Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Curse So Dark and Lonely By Brigid Kremmer



Rating: ★★ | 496 pages | Bloomsbury YA | Fantasy | Release Date: 01/29/2019

The big marketing push for this book in the blogosphere totally put this book on my radar. Brigid Kremmer is a veteran YA author and the premise of this book sounded pretty intriguing; Harper, a modern teen girl, teams up with Rhen a  prince from another world, to end a curse. While the ending is quite the cliffhanger I generally found that this book wasn't for me

I want to preface this all by saying I'm sort of fascinated by YA Fantasy and the tropes it often inhabits. Tropes that I think are so prevalent that the YA Fantasy novel Damsel purposefully turns them on their head. Some things I keep an eye out for are :

No Boys .... Unless Thier Cute
YA Fantasy has no shortage of brooding cute boys. Usually royalty. If there isn't one just wait until book 2

Capitan of The Guard
In a YA fantasy world, you can usually count on a high ranking bodyguard or royal protector. 9 times out of 10 this character is secretly in love with their charge. I feel like this character's existence is an easy way to create an emotional bond between the main (usually royal) protagonist and the secondary character. Kremmer turns this concept on its head during the last few chapters which was pretty interesting.

Rebel
There is always a rebellion. A lot of YA fantasy has a fight-against-the-machine-tear-it-down mentality. This is one of my favorites tropes in YA fantasy because whether or not I will read the second book in a series depends on how much the rebellion has changed the status quo

A Curse So Dark and Lonely hits all of the usual tropes in a way that is satisfying but sort of predictable. When Harper is whisked away to Emberfall and meets Prince Rhen, who (after sleeping with an evil sorceress) is cursed to relive the same three months over and over again until he can find someone to love him.

Honestly . . . this curse is kind of convoluted

The curse only resets time on the grounds of Rhen's castle....also, if he kills people they don't come back... also, every time he fails to find love he is turned into a monster and attacks his kingdom. Also, he can leave the grounds of his castle if he wants to where time goes on normally but he doesn't tell people he is cursed? Also Grey, his trusty commander-- can cross worlds to kidnap girls because... reasons?  I mean I get Grey having the ability to cross worlds to get the girls got Harper into the plot but ... why? Why would that even be a thing?

A majority of this book was just a bit too earnest for me. When I read YA fantasy I like it when character's actions are flawed or selfish because sometimes being a teenager can mean being a little selfish. You never have to worry if Rhen and Harper are doing the right thing because doing what's right is all they want to do.

There was also a lot of forced proximity which always makes me feel claustrophobic. For a large portion of this book, Rhen and Harper barely leave the grounds around the castle and so much of the story is focused on Rhen,  Harper, and Grey that I didn't immediately get a feel for Emberfall or what makes it special.

The ending intrigued me, I may check the next one out from the library. Also, I'm surprised there is no audiobook. I think Chris Coulson and Eva Kaminsky would be a great pair for this.


A Curse So Dark and Lonely features a heroine with Cerebral Palsy, if you are looking for that representation give this book a shot!




























Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Timekeeper by Tara Sim


Rating: ★★| 8 hours 48 minutes | Fantasy | Skypony Press | Release Date: 11/8/2016

In Sim's Victorian London clock towers do more than just tell time...they keep it moving. Danny Hart is London’s youngest clock mechanic and his job is to repair England’s many clock towers. But when Danny falls in love with the spirit of the Enfield clock tower their forbidden relationship could stop time forever.

Oh, and they solve a crime.

I kept hearing Eric Smith talk about this book on the Hey YA podcast so when I saw it at the library I decided to pick it up. This is such a unique genre-bending story. It’s got a steampunk setting with fantasy elements and some mystery beats. I will say, the rules about clock spirits and how they work and who can see them does fall apart if you look too hard. I'm a little afraid Sim will have to break her own rules to continue telling more stories in the series.

The audiobook is narrated by Gary Furlong (whose name kept making me think of the character in Veep) who gives a great performance and I highly rec this on audio. Furlong has this great arsenal of British male accents, although he only has about one female voice in him. I see he does some romances so I'll have to check those out.

