[Audiobook Review] The Night Country by Melissa Albert, Narrated by Rebecca Soler

Return to a world where dark fairy tales are more than ink and paper. Where, now free of the confines of their tales, they walk the streets of New York, unconfined but retaining the spirit of the stories.

Welcome back to the Hinterland.

 

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Published: 7 January 2020

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): Young Adult/Fantasy

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood!

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

 

content warnings - Copy

 

 

Blood, violence, stalking, dismemberment

 

 

3 star

 

 

 

 

what i enjoyed

 

  • The various Hinterland characters. As much as Alice tried to stay away, there were still many aspects of the Hinterland that reached out and came into play throughout the story, whether her friend Sophia or remaining Ex-Stories. As terrifying and sometimes horrifying as they were, they were deliciously at home in their creepiness.

 

  • Rebecca Soler, the narrator, played up the bone deep eeriness of the Hinterland, making certain passages even more chilling. She really nailed the various moments where Alice encountered particularly chilling Hinterland aspects, other times when Alice’s emotions were rising and the reader could just feel them along with her. Rebecca’s overall performance was very good.

 

  • The dual point of view perspective which allowed Ellery to showcase his time in non-Earth activities. While not extensive, it was interesting getting to see what he thought, what he felt, what he experienced in the scenes we did get from his travels. The Hazel Wood was very much an Alice book; The Night Country was still mostly Alice, but Ellery got some time which was a good breather.

 

  • Alice and Ella’s relationship: trying to figure out where they stand, now that the truth from The Hazel Wood has been revealed, Alice is graduating high school, her dark past. Where do they stand now? Even with the Hinterland past sneaking in, it’s still an achingly familiar human story, figuring out where you stand when you’re suddenly an adult but maybe not quite but still technically? Such a weird time for some. The navigation of this was probably looser than strictly human parental exchanges might have been, but I think the callbacks will still be familiar.

 

 

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  • The biggest problem I had was the similarity of a major plotline to Jill Wolcott’s from Every Heart a Doorway. I didn’t realize quite how similar the plots were until about 70% of the way through because for the most part, they could have gone in different directions, but when the reasoning was revealed? Whoo boy, way too similar for my taste. I couldn’t shake it and it brought my enjoyment down severely.

 

  • The relationship between Alice and Ellery felt awkward. They’re not in the same world for most of the book which, fine. With that in mind, I thought there was an imbalance of feeling between the two. I could believe that one party did have remaining feelings, but the other? Not so much, so the finale of the book rang a bit hollow.

 

 

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I think it would be better to read this as close to finishing The Hazel Wood as possible, because for me it has been awhile and I felt like I’d lost some of the connection between Alice’s somewhat traumatic journey in the first book and her trying to find her way in The Night Country. The being said, it was still a good book to read as Alice figures out what it means to be an Ex-Story in the human world when the Stories are still there and possibly trying to pull you back in.

The Hinterland is a deeply intriguing, creepy, interesting place and I would love to read more of its stories someday. I look forward to more of Melissa Albert’s tales.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Libro.fm’s ALC program in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

[Waiting on Wednesday] I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

Waiting on Wednesday

 

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event created by Breaking the Spine in which an anticipated title is highlighted. You can find their website here.

K-Pop music is very energetic and very relaxing to me at the same time. A book that embraces it sounds very interesting, not to mention one that challenges the standards of the industry with a main character (Skye) who is determined not to let anything stop her.

And let’s talk about that cover! So many bold colors and featuring a plus size model. Loving it!

 

about the book - Copy

 

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Published: 16 June 2020

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Genre(s): Contemporary/Young Adult/Romance/LGBT

The world of K-Pop has never met a star like this. Debut author Lyla Lee delivers a deliciously fun, thoughtful rom-com celebrating confidence and body positivity—perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Julie Murphy.

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

 

 

 

 

 

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[Review] The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

As a big fan of the convention circuit, I was instantly attracted to Ashley Poston’s The Princess and the Fangirl. It’s the second book in the Once Upon a Con series (whoops for reading out of order lol) after Geekerella, but I don’t think that takes away from enjoying the fandom references, the energy, and the pure love that Ashley displays for her characters and setting.

