Book review: "The Magic Misfits" by Neil Patrick Harris (audiobook)

The Magic Misfits I came across “The Magic Misfits” as I was browsing the newest releases at my favourite Indigo store. I was thrilled to find out that Neil Patrick Harris wrote a book! The cover looked so adorable that I couldn’t wait to read it. Since I occasionally struggle with middle-grade books, I went to my favourite option - that is an audiobook.

“The Magic Misfits” has a gorgeous cover! And for once, I can’t decide whether I like US or UK edition better!

The Magic Misfits UK edition

Synopsis

 

From beloved award-winning actor, Neil Patrick Harris comes the magical first book in a new series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso, and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they'll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso's villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

 

Review

 

“The Magic Misfits” is read by Neil Patrick Harris himself and it was a treat to my ears. I should not have expected anything less than a stellar performance from him, but I was still thrilled. He has a perfect voice range and goes from low and grumbly to high pitched. Neil also performs all the songs in the story, and that was just an added bonus! The audiobook is only 4 hours long, so I went through it fairly quickly.

My admiration for Neil’s performance, I was a bit bored by the plot. It is a cute story about an almost orphaned runaway boy who finds his place in the world and his new family. Everything from Carter’s backstory (which really reminded me of Oliver Twist for some reason) to the magic shop and carnival, to the group of unpopular kids - it all has been done before.

What has not been done before is this amount of diversity in a middle-grade book, and that representation is not the focus of the main story and nobody is given grief or bullied for whatever they represent. And that is a big deal! We have characters of colour, disabled characters, foster and adoptive families, as well as LGBTQ+ representation. In one middle-grade novel. I mean, c’mon! This book has to be a bestseller at least for that!

Sadly, I had issues with the plot, especially the very ending. The conflict seemed to have been resolved as if by magic (which it was, in a way). The book has filler chapters in which the author addresses the readers directly, breaking the fourth wall (which is my least favourite device as it keeps taking me out of the story), and provides instructions to future magicians on how to do tricks. It is a lovely concept and will, undoubtedly, appeal to the younger audience, but for me, it was all more of a nuisance. Overall, it felt as if the book was targeted at the younger side of the middle-grade scale. I mean, sometimes the author even explained certain words to the listeners! It felt as if it was not a recording but a real person reading the story, which is excellent, but I am obviously too old for that kind of narration.

It is hard to rate the book without taking into account the brilliant performance by Neil. So, I am going to give the book a half-star more for the narration and representation, although the plot left more to be desired. It was a cute story, but not a very original one.

However, since “The Magic Misfits” is only the first book in the series (a quartet?), I have hopes that the plot will improve with the sequel, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series.

 

Performance: 5 stars Plot: 2.5 stars Overall: 3.5 stars

 

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Book review: "Legendary" (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

Legendary

If you read my review of “Caraval” last year, you probably can guess that I had a lot of reservations about “Legendary”. I felt let down by “Caraval” so much that I even considered not picking up the sequel. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I did request a physical copy of “Legendary” from the library. I must say, Stephanie Garber’s books have stunning covers, both US and UK editions.

I thought that I could get through “Legendary” but quickly realized that I didn’t care much to read the physical copy and got myself an audiobook instead.

Synopsis

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun.

Review

Whatever I said about the writing and plot holes in “Caraval”, sadly, still applies for “Legendary”. The characters seem to be two-dimensional, flat, their traits exaggerated beyond measure. The writing only follows the same route: the book is full of beautiful but completely useless in their abundance similes and metaphors like, “and her dress was made out of blue silk and midnight stars” (not an exact quote, but you get the meaning). It would have felt more magical and profound if not for the complete lack of world building and character development. Using pretty words won’t help the lack of plot.

“Caraval” was told from Scarlet's point of view. Her main objective in the first book was to find her missing sister Donatella. She does find her, but the ending has a twist that left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt that Donatella had betrayed her sister, and there was nothing that could redeem her in my eyes, even though Scarlet, naturally, forgives her sister. (I had a problem with it also because Scarlet should have had PTSD after everything that happened, but her feelings and mental state after events in “Caraval” were not addressed.)

Donatella was portrayed as spoiled, uncontrollable, impulsive, and greedy. Yes, Scarlet still loved her and forgave her, but that was how Donatella was depicted in the book. And I hated her.

In “Legendary” though, Donatella is portrayed as impulsive, yes, but also very determined to save and protect her sister in any way possible. Her character voice in the second book changed so much that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Donatella is fierce and unbending but also very gullible, which really goes against her character who reminds us again and again that “she does not kiss the same boys twice”. I found that annoying as her character seemed to be inconsistent with what she was in the first book - at least, this is how it felt to me.

Throughout “Legendary”, Donatella is being almost thrown at one of the villains of the story by the author. She constantly says that she should not trust him and that she is disgusted by what he did, etc., but she is still attracted to him. I found that too unrealistic, as that character went beyond the mere trope of “a bad boy”. He was written as a real villain, who would even force himself on Donatella (there were at least one or two kisses that she did not consent for), and somehow she also found that exciting. I think that Stephanie Garber was trying very hard to create some sort of a love triangle, but it felt forced and unattractive to me.

The author tried to include some red herrings in the narrative, but it was done in such a blunt way that it was just ridiculous. For almost two-thirds of the book, Donatella kept saying that she couldn't believe that THIS could be true. And lo and behold, it turns out to be true. What a twist!

The only thing that “Legendary” made me happy about was Dante. I love his character, and we get to see more of him in this book, which was exciting. My favourite moment in the book was: “And, oh glory, he was shirtless. So very shirtless.”

(I keep hoping to see at least some LGBTQ+ representation in Caraval trilogy, but alas. My headcanon is that Dante is bisexual or polysexual - that would have been very cool.)

Scarlet was barely present in the book, and the way Donatella sees her is also skewed, in my opinion, from what she truly is as a character. At some point, Donatella even starts to doubt her sister. And, once again, big surprise - she shouldn’t have!

I think that overall Stephanie’s writing did improve from book one. “Legendary” is heavy on romance and not so heavy on fantasy and magic, which is a big let down once again. I love Rebecca’s narration - it was the only thing to keep me from giving up on his book. I will most probably pick up the last book in the trilogy in audio as well. I have no idea where the plot would go in book 3, as there is barely any plot, to begin with. I guess we need to get our happy ending for everyone so there will be more romance. Oh boy.

