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.

SPOILER ALERT
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.




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