Audiobook Mini-Reviews

I’m not the best at reviewing audiobooks.  They are always harder for me to remember details about and that makes it hard to write reviews.  But I’ve been REALLY good about posting reviews for what I’ve read this year, so I’m going to post some mini-reviews.  Both these books were ones I downloaded as part of the SYNC summer audiobooks.  I love that program, it exposes me to books I’d never read otherwise!

Code Name Verity  by Elizabeth Wein

This book was everywhere in the book blog world a couple years ago.  A female British pilot ferrying a female Scottish spy across the English Channel crash-lands in the Nazi-occupied French countryside.  The spy, Verity, is picked up by the Gestapo and interrogated and tortured.  Verity cooperates with the Gestapo, spinning out a tale of her friendship with Maddie, the pilot who crash-landed with her.  What follows is a story of friendship set against the horrors of war.

What I liked: the writing, the narrators, the fact this had no romantic subplot (so rare in YA), smart female characters putting their lives on the line for their country
What I felt meh about: the narrative structure was such that you don’t really see Maddie and Verity interact, instead it is all stories about their relationship, which put their friendship at a distance, also some parts dragged a bit for me
All in all: I liked it, but not my favorite book ever.  I guess there’s a sequel?  I don’t know that I will seek it out, but if I came across it, I’d read it.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

This is the story of Claudette Colvin, an African-American teenager who, 9 months before Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus.  Claudette was arrested and her arrest and mistreatment by the police set the wheels in motion for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as well as the federal district court case Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that segregation on the city buses was unconstitutional.

What I liked: This was a really inspiring, interesting, and timely story (I read this about a month ago when Ferguson was big in the news).  I liked that oral interviews with Claudette Colvin underpinned the story.  Hoose also does a great job of placing Claudette’s story within the historical context of the Civil Rights movement.  It was very short, which I appreciated!
What I was meh on: I felt the analysis was a lacking a bit, but I admit my expectations as a reader might be a little high given that I come from an academic history background and am not really the target age/education level for this book.
All in all: Great non-fiction that kept me thinking about social movements for weeks after finishing.

 

All Our Yesterdays- Cristin Terrill

Goodreads Summary:

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it… at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

 

I have been trying a new thing lately.  I try to jot down a few sentences of my thoughts on a book on Goodreads since it has been taking me a while to get around to writing reviews.  My notes are pretty awful, but sometimes they jog my memory about things I want to elaborate on in a review.  Well, I went back and read my Goodreads review for All Our Yesterdays and well, it is much different that what I was going to sit down and write in this review!  Upon finishing All Our Yesterdays, I mostly liked the story and thought it had interesting themes, though it didn’t wow me.  A typical good, but not great sort of feeling/rating from me.  Looking back on it now, all I can think is that it wasn’t very special at all and that I remember next to nothing about it.  It’s kind of like I didn’t even read it.  So.  That’s a depressing sum up of my feelings, but yeah, I think this is worth checking out from the library if like the idea of a smash up of time travel, dystopia, and YA romance.  Otherwise, skip it.  Or read it and completely forget everything about it 3 weeks later.

This has been my short and somewhat scathing review of a book I supposedly liked.

 

Shadow and Bone- Leigh Bardugo

Summary from Goodreads:

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unraveling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance

Do you ever finish a book and wonder if you read a completely different version of it from everybody else?  Because that is 100% how I feel about Shadow and Bone.  The series finale was recently published and my Twitter feed blew up over how AWESOME the Grisha series was and what a strong character Alina was.  I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.  At all.

Alina is sassy and I liked that, but she has absolutely no wherewithal of her own.  She is told she has Grisha powers and must go train so she can help save Ravka.  So she does.  She is told The Darkling, who she has intuitively trusted and even begun falling for, is up to something evil and she must escape him.  So she does.  The about-face in The Darkling’s character (I guess that was the big twist everyone talked about?) was abrupt and confusing and I didn’t buy it.  The book would have been much much stronger if Alina found this out for herself, instead of being told it.  Show, not tell and all that.  I was also hoping The Darkling would be a more nuanced character.  You know evil, but contrite or evil with a moral code or something more than just plain evil.