Plot: 2.5 stars
Narration: 4 stars
Overall rating: 3.25 stars

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Book review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (audiobook)

The Hazel Wood  

This review might contain spoilers.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is the first book in the new, young adult, fantasy trilogy. The moment I heard about this book, it became one of my most anticipated releases of 2018. I ordered my first Owlcrate subscription box and received an exclusive cover edition of The Hazel Wood. I was so happy!

Months later, my excitement abated a bit, but I still wanted to read the book. When I found out that Rebecca Soler narrates the audiobook version, I immediately ordered it from Audible.

Synopsis

 

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review

 

I have mixed feelings about The Hazel Wood. First of all, Rebecca’s narration is fabulous, and whatever misgivings I have about the book, they have nothing to do with the narrator.

For some reason, I expected The Hazel Wood to be like “The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black (which is one of my most favourite YA fantasy novels - I am still not over the fact that it is a stand-alone). But it is different, although, at times, especially moments about the forests and Hinterland dwellers coming through to the real world did remind me of Holly Black writing. Alice, the main protagonist, sometimes reminded me of Kate from This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - she is a straightforward and unapologetic girl with anger management issues.

And that is the problem with The Hazel Wood - it reminded me of other books I have already read. Not too much, but enough that I felt as if the story was not original enough. I loved the idea of travelling between worlds and the book with creepy fairy tales. That is definitely something that I enjoy in stories. More so, Melissa does an excellent job at developing the plot and characters and weaving in references here and there.

The main protagonist is Alice Proserpine - her first name, obviously, refers to Alice from Wonderland, and her last name - to Proserpine (or Persephone in Ancient Greece), the ancient Roman goddess, who was kidnapped by the god of Underworld. Thankfully, Alice from The Hazelwood had a better fate than that of Persephone.

There were other literary references, multiple mentions of Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Potter, and other classics.

Alice, her mother Ella (which is short for Vanilla, by the way), her grandmother Althea - all seem to have rather sonorous names creating almost alliteration. Even, Ellery (Finch) fits into the trend.

Alice is not a likeable character, and she is not supposed to be one. But seeing as the narrative is told from her perspective, it is hard to be completely detached from her personality. I neither liked nor disliked Alice. I felt that she was well developed, but failed to make me care about her as a character. Same about the plot. The Hazel Wood failed to make me care.

The only character whom I liked was Finch. I did not like him from the very beginning, but I liked him later, for his determination and excitement about the Althea Proserpine’s book and Hinterland. He was also very sweet to Alice, and even though later we learned about some of his ulterior motives, it still does not cancel out the fact that he did a lot for her.

And she was a shitty friend in return.

Sadly, Finch’s fate turned out to be a sad one, and seeing as he was the only character of colour in the book, his mistreatment by the plot does not sit well with me. I thought about it a lot. It is possible to argue that Finch got exactly what he wanted (I can’t really say more for fear of spoiling it all), but I just don’t like the way it was delivered in the book.

There was a reference to the police mistreatment of people of colour in the book. And there was at least one canon same-sex couple. I must give it to Melissa, she did try to cross her Ts to make the book diverse and appealing to all readers, but I still found that the book was lacking in this regard as well.

I am torn. I can compare The Hazel Wood to a slightly warped mirror reflection - everything seems to be in place, but at the same something is off. I wish I loved this book, but I didn’t. I liked the wrapper but not the filling.

I still plan to continue with the series - although the ending of The Hazel Wood wrapped up so nicely, I am surprised it is not a stand-alone - I hope that since it was a debut novel, the sequel will be better.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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I created a mood board inspired by The Hazel Wood, as it is a very atmospheric book. I made two versions - one with black and another with biracial Finch. (Since the book didn’t specify and I loved both images that I found.)

Version #1

The Hazel Wood mood board 1

 

Version #2

 

The Hazel Wood mood board 2

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Book review: "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (audiobook)

The Poet X  

I heard of "The Poet X" on social media but didn’t think I would be interested in reading it. After devouring “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds, I felt that no other young adult contemporary poetry book would beat that. Unfamiliar with slam poetry, I assumed that it would be too out of my comfort zone, but when I accidentally came across the audiobook on my OverDrive, I decided to give it ago.

Synopsis

 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

 

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighbourhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

 

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

 

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Review

 

To understand the impact this book had on me, you have to know two things: one - Elizabeth Acevedo is a slam poet and narrates the book herself; two - she is a daughter of Dominican immigrants, and the "The Poet X" reads in many ways as a memoir. If I were presented with this book as a completely fictitious narrative, it wouldn’t have swept me off my feet the way "The Poet X" did. Elizabeth narrates it in the way her protagonist is - blunt, emotional, unapologetic, fierce.

 

Brought up in a conservative family, with the mother who speaks to God more than she talks to her own daughter, and the father, who is more absent than present, Xiomara is left to tend to herself as she struggles with her blooming emotions. She is not allowed to even talk to boys. She is not allowed to speak up. She is not allowed to doubt things that she was taught. But Xiomara does all of those things, and her journey is an emotional rollercoaster.

 

There are so many reasons to love this book: it is written by a female poet of colour; its plot would appeal to any teen reader; there is first love, and heartbreak, and parents being cruel when trying to be kind. But my favourite thing was Elizabeth’s voice. Low and husky, it felt so tangible that it felt as if "The Poet X" was being told only to me and nobody else. It was a secret that I was made privy to.

 

Listening to the audiobook, I could see Xiomara in front of my eyes, scribbling fearlessly, relentlessly, in her notebook - a line after a line, a poem after a poem. I flew through this audiobook, my heart in my throat, as I desperately hoped for a happy ending for Xiomara. Few YA contemporary books make me anxious about character’s future. With "The Poet X", I wanted - no, needed - a happy ending. Too many things could go wrong, and I wished for this book to prove me wrong.

 

And it did.

 

Even though I immensely enjoyed "The Poet X", I struggled with the rating. The book is positioned as both a novel and a poetry collection, which you would not know unless you pick up a physical book. Each chapter is indeed formatted as a poem and even has a title. But listening to an audiobook felt as if it was a prose narrative through and through, except for in certain moments the author changed the tone and rhythm of her narration. I am not too familiar with slam poetry, but I have been to spoken poetry readings, and I love prose poetry, so I am a bit on the fence with this book. For me, it was mostly the prose with just a hint of poetry at times, and I wish we had gotten more rhythm, intonation and voice inflexion. All of those were present in "The Poet X" but not as much as I would have preferred given the format of the book. I wanted more of it all.

