this a love story---and it is--but this isn’t exactly a romance, which is kind of what I thought it was going to be. This story takes place in small-town Tennesse where the only way out is football. Morgan has to struggle with toxic masculinity, poverty and alcoholism while trying to come out as trans.  There is also mention of and one scene of domestic violence as well as lots of homophobia and transphobia so it can be a tough read at times.

Birthday is a heart-wrenching but ultimately hopeful story about friendship and love  I'm sure we will be hearing about around Printz time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Los Angeles Bookstore Hop

You may have noticed Kat and I had an irregular posting schedule for a few months and while part of it was a slump, it was also because we were deep into planning a  trip to Los Angeles. We wanted to get a taste (literally, 80% of what we did was eat) of West Coast vibes and being book bloggers we had to, of course, visit some of L.A's popular book stores.

The Ripped Bodice

Romance and Sensibility is our romance blog, so of course, we had to stop at the Rippped Bodice--one of the first bookstores to cater to romance readers. This was one of our first stops after landing and the quaint bookstore is on a hip little street in Culver City.  I liked the open floor plan and it had books for readers of all types. We ventured up to the used book room to check out the stacks of used old school romance. The staff was super helpful. Kat bought I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest and Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh. I picked up Red, White, and Royal Blue and a Ripped Bodice Tote !

The Last Bookstore
Part bookshop part museum this two-story bookish wonderland was like a  supped up version of The Strand with an artistic flair, The top floor is a maze of exhibits and shelves of books, while the bottom floor is like a regular indie bookstore with a rare book section. Because there are exhibits visitors have to check large bags.

Barnes & Noble at The Grove
We passed through The Grove at the tail end of our trip and stopped for a quick look around this massive two-story Barnes & Noble. Going up the escalator you can see signs for events they are hosting and I am so jealous at all the author events they have.

Our L.A Trip has some hitches along the way so we didn't get to everything we'd planned. We stayed in an awesome Silverlake Airbnb with a balcony perfect for reading and visited some of the best coffee shops I've ever been to. I could totally see myself going again in a few years.

Even though it's not bookish related here is a list of all the amazing places we ate:
  • Tito's Tacos
  • Pasta Sisters
  • Hi-Ho Cheeseburger
  • The Coffee Beanery
  • Paper or Plastic's Cafe
  • Little Damages
  • Alfred's Coffee Silverlake (literally the best vanilla latte I've ever had)
  • In-N-Out Burger
  • Silver Lake Ramen
  • Milk
  • Homestate
  • Caffe Stella
  • Pine & Crane
  • Alfred's Tea Room 
  • Alfred's Coffee Melrose (This one was cool but not as good as the Silverlake one)
  • Cafe Carerra
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes
  • Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles
  • Randy's Donut


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