 

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Published: 2 April 2019

Publisher: Quirk Books

Genre(s): Contemporary/Young Adult/Retelling/LGBT+

The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

 

4 star

 

Rep: F/F romance (side characters)

 

what i enjoyed

 

  • Jess does not want to be Princess Amara anymore because she fears being tied to the Starfield series forever, unable to progress in her career through what she views as worthier films. A legit concern because typecasting happens and it can be something hard to breakthrough, especially for women in Hollywood. Her worries and fears were realistic aspects that gave insight into her position.

 

  • Imogen holds the Starfield series, show and film, dear to her heart, especially Princess Amara. She wants to save the character from a presumed demise at the conclusion of the blockbuster hit film that is becoming bigger than the Avengers films. Her perspective really enabled fans (pick your fandom) to feel themselves within the book. Who among us hasn’t worried about their favorite character being killed off? Would we go as far as Imogen to save them?

 

  • There are quips and barbs traded, whether toward each other or with side characters, that add to the annoyance factor of Jess and Imogen. After the incident that prompts their trading places act, however, the reader is able to see some slow development of their respective characters. Their motivations in respect to why they’ve said and done some rude things, why they fear the future (whether it be the Starfield franchise or an unknown life), unfold and make them more layered people.

 

  • This clarity moment for Jess. There’s a specific scene where Jess is trying to follow a clue to the leaked script and she is viewing the 25th anniversary setup for Starfield. The collection of costumes, particularly that of the original Amara Natalia Ford, gives her pause. She wonders about the expectations that were heaped upon her by outside forces (fans and so forth) as well as herself, but also her preconception about what makes an indie film like her Oscar nominated Huntress Rising role “better” than anything being enjoyed at ExcelsiCon (The Last Jedi, Black Panther, Starfield).

 

  • Even though I read this book first and have yet to read Geekerella, there were some throwbacks to the first book that were cute and funny that I could appreciate. I’m sure I’ll love them even more once I’ve read the first book so I can know the full history behind the cameos and whatnot.

 

 

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  • There an annoying quality that both girls have at first that stems from their points of view. It was a bit more abrasive than I would have liked, even if they did grow from it.

 

  • Not enjoying might be a bit strong for this entry, but: Jess cannot see what the attendees of ExcelsiCon value in the shows, the art, the costumes that are on display. Imogen can’t understand why Jess would want to give up on Amara, an iconic female character she could save from fridging if she just fought for her. I was frustrated with these two because they were being so stubborn. Then again, they did just meet, so it’s also hard to be too upset about it.

 

 

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A definite TBR addition for fans of conventions, especially those who have read Poston’s GeekerellaThe Princess and the Fangirl is ultimately a fan letter to the world of costumes, of film festivals, of long nights debating the finer points of our fandoms, and what we would or wouldn’t do to save them. It’s also about being true to ourselves and taking no shit from those that would try to shove us into precut holes because they think they can.

Once Upon a Con is a series I can’t wait to kick back and visit again.

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

[Release Week Blitz] Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

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I am so excited that SCAVENGE THE STARS by Tara Sim is available now and that I get to share the news! Thank you to Rockstar Book Tours for putting together this Release Week Blitz.

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Tara Sim, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for 3 finished copies of the book, courtesy of Disney Hyperion and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

 

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Title: SCAVENGE THE STARS (Scavenge the Stars #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Pub. Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Find it: Goodreads, Libro.fm, Amazon, Kindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo , TBD

When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.

Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…

Packed with high-stakes adventure, romance, and dueling identities, this gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is the first novel in an epic YA fantasy duology, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Sabaa Tahir, and Leigh Bardugo.

 

about the author - Copy

 

tara

Tara Sim is the author of SCAVENGE THE STARS (Disney-Hyperion) and the TIMEKEEPER trilogy (Sky Pony Press) and writer of all things magic. She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California.

When she’s not writing about mischievous boys in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and occasionally singing opera. Despite her bio-luminescent skin, she is half-Indian and eats way too many samosas.

Tara is represented by Victoria Marini at Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

 

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Tumblr | Goodreads

 

Excerpt from Scavenge the Stars

 

Revenge. It was a simple word when spoken out loud, but it was so much bigger, like the hidden city under the atoll. It was a word of fire and blood, of a knife’s whisper and the priming of a pistol.

It was a word that consumed her, filled her entire being until she knew that she could no longer be Silverfish. Silverfish’s will was to survive, to simply make it to the next day, and hopefully the day after that. But that was no longer her will.