 

The plot and the characters are excellent, as well as the audiobook narration, but the formatting of the book seemed not to fit the idea behind it. I still loved everything about the book, but if I were a bookseller, I would be confused with whether to categorise it as a poetry collection or contemporary young adult.

 

If you have an option of choosing between a physical copy and an audiobook - go with the audio. Elizabeth is a professional slam poet and knows how to read her book.

 

My heart got squeezed so many times while I was listening to "The Poet X". It is a fabulous read, and I wish more people would be talking about it.

 

Highly recommend.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "The Scorpion Rules" (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules  

 

I purchased “The Scorpion Rules” back in a day when it came out in this gorgeous paperback. I saw this book mentioned again and again in YA LGBTQ+ recommendations and was excited to read it. But as it often happens with impulse purchases, I didn’t pick up the book until much later.

 

I was quite in the mood for a YA Sci-Fi audiobook after listening to Nyxia, and while browsing Overdrive library, I saw that “The Scorpion Rules” was immediately available.

I downloaded it to my iPhone and started listening to it right away. I had only a vague recollection of the plot of “The Scorpion Rules” from the back of the book. I knew that the book had diverse characters, was generally considered to be sci-fi, and was somehow related to Canada. For the sake of accurate spelling of names, I am providing the official synopsis below.

 

Synopsis

 

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

 

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

 

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

 

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

 

Review

 

I listened to “The Scorpion Rules” for about 10 minutes, paused and went online to look up the narrator. The audiobook is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who, judging by her website and extensive Audible presence, is a rather experienced voice actor. I was not impressed though at all. Madeleine gives all characters distinctive voices, but her intonation is clipped and artificial. (There were mentions of accents in the book, but it still didn’t make much sense to me.) I would have understood if she narrated for AI in that manner, but it was all of the characters in different variations. I found the narration for Greta the most annoying as she talked in the way that Siri or an artificial intelligence might, with odd stops between words and occasional uprise in intonation. Elian’s southern accent came and went, and seemed to be more prominent whenever there was a line in the book referring to it.

 

I was so not impressed by the narration, that I even considered switching to a paper book. However, I decided to stick to the audiobook as I wanted to listen to something during the commute or work breaks. Getting over the narration style was a bit difficult, but I somewhat got used to it by the end of the book.

 

Now, onto the plot. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by it too. I think “The Scorpion Rules” is more character driven than plot driven, which is usually fine by me, but not in this case. It took awhile for me to get into the plot. The first third of the book, I was bored and couldn’t figure out why things were the way they were. There is a lot of exposition in the book, which I do not like. We have even quotes and reciting from the AI that at times seemed a bit unfitting to the main narrative. I enjoyed the world but didn’t like the fact that I could barely make head or tail of local politics, not to mention rivalries and alliances between countries.

 

Regarding characters, I liked Michael the best, from the moment he made an appearance. Everything about him, his character, the circumstances of his arrival, the complications, etc. - I liked everything. But regardless of role in the plot of “The Scorpion Rules”, Greta and Elian were the main protagonists (which is confirmed in the synopsis), and I did have a lot of problems with both of them.

 

Greta seemed too plain to be anything special, and yet she was. She was too all over the place in her emotions and affections, and yet she was described as exceptional and strong. Elian seemed perpetually confused and rebellious, even when nothing was happening to warrant either. I could not understand Greta’s feelings towards Elian. She viewed him as someone who needs care and protection and at the same time - as someone dangerous.

 

There are a lot of descriptions in the text of what characters felt, lots of comparisons - the language flows most of the time quite wonderfully. However, I often felt that the lack of actual reasoning and plot holes were being hidden behind grand statements about life and sacrifice and characters’ feelings. We were often being told that something was happening just because it was happening. I would have been able to oversee it if there was more action, but too frequently it felt as if nothing was moving at all. And when something was happening, we were not really told why. At times, I could feel my mind drifting, as I was almost bored with the book. Perhaps, it is once again the fault of the narrator, who failed to make “The Scorpion Rules” sound engaging enough.

 

“The Scorpion Rules” disappointed me from the standpoint of LGBTQ+ representation too. The book is tagged and listed on GoodReads as having prominent LGBTQ+ characters, however, the only female/female relationship proved not to be strong enough to overcome the obstacles (add to that a cliched presence of a male protagonist - obviously), and the only male/male couple was not given any visibility until the tragic end. Yes, we get various sexualities in the book, and there is some sort of a gender swap, so to say, which can be viewed as gender dysphoria almost, but I am hesitant to say that it can be viewed as a representation for genderfluid or transgender people. Perhaps, it was not intended as either at all, and it was my wishful thinking trying to find more representation in the book.

 

The Children of Peace and Swan Riders come from various countries and therefore from different racial and cultural backgrounds. I liked that about “The Scorpion Rules”. In my opinion, the cultural representation was handled well.

 

Perhaps, if I approached “The Scorpion Rules” in physical format, I would have connected with the characters better. Unfortunately, I finished the audiobook feeling somewhat cheated. I didn’t get the representation I was looking for; the plot was murky; the characters - annoying, and the only thing that I liked about the novel - the world itself - was presented to us through obvious exposition, which often felt detached from the plot.

 

I like “The Scorpion Rules” much more as an idea for a book or a sales pitch, as opposed to the actual result. I can’t tell if it is the writing style that I have more problems with or the narration of the audiobook - or, maybe, both. “The Scorpion Rules”, as well as some other books by Erin Bow, received favourable reviews from multiple sources and was even listed in Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2015. I still decided to continue with the series, in spite of feeling disappointed by the first book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: Life Debt (Star Wars: Aftermath #2) by Chuck Wendig

Life Debt  

After finishing "Aftermath", I was very hooked with this trilogy and couldn’t wait to continue with "Life Debt". I did, however, take my time to listen to it as I had other books on the go.

 

Please, beware of spoilers below as it is book two in the trilogy.

Synopsis

 

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee's homeworld of Kashyyyk.

 

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire's remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie's capture and Han's disappearance.

 

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon's last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can't anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

 

Review

 

If you read my review of "Aftermath", you probably know how much I love Marc Thompson’s narration of this trilogy. He does a superb job of giving each character their voice. Even the secondary characters who appear in the intermissions. So, obviously, "Life Debt" was no exception.

 

Obviously, Sinjir is still my favourite. I was hoping for a solid love arc for him since Jas got a relationship with Jom (both of whom seem to deny it). Sinjir did get a “boyfriend”, Conder Kyl, but we had maybe one scene with the two of them (and he was never mentioned before that), and then he was mentioned maybe once more - and that was it. Nevertheless, Sinjir is the first gay character in Star Wars franchise, which is both very cool and disappointing (because seriously? No more queer characters? Seriously? None?).