For all my complaints about Alina and The Darkling, I was compelled to finish this book.  I wanted to know what happened and was sort of invested in the world-building (the creatures in The Fold were quite intriguing).  But the flimsy characterization was enough to convince me that I should probably not continue on with the series.

I Am A Delinquent Blogger, or Mini-Reviews, Summer 2014

I have been a bit of a delinquent blogger lately (shock, gasp).  And well, I have been behind on reviews by almost two months for two months with little hope of ever catching up.  Mostly, I can’t remember enough about the books to write full reviews.  SO.  Mini reviews.  Because I am really trying to review most of what I read this year because I hate when I don’t have at least a sentence or two of what I thought about a book to look back at.

She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Laureth is 16 and blind and the daughter of a famous author who has gone missing.  Laureth kidnaps her 7 year old brother, Benjamin, and flies to New York City to search for their father, following the sort of trail he has left behind in his journal.  Laureth’s father is obsesssssed with coincidence and finding meaning in coincidence, so that is a big part of this book, too.

What I liked: the writing, Laureth, seeing how a blind person navigates through life, the fact this is a book that can be read in a day or two
What I felt meh about: the ending was totally blah, the obsession with coincidence was sort of interesting, but pointless and felt a bit shoehorned into the story at points
All in all: I would like to read more Marcus Sedgwick.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

This is the first Miss Marple novel and it was available for free through SYNC summer audiobooks.  I’d never read Agatha Christie before, so I thought I would give it a whirl given that I’ve been a mystery fan most of my life.  Colonel Provero is murdered at the vicarage and the vicar (our narrator) gets wrapped up in trying to solve the murder of a victim who most everybody in town has motive to murder and to which a couple different suspects confess.

What I liked: Miss Marple is hilarious and I wish she got more screentime.  Actually, a lot of the characters were unintentionally hilarious and very very British.  I did not guess the murder suspect correctly, which is kind of astonishing because I have a problem with guessing the endings of mysteries.  Also, great narrator, but I always like a book narrated with a British accent.
What I was meh on: In a way this felt a little too textbook murder mystery, not exactly special.
All in all: I’d read Agatha Christie again… if only for more Miss Marple!

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

I read Grave Mercy last summer and really enjoyed it (to my surprise), so when Dark Triumph was on sale for Kindle, I jumped on it.  Sybella has a dark past, brutally abused by her father and brothers, but found sanctuary and a purpose at the convent of St. Mortain.  The Abbess, however, send Sybella back into the fray, badly wanting the information Sybella can gather as a member of her powerful father’s household.  It is from her father’s household that Sybella rescues a prisoner, Beast, a legendary warrior who is an essential member of the Duchess’s forces.  The two must make it to the Duchess in time, in order to save Brittany from the growing threat within and without.

What I liked: I really enjoy the political intrigue in this series and appreciated that this was a little darker in mood than Grave Mercy.  Beast is the right kind of romantic lead for me.  And I liked that Sybella and Beast were both foreboding killers with dark pasts, but still had hope/love within them.
What I was meh on: I love these books while reading them and then quickly forget everything about them.  I usually want something with a bit more staying power.  I was also a bit concerned with the fact that Beast kept swooping in and literally knocking Sybella out to get her to cooperate with his decisions.  It is true that Sybella was going to make stupid decisions, but the use of force bothered me.
All in all: I will most certainly be reading Mortal Heart when it releases.

 

Fire and Thorns Trilogy- Rae Carson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So.  This series is what started my current hang-up on lady hero fantasy novels.

Elisa is a princess in her home of Orovalle, but being the younger sister she is not in line for the throne.  Bearer of the Godstone, she is a chosen one, destined to perform some great act of service.  When she turns 16, her father marries her off to the king of Joya de Areña and Elisa is forced to leave her spoiled, sheltered life.  As queen, Elisa is thrust into the middle of a sticky political situation and a war brewing at the borders of her country.  She is forced to step up and defend her new homeland from the Inviernos who threaten to destroy her people and her way of life, a duty she is not prepared for and which will require her to grow and find strength within herself.