Even though Danny is 17-years-old I think this is a great YA for younger readers. It has interesting themes and questions without being too dark. Sims' world is also inclusive. The clock spirit, Colton, is a boy and Danny being gay is part of his story but not the whole story. I do kind of side-eye the half Indian character who is constantly described as fair and blonde.




Sunday, July 7, 2019

That Time I Read The Grishaverse Books Out of Order


In the Star Wars fandom there is this thing called Machete Order. It was created by software developer and Star Wars fan Rod Hilton in 2011 as an alternative to watching the films in chronological or release order. In Machete Order, you watch a New Hope and then the 2000’s movies are watched as a flashback between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I’ve been thinking about Machete Order because that is sort of the way I read Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books and I kind of think it’s a really effective way to read them.

Here is my Machete Order of the Grishaverse:



I think Shadow and Bone should be read first because it breaks down the Grisha orders, how they exist in the world at large and how their power works more so than the other books. Now, I personally still find some of Bardugo’s magic, er science system, confusing but I think it can be even more confusing if you go straight into Six of Crows.

Much like in the Star Wars Machete Order some of the twists and reveals get moved to earlier in the series and yes, you will get spoilers. Most of the spoilers are about who survives in the Grisha series but I actually like the idea of knowing where they end up and then flashing back to how they got there. I’m thinking particularly about *mild spoiler* Zoya. When I first read Shadow and Bone I wrote Zoya off as a basic mean girl who existed to show Alina wasn’t “like the other girls”. But when I re-read Shadow and Bone after knowing her role in the Six of Crows series, it made her character arc more apparent and I understood why she was there.

I'm not going to review the entire Grisha series but I do want to talk about it a little bit. I think there are a lot of critiques and nitpicks that could be made, but on a surface level, I've really come around to the series. I enjoyed binging it all at once and just living in that world. It’s a classic hero’s journey but with a female character who not only gets to be strong but also vulnerable. I see how such a rabid fan base has developed, although you can keep all that Darkling fan service. My biggest issue with the series is he got way too much redemption for my taste.

I am so nervous about the upcoming Netflix series. They are smashing the books together and I’m not sure how they are going to do it. At this point I have it in my head the television shows plot won’t follow either of the books but take elements to create something new?



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen



Rating: ★★★★ | 337 pages | Contemporary | Little Brown | Release Date: 10/30/2018
17-year-old Jack Rothman loves sex and finds his reputation as the school slut somewhat amusing. When he uses his experience to write an advice column he’s prepared for more gossip and judgment but nothing prepares him for an anonymous stalker leaving little pink notes in his locker.

This book has a pretty high bar to clear. It has to give advice about sex and sexuality to minors in a way that is safe, inclusive and frank, explore the multiple facets of being a gay teen and build a thriller-like stalker plot. Somehow, L.C Rosen (the pen name of SFF author Lev AC Rosen) manages to do it all and more in this gem of a YA contemporary. 

I'll admit as some who is *mumbles* *mumbles* years old I was clutching my pearls at how explicit the advice column sections were, but I think it’s ridiculous to think teens aren’t talking and thinking this way. Especially gay or lesbian teens who don’t have a lot of models for love and romance for people their age. The columns go beyond just sex advice and also talk to teens who don’t feel like they want to have sex or straight boys who feel like they don’t fit into the way media portrays their desires. I will say the Jack in the advice column seems a lot more mature and worldly than the one in the story but I think it’s a conceit that makes sense for the book.

My favorite part of this book has to be the stalker plot. As Jack and his friends (who were also great) scheme to figure out how to catch the stalker and start interrogating their fellow classmates I got some serious American Vandal vibes. Rosen did an amazing job slowly heightening the stakes and building a mystery. This book is set in the world of the privileged New York City rich kids and it really worked because it took away a lot of the barriers and it didn’t have to explain why they never had jobs or responsibilities and  had access to just about anything they wanted.