 

***There was a moment in which Sloan was changing and her assistant Adea was there, and Adea blushed, which made me hope for some feelings between two women, but alas I was disappointed.***

 

I like Jas. She went through a lot of character development. Which is why I am very sad that I accidentally spoiled myself regarding something that happens in the final book and which would affect her. This is why you do not check Wikipedia for the series you have not finished!

 

Even Nora got an expected bit of romance. I liked the fact that her relationship with Temmin began to mend, even though I still don’t like Temmin much. He is really both hot-headed and naive. I may not be very fond of Nora, but the things Temmin does and says to her are mean.

 

Han Solo and Chewbacca’s friendship is the best portrayed in this book. I loved all the action on Kashyyyk - I think that was the strongest part of Life Debt as it both showed Solo’s and Chewie’s characters. And let me tell you - Marc Thompson does a great impersonation of Harrison Ford.

 

Part of the "Life Debt" plot revolves around Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane, and I found myself liking her more and more. She is strong-willed, focused, and tough, not to mention incredibly smart. I enjoy parts of the story with her, even though I do not understand her loyalty to the Empire.

 

I enjoyed "Life Debt" audiobook overall, but I still had the same issue with Life Debt as I had with Aftermath: some parts of the plot (like a fake betrayal by Jas) were way too flashy and not thoroughly thought through. We get thrust into a scene right in the middle of the action and have to scramble to understand what is going on and why this is important. And then we are fed information through exposition - telling us what had happened before this scene, instead of showing us. And I did not like that.

 

There were also two instances of audio editing mistakes. In one part of the book, Sloane was told to be alone in the street, but we could hear the voices in the background. And those noises did not change from when she was in the crowd and when she was alone in the street. Another instance was when there was an opera music play, and we are told specifically that it is the music and there are no words. But in the background, we can hear a singer singing, although the words are not distinguishable.

 

It may sound as if I am nitpicking, but considering how big Star Wars franchise is and how popular it is, they could have done a better job at editing.

 

Nevertheless, "Life Debt" was a lot of fun, and even though some of the plot twists were predictable, the narration and the joy of being in the world of Star Wars again made up for it.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews (audiobook)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  

I purchased "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" as a paperback some time ago and never read it. Then, as I was waiting for another audiobook to become available, I picked this one up.

And, oh boy.

Description

 

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

 

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

 

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

 

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

 

Review

 

Short version - I did not like it. At all.

 

I think I managed to pull through "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" only because it was an audiobook (narrated by Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler) and it was not a rather short one. It served as a more pleasurable - most of the time - background to the noise at my work, but I must admit that if I had picked it up in a physical form, I would have DNF’ed it almost immediately.

 

Rarely, I ever get so angry at the book. I have read my fair share of poorly constructed prose and characters lacking development, but seldom I get to read a book which was completely pointless. (Oh, wait. I know one other. But I won’t be pointing fingers.)

 

As I listened to "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and got more and more frustrated with it, I went to GoodReads to read reviews of other people and was surprised to see some of the bloggers that I follow praise this book for its humour! Excuse me, but what humour?

 

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" has the most ridiculous dialogues full of swear words and ranting that most of the time has nothing to do with the plot. The jokes are supposed to self-deprecating, as the book is told from Greg’s perspective, and he states at the very beginning that he is very socially awkward. However, those jokes fall short by much and make Greg seem like a shallow person, incapable of even empathy towards a dying girl.

 

Greg is not funny or likeable at all. I found him quite pathetic. Can’t say I liked Earl more, but at least Earl did exhibit real emotions towards Rachel, while Greg was faking his way through it. Rachel, although she is part of the plot and even is mentioned in the title, barely gets any dialogue at all. If you think this book is anything like “The Fault in Our Stars” (which I did not like for the plot but could appreciate for the writing style and execution) - think the exact opposite. There is no real emotion in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", and I hated all of the characters.

 

I don’t understand the point of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" story. The narrative was either Greg ranting in a stream of consciousness or repeating word to word the dialogues in the form similar to a script. Everything that was happening felt pointless. I can’t believe this book was published - no, even written! - as it gives readers nothing.

 

The narration of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" was okay. It was the only thing that pulled me through the book. So, if I had to be precise - 1 star goes to the plot, and 1 star to the narrators, which makes it 2 stars overall.

 

If you want to read a contemporary YA novel, there are plenty of better (and even mediocre) novels that you can read. Do not waste your time on "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", unless you want to see for yourself how bad it is. I can’t wait to unhaul this book from my shelves.

 

Rating: 2 stars

 

More of my book reviews

 

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BLOG: Audible Canada Launch - Info & FREE Audiobook

You know, sometimes you find yourself thinking, “how the heck did I miss this?”. This was exactly my thought today, when I realized that Audible launched a separate Canadian website. I am a Amazon Prime member and I was fooling around on Amazon Canada a couple of days ago (aka binge shopping), when I saw that a new button appeared next to a cart. I clicked it, logged in to Audible with my Amazon login, and completely missed the fact that I was logging into audible.ca and not audible.com as I had been doing for years.  

Half an hour ago, I thought of checking Audible for new releases and then I remembered Audible.ca, and then it hit me.

 

Audible launched a dedicated Canadian marketplace.

A dedicated Canadian marketplace.

 

OMG THIS IS AMAZING!

 

I did a double take. I looked at Audible.ca, saw a letter from the founder and CEO of Audible, and finally believed what I saw. Moreso, turns out I am two weeks late as it was launched in mid-September. (In my defence, I was just coming back from my vacation and was very jetlagged.)

 

After a decade of using American Audible, I can switch to Canadian membership. This sounds like a dream.

 

I have been using Audible.com for over 10 years. No even kidding (see the screenshot). I registered in 2006, back in a day when Audible was an independent company, because I learned that my favourite fantasy series, The Nightrunner by Lynn Flewelling, was available in audiobook format.

 

My Audible US page

 

A lot of things have changed since 2006. I switched from downloading Audible files to my computer and uploading them to my iPod to using a very new and glitching Audible app on iPod Touch then to upgrading to an iPhone, etc. For years I used Audible login separately from Amazon. In fact, I even had (and still do) several Audible logins (another US one registered during a special promo, and two UK ones). I only ever linked Audible with my Amazon account this summer (which resulted in all of my earned statistics & badges being annulled for some reason). And now it seems like there is an option to migrate to Canadian website with my old login.

