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 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 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!

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

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.

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.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Book Review : The Care and Feeding of Ravenous Girls by Annisa Gray

Rating: unrated | 304 pages | Berkley | Adult Fiction | Release Date: 02/19/2019

I like a book with a really long title. Just throwing that out there.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is this blend of African-American, Women's and Literary fiction that I'm starting to find myself drawn to more.

This is a very human story of the Butler siblings who are brought together after their seemingly perfect elder sister, Althea, and her husband Proctor are convicted of a crime that shakes up their small lakeside town.

Everyone in this book has something to work through. Althea and her husband are trying to get through their prison sentences with their strong loving bond intact and without losing their teenage daughters, who are now being raised by Lillian, the youngest butler sister--who is also taking care of her ex-husband's grandmother. At 36 and newly single this was not the life she was prepared for. The prodigal daughter and academic, Viola, returns home after separating from her wife and falling back into the clutches of her eating disorder.

Together these sisters navigate the pain of their childhood, the closely held secrets they have buried and the ways their father let the family down.

I like reading books about Black families that takes place in locations we don't often see Black people in the media. This is a story about three Black women trying to find their way that doesn't involve getting a man, getting a promotion or rubbing their fingers on their temples. It was about more interior things and (as Iyanla Vanzant would say) doing the work and coming out whole on the other side. This is like the novel version of those episodes of NPR (which are not my favorite) where reporters re-examine moments from their childhood and look for answers and meaning.

Orange Is The New Black meets Queen Sugar in this solid debut about women finding their way through the unexpected.

Check out the audiobook review on Audiofile!

I was really shocked to discover that Anissa Gray is a career journalist, this is the kind of book that I expected from a life-long fiction writer. I can't wait to see what she write next.


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