Now it was revenge.

Captain Zharo. Kamon Mercado. Moray.

They would all pay.

 

Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

3 winners will receive a finished copy of SCAVENGE THE STARS, US only.
Giveaway ends February 14th at midnight EST.

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

 

 

 

 

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[Waiting on Wednesday] Spellhacker by M.K. England

Waiting on Wednesday

 

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event created by Breaking the Spine in which an anticipated title is highlighted. You can find their website here.

I am a BIG fan of heist novels, so when the synopsis for Spellhacker crossed my notice I thought it sounded super interested. Magic has become a tightly controlled commodity (not cool), so the main characters on a lucrative job that siphons magic. Very illegal, but one more job is supposed to the it.

Famous last words, right?

I can’t wait to see how M.K. England writes the characters in and out of the twists that are sure to pop up in this new book. It’s gonna be a doozy. 👀

 

about the book - Copy

 

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Published: 21 January 2020

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Genre(s): Fantasy/Young Adult/LGBT

From the author of The Disasters, this genre-bending YA fantasy heist story is perfect for fans of Marie Lu and Amie Kaufman.

In Kyrkarta, magic—known as maz—was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled—and, of course, outrageously expensive.

Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.

But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague—and possibly save the world.

No pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

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[Audiobook Review] Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts, Narrated by Sandra Burr

Dance Upon the Air, the first book in Nora Roberts’ Three Sisters Island trilogy, is something of a comfort read for me. I’ve read it a couple of times over the years and it is my favorite of the series. I had not, until this recent reading however, taken in the audiobook.

To take in Nell and the other Sisters narrative in this manner was interesting. It didn’t turn out to be the peak of my audiobook listening experience, but it did add a facet to a story that I return to from time to time.

 

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Published: 10 June 2008 (originally published June 2001)

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Genre(s): Romance/Paranormal

When Nell Channing arrives on charming Three Sisters Island, she believes that she’s finally found refuge from her abusive husband–and from the terrifying life she fled so desperately eight months ago…

But even in this quiet, peaceful place, Nell never feels entirely at ease. Careful to conceal her true identity, she takes a job as a cook at the local bookstore cafe–and begins to explore her feelings for the island sheriff, Zack Todd. But there is a part of herself she can never reveal to him–for she must continue to guard her secrets if she wants to keep the past at bay. One careless word, one misplaced confidence, and the new life she’s created so carefully could shatter completely.

Just as Nell starts to wonder if she’ll ever be able to break free of her fear, she realizes that the island suffers under a terrible curse–one that can only be broken by the descendants of the Three Sisters, the witches who settled the island back in 1692. And now, with the help of two other strong, gifted women–and with the nightmares of the past haunting her every step–she must find the power to save her home, her love…and herself…

 

content warnings - Copy

 

Domestic abuse (including physical & emotional), blood

 

3

 

Audiobook Thoughts

 

Sandra Burr had a good, clear voice when narrating the parts of Dance Upon the Air between dialogue. The views of the island, descriptions of food, tender moments between lovers, all good. Her choices for vocalizations, however, left a bit to be desired.

Some of the voices didn’t sound good for the characters. Mia, for instance, one of the main characters, was pinched & nasally, making her sound much older than she actually was. Nell, the proper main character, was too breathy and soft compared to the narrator’s stronger moments. Since she was the focus of much of the action, it made her lose depth.

Another part of the production that was odd was in a flashback/dream sequence. When Nell is recollecting/dreaming about an encounter with her abusive ex, Evan, the narration takes on an echo-y quality that doesn’t sound good. When you hear it, it’s almost like the narrator is reading her lines underwater. The effect is unnecessary because the writing makes it clear this is a dream sequence, so the bad echo sound effect merely makes it an unpleasant listening experience.

 

what i enjoyed

 

  • The setting of Three Sisters Island. It was very picturesque and comforting. I’ve always enjoyed the ocean and reading books set near the shore or an island are especially pleasing.

 

  • Mia’s shop, Cafe Book. What is not to like about a cafe/bookstore? However, as Mia is also the island witch, her store is also something of a pagan supply shop as well so there’s also a magical quality to the various nooks and crannies of the place.

 

  • The support/friendship that Mia offers Nell even before the mystical/historical connection comes up.