 

I have not explored this option yet, as I accidentally logged into to Audible.ca with my Audible.com login (which is the same as my Canadian Amazon, which makes it all very confusing). Perhaps, I should be able to see my full library from 2006 on Audible.ca but it is not the case. The article that I read on the new marketplace made it sound very easy, but as it shows I am too old-school for any changes (although the thought of using just one login/password combo for Audible and Amazon and being charged in Canadian dollars is very appealing). I will need some time to explore and adjust.

 

As it stands right now, I somehow have US and Canadian Audible accounts. And I use the same logins/passwords. Perhaps, I would need to get in touch with tech support for that.

 

For years, I have been paying 14.95 USD for my monthly membership. I am looking forward for being charged 14.95 CANADIAN dollars, as the exchange rate is not in our favour.

 

Audible Canada membership for Prime users

 

If you have Amazon Prime, you are eligible for a special promotion at Audible which is giving you 90 days of free trial that includes 1 credit per month. You can purchase any price audiobook for 1 credit. Meaning you are getting 3 audiobooks for free!

 

As an additional incentive to sign up with Audible.ca, you can get a FREE copy of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. This is a all new version by Audible, which is narrated by the full cast and is unabridged, and includes an afterword from the author and an essay written by author Valerie Martin. This promotion is available for Canadian residents only.

 

FREE on Audible Canada

 

Am I excited about this new change? - Heck yeah!

Am I also confused about how to migrate my account from US to Canadian marketplace? - Same answer.

My confusion aside, I am very excited about this change, even though it comes hot on the heels of Kobo launching their audiobooks service. I am all for supporting Canadian companies and I do have a soft spot for Indigo (the former owning company of Kobo), I still prefer Audible for my audiobooks. It has been over 10 years, folks. This type of commitment is hard to break.

 

Go and register with Audible.ca today!

 

P.S. I am in no way affiliated with Audible. I am just a fan. :)

 

Links:

 

Book review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (audiobook)

   

I had never heard of this book before it started to consistently pop up in my YouTube feed. For some reason I thought that it was a new release, and then was confused when I realized that it has been on sale at BookOutlet for awhile. Everyone seemed to rave about it, which, as always, makes me apprehensive. And then this title appeared on my Netflix feed. I was getting annoyed.

 

And then I saw that Emma from emmmabooks did a review of the tv show, and I was like, okay, if Emma has read it, then I should read it too as I trust her opinions when it comes to sensitive topics.

 

But a warning first: this book deals with abuse, rape and suicide. If you are triggered by either of those, do not read it and skip the tv show. I am serious.

 

I did not want to read the physical book because I find it hard to concentrate on contemporary YA, and I also thought that this book will work well in an audio format seeing as the major part of the narration is done via audio tapes. I got the audiobook on OverDrive and, to my biggest surprise, flew through it.

 

I wouldn’t call this my favourite story. It is a horrible and a very realistic story of abuse at school, rape, and other circumstances that resulted in a suicide. The book is told from the first point of view of Clay Jensen, the boy in high school, whose first love, Hannah Baker, took her life. One morning, two weeks later, he receives a package with audio tapes, recorded by late Hannah, in which she talks about thirteen people that had affected her life. Clay is compelled to listen to them, not only because of the threat of the second copy being made public if he doesn’t listen and then pass on the tapes, but also because he wants to know what part he himself played in Hannah’s death.

 

This book is perfect as an audiobook. Hannah’s narration gets more raw and candid as the story progresses. I enjoyed both narrators and I think they did a great job with both characters. The story has a bit of mysterious, almost suspenseful, air at the beginning, which made me think that there might be more to the story than it seems. Unfortunately, even though the story does have some unpredictable moments, it was not the case. I managed to guess some of the twists right off the bat, as they were rather obvious. The way the story was narrated, however, was very compelling, and I couldn’t stop listening to it.

 

Funny thing about this book - I kept forgetting that Hannah was dead. I kept thinking that this is going to be the moment when she would be okay. And after I watched Emma’s video review of the book and TV show, I found out that she had the same feeling while watching it. But no - Hannah Baker is dead, but she is so alive in this audiobook, that it is easy to forget this fact. I liked both Hannah and Clay. I felt really horrified by everything that Hannah went through, and I think that the author did a great job describing abuse and depression, and how all of those small things just add up. I was appalled by the fact that nobody could see what she was going through, including adults (which is a very real and common thing, unfortunately). It is a very believable, realistic and terrifying story.

I felt that the ending of the book was a bit weak, seeing as the book had a great build up, but I was let down a bit as the ending didn’t feel as cathartic as I expected. Also, I felt that the reasons behind some of the people’s actions were never properly explained. People can be cruel for no reason at all, but I felt that it made some of the characters a bit cliched.

 

I didn’t have any intention to watch the tv show, but after Emma’s review, I am starting to think that I might actually like it better than the book. I did enjoy the book but I felt it lacking for the reasons mentioned above. To my surprise, it seems like the tv show addressed those weaknesses and made the story more dimensional and elaborated. As a matter of fact, if you watch Emma’s review (and she gives away everything including the ending of the show, so beware of major spoilers!!), it feels as if the tv show might even be extended, which gives the story a different perspective (if it does get the second season, I might be even more compelled to watch it, because I want to see how everyone is dealing with the aftermath, as we are not shown that in the book). Honestly, her review makes me want to watch the show as I want to know more about those characters, although I don’t like the idea of watching Hannah suffer all over again.

 

“13 Reasons Why” is not a light read, nor it is the best book I have read this year. It is, however, an important read - a reminder to everyone to be kind to each other and that there might be people around us who are suffering in silence.

 

Plot: 3 stars

Narration: 4 stars

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

 

Affiliated links:

 

13 Reasons Why  

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

A year ago when several lucky booktubers were hauling an advanced reader’s copy of “Heartless”, a new stand alone novel by Marissa Meyer, I was feeling rather jealous. The ARC looked stunning and the final version was beautiful too. I had not read a single book by the author, but I was extremely interested in reading “Heartless”.

 

“Heartless” is a retelling of a story about Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Catherine might be a daughter of marques, but her dream is to become a baker and open her bakery. Her mother, however, dreams of her daughter to be wed to the King of Hearts. Catherine is struggling to find the balance between her parents’ wishes and her own dreams, until one day she meets Jest, a royal joker, and she is immediately attracted to him. But nothing is what it seems, and their secret courtship is overshadowed not only by the impending marriage to the king, but also the attacks by hideous and murderous monster named Jabberwock.