The first book of this series was tough for me.  Elisa is still coming into her own and isn’t very likeable.  And there is a whole lot of slow and boring set-up going on.  But once the action started picking up, I had to know how the political situation would turn out.  The second two books were much better, as Elisa starts to become more confident in herself and her ruling abilities.  What I love most about this series is how Elisa changes and grows and goes through many trials to become a queen worthy of ruling her people.  And she does it on her own, without divine intervention, without special powers (though she has them).  And best of all, her strengths are her brains and her faith and her willingness to accept challenges and sometimes be wrong.  There was also plenty of action and political intrigue and world-building to keep things interesting, too.  Oh and also some romance, though I would say it takes a backseat (in my mind at least) to Elisa’s journey to prove herself and save her country and way of life.  Elisa has a big heart and is loyal to a fault, but also must shoulder heavy, life-threatening decisions.  I thoroughly enjoyed following along on her journey, despite getting off to a rough start with the series.  These books have motivated me to try some other fantasy that follows along in the same mold.

 

Dangerous Girls- Abigail Haas

Anna and her boyfriend, Tate, head down to Aruba for spring break with a group of their wealthy prep school friends, including Elise, Anna’s best friend.  Elise is soon found murdered and Anna finds herself trapped in a strange country, accused of the brutal murder.  There are so many stories and rumors flying it is impossible to know the truth.  Haas tells the story of Anna and Elise through flashbacks to the early days of their friendship, the days surrounding the murder, and Anna’s trial.  The truth unravels to reveal a twisted conclusion.

This was a fun thriller, perfect for summer.  A terrible crime in paradise.  Rich, spoiled, bored kids on the beach with booze, sex, drugs.  A murder with many believable suspects and an accused killer who draws a whole lot of sympathy to her cause.  A Nancy Grace type talk show host who spins the story so it sells.  An intense friendship.  And a heck of a twist ending.  An ending that I couldn’t stop thinking about because holy unreliable narrator, it couldn’t really be true, could it?

Reviewing thrillers is always tough because of spoilers and because I read them so fast I don’t think about the details, so really, if any of those elements listed above appeals to you, check this out.  I can’t say I’ve read much in the way of YA thrillers/mysteries, but this one is one of the more fun and creative thrillers I’ve read recently- adult or otherwise.  I think there is supposed to be a companion novel to this one called Dangerous Boys, which I will  definitely check out when it comes available in the US.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe- Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Summary from Goodreads:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

I hate when I wait too long to review a book.  I LOVED this book while reading it, but my impressions are pretty faint almost two months later.  Ari and Dante are really great characters and the friendship that develops between them is intense.  I was especially impressed with the relationships Ari and Dante had with their parents.  The parents in this book were awesome.  They weren’t perfect people, but they loved their children.  The scenes with Ari and his mom were some of my favorite– they were funny, but the love between the two was apparent.  The writing was beautiful.  I also really liked the setting of El Paso.  I realized I don’t read many books set in the desert and I am a bit of a desert girl, so it was nice to find one that reminded me of the dry heat and summer monsoons.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that the ending of this book challenged me a bit, but in a good way.  I like leaving a book having to process some things.

Anyways, if you are fan of coming of age books, I’d highly suggest this one.  Excellent writing, setting, and characters.

Noggin- John Corey Whaley

Travis dies of cancer when he is 16 years old, but has his head cryogenically frozen in hopes that someday science will advance to the point that his non-cancerous head can be attached to a non-cancerous body and he can live again.  Well, that dayscomes much sooner than anyone expects– just 5 years after Travis dies.  Suddenly Travis finds him alive again.  He feels like he woke up from a nap, but everything around him has changed so much.  His best friend, Kyle, is 21 and in college and still hiding the secret he revealed to Travis 5 years ago.  His girlfriend, Kate, is engaged to another man.  It turns out, coming back to life isn’t quite how Travis expected it would be.

I’d heard very good things about this book and was really intrigued by the premise– how would someone deal with coming back to a life that has changed drastically while they were dead?  I was a little disappointed, though.  I guess I expected Travis to come back to life and have to start from square 1.  But this was more like, Travis came back to life and was obsessed with getting his girlfriend back.  I didn’t have much patience for that sort of storyline in Where She Went and I didn’t have much patience with it here.  I know Travis was still in love with her, but he was completely naive to think she was still in love with him.  And his actions to get her back crossed a line…. they clearly made Kate uncomfortable.  I know Travis was acting like the teenager he was, but I don’t know, I found his obsession with getting Kate back annoying.  And it was a major plot point in this book.