 

  • Zach & Ripley’s sibling connection is another that’s strong. Even as they butt heads (siblings, what can you do?), they’re good together as the island cops and as support for one another against the adversaries that pop up in the story.

 

  • Nell’s strength in the kitchen that allows her to find her strength in other areas. Not in a “get in the kitchen” sort of way, far from it. This strength ties into the magical elements, into her past life with her mother, and more that helps repair her foundation so she can build again after Evan’s abuse.

 

  • Lulu’s grumpiness that belies that softy underneath.

 

  • The mentor relationship between Mia and Nell.

 

  • The various manifestations of physical magic, whether the more ritual or the slightly more comical. It was still held in respect by those using it, but not to the point of rigidness.

 

  • The setup for future books and yet how this story didn’t wholly hinge on those other stories. The ending didn’t feel like a monstrous cliffhanger. It was complete in and of itself.

 

 

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  • Zach was something of a hypocrite at various points throughout the book when it came to Nell and her past. Because he wanted to be with her, he had to reconcile that she showed up on the island under mysterious circumstances (assumed identity [for good reason!], abuse history, etc), but at many points he pushed too damn hard and made it clear that his wants, his needs, “for” Nell should take precedence over her healing, over her figuring things out. It was so frustrating.

 

  • Some of the language that was used in the sex scenes felt a little heavy handed on the “need to mate” scale.

 

 

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The audiobook performance was not particularly enjoyable when it came to the voices the narrator, Sandra Burr, used. I’d be up for trying a book she narrated that didn’t contain dialogue because I thought those portions of Dance Upon the Air were adequate, but aside from that, I don’t think I’d pick up another audiobook if she were narrating it.

Narratively speaking, this is one of Nora Roberts’ older titles. I think I need to try some of her newer books to see if her characterizations, interactions, etc., have improved because the storylines are certainly interesting, but I think there are some bits that don’t sit right and keep the book itself from being more highly rated/enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

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[Review] Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

From the author of Written in the Stars and Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed debuts her picture book about Bilal, a young boy who wants to share a dish meaningful not only to him, but to his Pakistani culture. With friends from around the neighborhood popping up and curious about the titular dish, Bilal wonders if they’ll like it as much as he does.

 

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Published: 4 June 2019

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Genre(s): Picture Book/Cultural/South Asian (Pakistan)/Food & Drink

Six-year-old Bilal introduces his friends to his favorite dish—daal!—in this charming picture book that showcases the value of patience, teamwork, community, and sharing.

Six-year-old Bilal is excited to help his dad make his favorite food of all-time: daal! The slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia requires lots of ingredients and a whole lot of waiting. Bilal wants to introduce his friends to daal. They’ve never tried it! As the day goes on, the daal continues to simmer, and more kids join Bilal and his family, waiting to try the tasty dish. And as time passes, Bilal begins to wonder: Will his friends like it as much as he does?

This debut picture book by Aisha Saeed, with charming illustrations by Anoosha Syed, uses food as a means of bringing a community together to share in each other’s family traditions.

 

4 star

 

 

Representation: Pakistani MC, diverse cast of side characters

 

 

what i enjoyed

 

 

Aisha skillfully conveyed how much emotion there was for Bilal throughout the story: there was joy at cooking a beloved dish with his father, nervousness at sharing it with his friends (especially when they commented on how different it was from their typical food), the fun he had with his friends while waiting for the daal to cook, the anticipation. There was a lot of buildup that spread from Bilal to his friends and that antsy feeling of excitement also became something that the reader will be able to feel, I think, watching as more and more children gather and wonder: when will the daal be ready?

Anoosha’s artwork blended a brightness (without tipping the scale too much) with a softness of the illustrations themselves. This, combined with Aisha’s story itself, made each page a new discovery, a wonder to explore as I read.

 

 

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The writing seemed a little clunky at time and didn’t flow as well as I might have liked, especially for a picture book. I read this to myself, but if I were reading this aloud to my son, then I think the awkwardness would have been even more apparent.

 

 

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The bright, colorful pictures are a pleasing accompaniment to the story of Bilal, his father, and the neighborhood children who are his friends. While I found the writing slightly off, I still thought the story overall was really interesting and I definitely want to make my own chana daal now. 😊😋

 

 

 

 

 

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