 

In spite of a great premise, I felt disappointed by the book. I read the first 100 pages and then got stuck, not because I hated the writing or was completely not interested in the plot, but rather because the story felt too slow-paced and too reflective for my taste. I felt almost bored when I was reading it, that is why I found myself picking up the book less and less, until I put it aside for a month or two. Frustrated, I decided to switch to an audiobook version, especially since I found out that it was narrated by Rebecca Soler, who voiced Nimona, and whom I rather liked.

 

So, I switched to an audiobook, started from the very beginning, and found that, although it was much easier to get through “Heartless” while colouring or doing something else, I was still getting annoyed by the fact that almost nothing was happening. Cath seemed too weak-willed to turn into a real Queen of Hearts. Her shiness and modesty didn’t match with the image of the queen yelling “Off with their heads!”. Jest was intriguing enough, but too good to be true, and I kept waiting for a big dirty secret to be revealed about his past and, unfortunately, was let down. I found some of the secondary characters more interesting than Cath herself.

 

However, no matter how many problems I had with the action and plot, I found the world wonderfully written. Marissa Meyer did an amazing job intertwining all the elements from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass world together into something that was very fascinating on its own. I would have loved another book set in this world, but not related to “Hearltess” in the plot.

 

Although Rebecca Soler does a great job voicing different characters, I found her British accent quite annoying and unnecessary. Her Cheshire and Hatter sounded too similar at times. Her King was extremely annoying (purposefully, I assume). Jest was lovely, but I could barely stand Cath or her friend Mary-Ann (not sure if it was because Rebecca is so good of a narrator of it is because I just disliked the characters).

 

I think the downfall of Heartless for me lies in the predictability of the ending. I mean, we all know what kind of character Queen of Hearts was in Lewis Carroll’s books, so it was never about the ending, but rather about the journey to that ending. ‘The journey’ failed to deliver and ‘the ending’ was just as expected, which turned this book, to my surprise, into a three star read.

 

I enjoyed the book, I liked the world and some characters a lot. I think that it was very well written. But the plot line made me want to grab the book and shake it until everything gets mixed inside and all the puzzle pieces finally fall into right places. I am still on the fence about how I feel about the book. I liked it, but I might have overhyped it to myself (I wanted to be so badly swept off my feet by it!), so it turned out to be a letdown. It is in no way as bad as some other retellings - it is well written! But it could have been so much better!

 

Therefore, I am splitting the ratings as follows, as I am not able to give just one rating to this book:

 

Plot: 3 stars

World/characters: 4.5 stars

Narration: 4 stars

 

Overall: 3.5 stars

 

If the author ever decides to write another book in this universe, that would have a completely original plot, I would totally down for it. Otherwise, I am glad that I only spent an Audible credit for an audiobook and didn’t succumb to the urge to buy a physical copy, no matter how pretty the cover is.

P.S. I am totally NOT OKAY with what Marissa Meyer did with Jest and Hatter at the very end. NOPE. That was just UNFAIR.

 

Affiliated links:

Heartless 

Book review: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

I started “Scarlet” audiobook immediately after finishing “Cinder”. Just like “Cinder”, it is a retelling of yet another children’s favourite story. This time of “Little Red Riding Hood”. I definitely like this fairytale better than Cinderella, but I was wary of how they would portray the big bad wolf.

 

Okay, I loved what they did with Scarlet and Wolf. I liked how the story developed and that we got glimpses into other parts of this world. What I was honestly surprised by is how seamlessly “Cinder” and “Scarlet” were connected. I expected to get a whole new set of characters and only episodic references to Cinder and what was happening to her, but on the contrary, two plot lines run in parallel and intertwine at the end. That pleasantly surprised me.

 

I felt that “Scarlet” was overall a better thought through book than “Cinder”, although not without its faults and number of cliched twists. My favourite part was, actually, Cinder’s escape and her meeting with Carswell Thorne and how self-absorbed and oblivious he was. Scarlet rocked the novel though. I liked the depiction of her home and all of those little references to her life and memories of the past. Scarlet’s father turned out to be an annoyingly predictable character. As well as Ran (whom I actually liked - no idea why). I liked the character of Wolf too, although at times it seemed as the author was trying too hard to make him into a typical “bad boy with a heart of gold” character.

 

The plotline with Princess Selene became even more obvious to the point that I wondered how I can sustain the interest in it till the end of the series. Thankfully, there were other things happening in this book.

 

All plot holes aside, “Scarlet” was a bit more engaging than “Cinder” and some of the fighting scenes were pretty cool. Also, it seems like Prince Kai has finally grown some backbone, which made him a bit more interesting in this book.

 

My biggest pet peeve with “Scarlet” was that the narrator Rebecca Soler gave Scarlet the most infuriating little French accent. Same as with British accents in “Heartless”, Rebecca couldn’t sustain it at 100% at all times and sometimes it just felt redundant and annoying. Not sure, if it is only me who thinks this or not.

 

I think, I can tell that Marissa is getting better, as “Scarlet” is more fast paced, in my opinion, but I am still annoyed with her overly romanticizing everything in her novels. I am quite okay with not listening for the millionth time about how fit Wolf is or how hard his muscles are. It gets tiresome after time.

 

I find “The Lunar Chronicles” series interesting but not wowing, which is disappointing.

 

Plot: 3.5 stars

Performance: 3 stars

Overall: 3.5 stars

Book review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

Here is to another book series that I am reading far behind everybody else. But in my defence, I started reading young adult novels less than 2 years ago. I have a lot of catching up to do.

“Cinder” is a debut novel by Marissa Meyer, and having read (or rather listened to) “Heartless”, which was the author’s fifth full novel and being slightly disappointed, I was not too hot on reading “Cinder”. However, I decided to go the same route as I did with “Heartless” and picked an audiobook version, in spite of owning the whole series in physical copies. I had my problems with some of the voices that Rebecca Soler did in “Heartless”, but her rendition of “Cinder” turned out to be quite good.

 

The Lunar Chronicles is a series of  fairytale retellings set in a sci-fi world, a sort of dystopian version of Earth, split into various alliances and empires. “Cinder” retells the story of Cinderella, who in this story, is named Linh Cinder, and is a cyborg and a mechanic. The is also an adorable android sidekick Iko, a handsome and slightly naive Prince Kai, his overbearing counsellor, a bit too vicious Queen Levana, and a vindictive stepmother and two very different stepsisters.