I feel like Gen Z and younger are growing up with this new genre of teen sex comedy that are just more interesting and nuanced than what Millenials and Gen X had.  Things like this book, the show Sex Education, Chewing Gum and movies like Cockblockers give the perspective of sexual desire to women and non-straight people without making them the butt of a joke and I think that’s really great.

Jack of Hearts was a random pick from my library and I’m really glad a book like this is sitting on the shelves. Jack of Hearts is a modern and engaging take on the teen sex comedy.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Adult Genre Fiction: A Curious Beginning and Kill The Queen

I remember being a teenager in Borders (RIP) and hating that one day I’d have to give up YA and read only boring “adult” books. But over the years I’ve discovered adult books are kind of awesome too and this year I’ve been dabbling in adult genre fiction.


A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
In Victorian England, lepodocrhstis (butterfly scientist) and adventurer Veronica Speedwell returns home for her foster aunt’s funeral and finds herself swept up in a conspiracy that puts her on the run with the mysterious natural historian named Stoker. Raybourn has a huge dedicted fanbase and she’s from my state so I was excited to try this book. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable read and a great palate cleanser from what I normally read. I was kind of hoping for more mystery. The mystery element didn’t show up until 40% and I was wavering at that point because I wasn’t sure where the book was going. Audiobook narrator Angele Masters does a masterful job giving voice to our spirited protagonist and navigating the many different accents that pop up. I had to DNF Master’s narration of Jenny Holiday’s Three Little Words last year but in this book she shines and brings life to all the intriguing twists, cheeky banter and witty characters.  - ★★★ +.5





Kill The Queen by Jennifer Estep

After my toe dip into adult mystery, I jumped over to epic fantasy to try out another title that I've heard so much about. When Lady Everleigh Safira Winter Blair, 18th in line for the crown, is the sole survivor of a royal massacre she hides her identity and takes refuge as a recruit in a gladiator troupe. Parts of this book frustrated me; It doesn’t make sense why Everleigh keeps her identity a secret when she has proof of who she is. The fantasy elements felt spoonfed. Everyone is described as wearing tunics and leggings and for me, the word leggings felt really modern? All I could think of was everyone was wearing Lularoe.

Those nitpicks aside I  liked this story. Estep creates an imaginative, visceral tale about a woman finding power. I thought the gladiator troupe was such a unique take and I like how the whole book is led by women. Most of the gladiators, rulers and guards are women but it’s not like a thing, it just is. If you want a book that is basically like the first 10 minutes of the Wonder Woman then this is a book you should check out. Keep an eye out because it goes on sale for 1.99 a lot. - ★★★ +.5




*Kill The Queen was received as part of the Avon Addicts program


Saturday, June 29, 2019

We Set The Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia




Rating: ★★★ | 9 hours 54 minutes| Dystopian YA  | Harper Audio | Release Date: 2/26/2019
On the island of Medio, young women are trained to take up positions as sister wives to the island's highest ranking men. 17-year-old Daniella Vargas is paired with her bully Carmen and the two are married to Mateo Garcia--a boy being groomed to become president of their island country.

Dani’s life looks picture perfect but she has a secret. She's an illegal immigrant and was bought over from the wrong side of Medio’s border as a child. This secret makes her vulnerable to the resistance group La Voz, who begin blackmailing her for information to help their cause. As Dani embarks on this new life full of discovery and danger she begins to understand her own privilege and that there is more to life than what she ever imagined--including her feelings for her sister wife, Carmen.

This book feels a lot like the dystopian YA we were getting in the early 2010’s but the Latinx setting and f/f relationship make it modern and unique. That type of inclusivity is just not a thing we’ve seen in this type of YA before. This book has gotten rave reviews and a lot of media attention but….*it didn’t work for me*

Thematically I get it but I never felt connected to Dani as a character and the world of Medio never felt fully formed. I don’t understand what Medio looks like or how it exists outside of Dani's perspective. A big part of the story is Dani being blackmailed by the resistance group La Voz, but we don’t really know much about La Voz or it's members. I just wanted so much more context and world building. This book gets billed as a fantasy sometimes which I think it interesting because there are no fantastical or science-fiction-y elements. Like at all.