There were some other minor complaints I had with the book… like Travis is REALLY into everything 80s, which seemed out of place for a contemporary teenager.  And I wasn’t too sure his 21 year old friends would accept him back the way they did.  21 year olds don’t have much in common with 16 year olds… it seems like they would not be hanging out.  Sure, his friends would see him, but I think it would be impossible to recover the camaraderie they had as teens.  I especially don’t think Travis’s new friend from school would be tagging along with the older crew like he does.

This was a well-written book, however, and I did like it.  It just fell short of my (admittedly high) expectations.  I think perhaps this would appeal more to teenagers.  And well, anyone who is more tolerant of unrequited love stories.  I would love to see a different take on this same premise; I really am intrigued by it!

Ask the Passengers- A.S. King

 

Astrid lives in a small town with her parents and younger sister.  Her dad has to sneak off to smoke pot to make it through the day, while her overbearing mother barely leaves the house and clearly prefers her younger daughter.  Astrid is confused.  She is attracted to and involved with a girl she works with, but isn’t quite ready to come out to anyone, as she isn’t 100% sure she is actually gay.  Throughout the book, Astrid feels pressured to fit into everyone else’s boxes.  Her mom wants her to be popular and perky and homecoming queen.  Her girlfriend wants her to come out and take ownership of her sexuality.  All of this leaves Astrid feeling pretty isolated and the only way she feels she can express herself is by sending her love and her confusion and her questions up to the airplanes flying overhead.

I have a hard time connecting with A.S. King’s writing and characters.  This is the second book of hers I have read and both times I sort of felt like the characters are just shy of being real and relatable to me.  It is almost like they are a little too gritty and a little too weird.  I hate to say that I expect gritty or weird to be endearing, but this book felt gritty for the sake of being gritty.  And I absolutely detested Astrid’s parents.  Her mother is awful.  She plays favorites, is incredibly judgmental, and controls Astrid by trying to be friends with Astrid’s best friend.  I guess this is what I mean by gritty for the sake of being gritty– Astrid’s struggle with her identity and sexuality do not need to be complicated by the worst mother ever to make them meaningful.

At the end of the day, though, I left this book thinking a lot about how we try to force other people (and things) into boxes and categories to meet our expectations of the world.  I also appreciated the exposure to the experience of questioning one’s sexuality.  I read this shortly before the whole diverse books thing on Twitter and have to say reading about an experience I have not had is challenging for me, in a good way.  So… in the end I think I appreciated this book for offering me a perspective on being a gay teen, while not exactly falling in love with the characters or plot or magical realism.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You- Ally Carter

Cammie is a student at the prestigious Gallagher Academy, an all-girls boarding school for spies-in-training.  Cammie faces typical high school challenges, all with a spy academy twist.  Namely, Cammie meets an ordinary boy on a mission in town.  Josh can’t know about the Gallagher Academy’s true mission or who Cammie really is, so she lies to him and finds that lying, spying, and romance are not all that compatible.

This is not a book I ever thought I’d read, but it was available from my library as an ebook, so I thought I’d give it a try.  And guess what?  This book was a lot of fun.  The romance was cute and felt appropriately awkward for a first love sort of situation.  And the spy stuff was also fun.  I liked hearing about Cammie’s classes and their practice missions and this was done well enough that I could just suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride through a spy boarding school.  While the spy stuff was often silly, there was a serious side to it that Cammie becomes more and more aware of as the book goes on.  It was nice to see Cammie having to decide whether living with the secrecy and danger was really worth it.  I was also really happy to see the romance end the way it did.  Cammie and Josh were a cute couple, but the fact they were 15 and one was in spy school made things not work out in the end.  This sort of gave me a Stephanie Plum vibe… in that it was well-done, funny, and fluffy.  Definitely not the sort of book I’d read regularly, but I would definitely return to the Gallagher Girls series or maybe the Heist Society series the next time I want a fun, fluffy read.