 

I had the same problem with “Cinder” that I had with “Heartless” - I liked the world well enough, but the relationships seemed shallow at times, the emotions too exaggerated (and why is everyone so hung up on Prince Kai?), and nothing really happened for some portion of the book, which undoubtedly would have made me DNF if I had been reading it in physical form.

 

As an audiobook, though, “Cinder” is pleasant enough to serve as a background for doodling, cleaning or cooking. It has an interesting enough world to keep me listening, but I admit that since Cinderella is my least favourite fairytale, I couldn’t wait to be done with this part.

 

I liked it enough to continue with the series, thanks to the coolness factor of fairytales in sci-fi setting, but “Cinder” failed to ‘wow’ me. In some way, I might have done a disservice to myself as I read a rather overhyped “Heartless” before “Cinder”, but nothing can be done about it now. I sincerely hope that the series will get only better with each book.

 

 

Plot: 3 stars

Performance: 3.5 stars

Overall: 3 stars

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

 

Warning: might contain very minor spoilers

 

“Caraval” is a young adult fantasy novel about two sisters who live on a remote island with a tyrannous father. Scarlett, the elder sister, is willing to do anything to save both herself and her younger sister Donatella, including accepting the arranged marriage. She has a dream, though, of seeing a mysterious performance, Caraval, and one day she gets the invitation from the master Legend himself. When Scarlett is brought to the island to partake in the game, almost against her will, she is faced with the fact that Donatella is missing, and now Scarlett has to win the game to save her sister.

I was very excited to get my hands on Caraval, but since I had never heard about this author (and only later found out that it is a debut novel), I got it from the library. Unfortunately, I failed to read the book and had to return it. So, when I found out that Caraval was narrated by Rebecca Soler, I immediately went to Audible and got my copy of this audiobook.

 

I finished the book surprisingly quickly. I felt, however, very much let down by it. Very similar to my experience with “Heartless” by Marissa Meyer (but only worse in this case), the book left me feeling as the author had poured all efforts into creating visually appealing world and characters, but the plot was crafted from cliches and tropes. It was getting so ridiculously predictable at times, that I could even guess the lines in dialogues. Because I have already read all of those before, in multiple books.

 

Caraval, which is positioned as a fantasy novel, is surprisingly romance heavy. It has too many elements of romantic settings and all of those descriptions of ‘smooth, muscled backs’ and ‘chiseled features’ only made me roll my eyes repeatedly. It would have been okay if this book was meant to be a romance novel. In a fantasy setting, it seemed just a bit too much of sugar at inappropriate places.

 

The world of Caraval is crafted well enough, however, the ideas behind it are not new. A deadly game to save the loved one? We have all read a book or two about that. Falling for a bad boy? Yup. Dying but not actually dying? Err, what?

 

I had a big problem with the plot, which had more holes than a plot is allowed to have, but the biggest issue for me was with the ending. The dead should stay the dead unless their death wasn’t such a big deal. Because if it is, if it is supposed to be a hoax, do not let either readers or characters believe in it for so long. And especially, if it all turns out to be a trick - do not treat it so lightly. I personally found annoyed and cheated at the end.

 

I liked Scarlett fair enough, although I didn’t always agree with her actions. I liked Dante, probably, the best from all secondary characters. I liked both his and Julian’s backstories, however, everyone else verged at the edge of annoying. Especially, Tella. I am ready to say that she was the most annoying and least enjoyable character for me.

 

There is so much hype surrounding this book, which I don’t understand at all. The plot is weak, the romance is predictable, the characters are cliched. The idea was great, but it should have been executed and wrapped up in one book. But we, it seems, are getting a sequel.

 

Rebecca Soler does a good job with this book. I had some trouble distancing myself from my experience of “Heartless” at the very beginning, but overall I think “Caravel” characters sound more believable and alive. I am not sure if it was due to the fact that I started listening to “Caravel” right after “Heartless” or perhaps because both books are narrated by Rebecca, but I kept thinking that these two novels have a lot in common in the way certain things are romanticized and exaggerated. Of course, these two books are different, but I kept wondering if Stephanie Garber was somehow inspired by Marissa Meyer’s writing.

 

At the end of the audiobook, there was an interview with Stephanie Garber. Listening to her talk only solidified my opinion that this author is just not for me. Since we are getting the sequel that will focus on Tella, I am still on the fence with whether I would like to continue with duology (and I hope it is only going to be a duology), but I might give it a go if I have time and if I get it as an audiobook (preferably, from OverDrive). Because I am not spending a penny on the book that could have been so good, but turned out to be a hoax.

 

Plot: 2 stars

Performance: 4 stars

Overall rating: 3 stars

 

Affiliated links:

 

Caraval

Book Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (audiobook)

 

Have you ever discovered a hidden gem in a place you never expected to find one? I got this feeling when I started listening to “Magonia” audiobook. This book was on my radar some time ago, about a year or so. I even purchased it on Kindle when it was on sale. I never read it though and quickly forgot about it. Recently, I have been on a huge audiobook buying spree. I am an avid Audible user, but I also get books from the library and I had more than one person repeatedly tell me that I should use OverDrive to get audiobooks. I decided to give the OverDrive app a try (since the interface wasn’t inspiring confidence and I am too addicted to Audible anyway) and “Magonia” was the book that I downloaded as it was readily available.

I am not new to audiobooks. I have been using Audible for over 10 years now (no kidding) and I listened to audiobooks before that too. Needless to say, I can be very picky when it comes to narrators. That is why I was so excited when “Magonia” exceeded my expectations. The audiobook is narrated by Therese Plummer and Michael Crouch, neither of whom I ever listened to before. Therese, obviously, steals the show as her narration dominates the audiobook but they both are really good, and I think if it weren’t for their acting, I would have not enjoyed the audiobook this much.

“Magonia” is a book one in a young adult fantasy duology. It is told mainly from the point of view of its main protagonist, Aza Ray, a teenaged girl with a mysterious disease. Aza is weak and sick, constantly in and out of hospitals, but her spirit is very strong and her awareness of the world around her is astounding. Her best friend is a nerdish and adventurous Jason. He, as well as Aza’s family, her mother, father and younger sister, all are trying to equally support Aza and get ready for her eventual demise. One day Aza starts hearing someone calling her name. Everyone thinks, she is hallucinating, but Jason believes her.

And when one day, it finally happens - Aza dies and opens her eyes on a trading ship, sailing in the sky - Jason is the only one who keeps believing into impossible.

