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.


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