I listened to a majority of this on audio and narrator Kayla Garcia was a delightful discovery. She has a great voice for YA and I’ll have to check out some of the other books she does.

We Set The Dark on Fire is a timely story and a gateway for teens to talk about privilege, power, and citizenship.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Interview With Award Winning Audiobook Narrator Bahni Turpin




For more than a decade actress Bahni Turpin has dazzled audiobook listeners with her vibrant performances. This year, Turpin received a lifetime achievement honor and has become one of AudioFile Magazine’s Golden Voices. I had an opportunity to interview Turpin about her life as an award-winning narrator, actress and community organizer.


Matt Flatow
Turpin fell into the world of audiobook narration while working as an actress—a career path she chose at the age of nine.

“The day [my mom] told me that I was going to take acting classes I was nine. I said ‘Okay!’ and I walked away and I was just sort of skipping up to my room and. . . . I remembered stopping on the landing of the stairs and saying that’s what I’ll do! ….the decision was made at nine. I never changed mind.”

In addition to acting on stage Turpin has appeared in several iconic TV shows and films including the HBO film O.G alongside Jeffrey Wright, a film that was shot inside an Indiana state prison.

 Max Flatow
Turpin was introduced to audiobook narration by an actress she was working with in a play. Turpin auditioned and began working with Random House, one of her early audiobooks was A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown.

“I thought it was fun”, said Turpin, “and then one day a director I had worked with on The Help called me and she said ‘Oh I just wanted to call you and let you know that you won! You won!”

That was how Turpin first found out she won an Audie for The Help.

“I didn’t know what an Audie was… I didn’t know there were awards for this.”

Since then Turpin’s accolades have been non-stop, with performances that have been highly reviewed
as lively, skillful and energetic. Her backlist contains hundreds of audiobooks spanning children’s,
fiction, non-fiction, and young adult.

This summer Turpin and a team of narrators will bring 131 books in the classic Baby-Sitter’s Club series to audio for the first time. Turpin will be narrating eleven-year-old Jessi, a ballet dancer and one of the junior officers of the club.

“I’m interested to see how girls today will receive them, they are a bit dated…they don’t have phones. They had to meet in Claudia’s room because she was the only one with a phone line/"

On the acting front, Turpin just wrapped up a play with Cornerstone Theater Company and is starting on a full-cast audio project. In addition to acting and narrating Turpin is also the founder and board member of the SoLA Co-op.

Are there any books you are reading to or listening to right now that you’d recommend?
I just listened to The Murmur of the Bees narrated by Xe Sands, what a unique voices Xe has…It’s beautiful very beautiful.

If you had the opportunity to narrate any book from your childhood what would it be?
James and The Giant Peach. I loved that book and I loved the original illustrations so much that I had to buy it on eBay to get the old version.

If you could choose anyone to narrate your life story who would it be?
It would have to be me!
For readers who want to dive into your backlist of audiobooks where would you suggest they start? Do you have any favorites?
The True Meaning of Smeck Day, that was a classic Bhani Turpin audiobook that won an Odyssey award. The Darkest Child, If Beale Street Could Talk, Allegedly and Children of Blood and Bone. I really really loved [Children of Blood and Bone] and I was really proud of it.

In addition to being an actress and audiobook narrator, you are also the founder and board member of the SoLA Food Co-op. Can you tell us more about that?
I started SoLA food coop about eight years ago I had purchased a home in South L.A. in 2010 and having lived in Hollywood for 16 years before that I used to having a lot of different options in buying [organic] food and down here not so much. They didn’t really stock organic foods in the grocery stores at that time and then shortly after a couple of the main conventional grocery stores closed. Still holding the dream of being an actress I didn’t want to open a grocery store, but I did get the idea of a cooperative…so I started doing that with no experience in community organization whatsoever. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I love it. Our goal is to open a full-service health food store in Southern L.A.








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