“Magonia” is a lyrical and reflective in tone, so it works perfectly as an audiobook. Therese is especially fabulous as she gives voices to different characters. She chirps and groans and whispers, and it is fascinating to listen to. (I found out that Therese also narrated two other books that I really enjoyed - “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab and “Rook” by Sharon Cameron -  and I can’t wait to listen to them as well!)

I found the world and magic system of Magonia original and intriguing. Can’t say that the actual plot line of the book is anything terribly special - the romance triangle, for one, is totally predictable. However, it is a very character driven plot, and it compensates for somewhat predictable plot twists. I loved all the characters, even the bad ones, just because they were so well developed. It is obvious that the author put a lot of effort into fleshing out the characters. I think I loved Jason the most. He is brilliant and nerdy, suffers from anxiety and is obviously somewhere on the autism spectrum, and recites Pi to keep Aza alive. He has two loving mothers, who care about him a lot. Aza's family is delightful too. I am always happy when YA fiction has lots of well written side characters and when the family members of main protagonists aren't there only to serve as a washed-out background prop.

The ending left me wanting to start the second book right away (it is still on hold at the library), although it does not really end with a big cliffhanger, but I can’t wait to see how this all gets resolved. And I definitely, definitely recommend you listen to this audiobook as opposed to reading a book. It is wonderful!

Plot: 3 stars

Performance: 5 stars

Overall: 4 stars

Book review: The King of Average by Gary Schwartz (audiobook)

The King of Average I have received a copy of this audiobook from Aurora Publicity in exchange of a free and honest review. I love audiobooks and jumped at this opportunity as I usually do not get to choose between an ebook and audiobook copy.

 

"The King of Average" is a middle grade fantasy adventure novel about an eleven year-old boy named James, who is so ordinary and average, that one day he decides to become the most average person ever. The moment he makes his decision, he is transported into a fantasy world, the Realm of Possibilities, where he makes friends and faces challenges on his road to become the King of Average.

I adored this book! It is incredibly well written and gripping for a debut novel. More so, it works perfectly well as an audiobook, as it is performed by Gary Schwartz himself, who is an actor, a voice artist and an impov coach. Mr. Schwartz created a variety of characters with very distinct voices - literarily and figuratively speaking - and the wordplay that he uses for the creation of his imaginary word is simply superb. I often couldn’t help laughing at the telling names of the places, like Eureka and Epiphany, or characters, like the professional pessimist Killjoy or the real scapegoat Mayor Culpa. I think it would prove to be quite educational for kids in terms of abstract concepts and wordplay.

 

It’s been awhile since I was this taken by a middle grade novel, as I often find them to be too simplistic and talking down to children. This is, fortunately, not the case with "The King of Average".

 

James faces some serious problems in his life. He is neglected by his mother, who seems not to care for his existence at all and inadvertently blames him for his father abandoning them. James longs to be important, to matter, he wants family love and friends, and he finds all of those in the Realm of Possibilities. As true to adventure stories, he also discovers things about himself and is given a glimpse into the reasons behind his mother’s antagonism.

 

I believe that any reader will be able to find a character they can relate to in this book. I liked many characters in this book but I think that Monsieur Roget is probably my favourite. (While listening to the audiobook, I kept envisioning him as a more friendly version of Suchet’s Poirot, which made me smile a lot.) This audiobook brought up the long forgotten feeling of a childhood story well-told - something that I often find missing in contemporary middle grade fiction. Loveable characters and curious adventures - what more can you ask for! I think that the fact that Gary is a professional voice actor, undoubtedly, adds to the story. His narration is so perfect, I kept forgetting that I was listening to one person doing all of those voices.

 

I did, however, had a bit of an issue with the tiny small thing at the end. Can’t really explain it explicitly without giving away the ending, but I felt that it should have been given more attention. Also the ending made me scream internally for the sequel. Because I want to know what will happen after the last chapter! But as far as I am aware, this is a standalone novel.

 

I can’t praise this book enough. It is a sweet and witty middle grade novel, that both kids and adults (hey, I am an adult!) would love, and I highly recommend you pick the audiobook version. Those six hours flew by very quickly.

 

I hope that Mr. Schwartz would write and voice more books, as I am already hooked.

 

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Performance: 5 stars

 

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Book Review: Catalyst (Star Wars) by James Luceno

When I saw "Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel" on the shelves at a bookstore, I initially assumed that it was a tie-in edition for Rogue One, the movie. I looked it up online, and it turned out to be a prequel. I requested this book from the library but it was a hot release, so instead of waiting I picked up the audiobook version on Audible. My review below is of the audiobook version.

The audiobook is 11 hours long and is narrated by Jonathan Davis, a rather well known and popular narrator on Audible. It was the first time I listened to his narration, though, and I was instantly smitten. Davis does various voices and accents quite wonderfully, and the audiobook itself is full of accompanying sounds and noises. Which almost seemed as if I was listening to a radio drama which reminded me of my childhood (gosh, I used to love those!).

 

It took me awhile to get through the book though. Not because I did not like it, but because it was rather slow paced and required a rather thorough knowledge of Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, even though I watched the movies more than once (especially Episodes IV - VI - my favs!), I had trouble remembering all of planets and moons and keeping track of who was where.

 

The book is set right between Episode III and Rogue One. It is told in third person and focuses on the Orso family, mostly on Galen and Lira, Jyn’s parents. Galen is shown as a slightly distracted but brilliant scientist who is conned by the Empire into developing an extremely valuable and unlimited source of energy, which is eventually used to power the Death Star. Galen is led to believe that his research will save millions of inhabitants of the empire and only by the end of the book discovers the truth. His wife Lira is a smart and brave woman, who not only supports Galen in his research but also tries to shield him from the influence of the Empire. I found both Galen and Lira absolutely lovely and very believable. It was the first time that I got to see the things from the Empire employees’ perspective, which was rather refreshing.

 

I think that if I were a more of a SW fan, I would have enjoyed the book more. I went to see Rogue One before I was fully done with the audiobook (I had about 2 hours left and it was just the remaining few chapters after the big revelation - funnily enough, the movie took off almost from the same moment where I had stopped listening). I enjoyed the movie a lot and I think that it was mostly thanks to this prequel. Some people I spoke to complained about Rogue One lacking character development and depth - I agree and believe that the movie should have been merged with this prequel novel and split into two parts, which would have made the plot more balanced between political intrigue and battle scenes.

 

I enjoyed this book, even though sometimes I was lost in all of those names of planets and worlds; even though sometimes the story was too slow paced; even though I knew exactly how it was going to end. The performance by Davis made it all worthwhile.

 

Plot: 3 stars

Performance: 5 stars

Overall: 3.5 stars

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