Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review - The Seventh Raven [AUDIO]

The Seventh Raven
by David Elliott
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins and Blackstone Publishing
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
Length: 1 hour 47 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

Best-selling author David Elliott examines the timeless themes of balance, transformation, and restoration in this evocative tale about a girl who will stop at nothing to reverse a curse that turned her seven brothers into ravens.

And these are the sons
Of good Jack and good Jane
The eldest is Jack
And the next one is Jack
And the third one’s called Jack
And the fourth’s known as Jack
And the fifth says he’s Jack
And they call the sixth Jack
But the seventh’s not Jack
The seventh is Robyn

And this is his story

When Robyn and his brothers are turned into ravens through the work of an unlucky curse, a sister is their only hope to become human again. Though she’s never met her brothers, April will stop at nothing to restore their humanity. But what about Robyn, who always felt a greater affinity to the air than to the earth-bound lives of his family?

David Elliott’s latest novel in verse explores the unintended consequences of our actions, no matter our intentions, and is filled with powerful messages teased from a Grimms’ fairy tale.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When you want a cool fairy tale retelling and you get a pile of pretentious poetry.

Yeah. It's like that.

I enjoy verse novels, but I did not click with this one. I think part of the problem is that I detested Robyn, the character with whom we're supposed to relate. See, Robyn likes being a raven... but he's such an unempathetic narcissist that, when the point of breaking the curse comes, he can only think of what he is going to lose, not what nine other people are about to get back, or the fact that his sister had to literally mutilate her body to break the curse. So he goes and sulks for the rest of his life and declares he's an angel (I kid you not; we're supposed to like this weirdo?).

There's a note at the end about how different forms of poetry were used for different characters. In another format, I might've found this interesting. But since I listened to the audiobook, I didn't get to see the words on the page, which made it more difficult to differentiate the types of poems. The effect one gets from listening to this book is one of unevenness and excessive repetition.

The misandrist messaging, the unlikable characters, and the repetition all combined to leave a rather sour taste in my mouth. I love verse novels. I love fairy tale retellings. I should have loved this book.

But I didn't.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Performance: 3/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Review - I'm Glad My Mom Died [AUDIO]

I'm Glad My Mom Died

by Jennette McCurdy
Date: 2022
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Reading level: A
Book type: memoir
Length: 6 hours 26 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I heard a lot about this book last year. With a title like that, how could a reader not be intrigued?

This is a rather harrowing memoir of Hollywood, abuse, illness, family dysfunction, and, yes, love. The provocative title seems to have turned a lot of people off. After listening to this audiobook, though, I can understand why it was chosen. Emotions are complicated. Families are complicated. When there is such emotional chaos in a family, it's understandable that there might be a certain amount of relief when the source of much of that chaos is removed from the picture.

Jennette's mom put her through a lot. The woman was not well, physically or mentally. She was a hoarder. She had extremely narcissistic behaviours. She lived vicariously through her daughter, seeming to see Jennette as little more than an extension of herself. The harrowing depictions of abuse (that Jennette didn't even realize was abuse until years later) are hard to listen to. Coming out with the raw details must have been incredibly difficult, and I applaud Jennette for being courageous enough to do so.

This is an important book, especially for people who may have similar relationships with family members. Ignoring the abuse doesn't help. Keeping secrets doesn't help. All those things serve to do is push the problem further into the future... where it will have to be dealt with at some point, especially if you want to have any semblance of a healthy, normal life.

I just want to add that I'm not the biggest fan of audiobooks in general. But, in this case, I would recommend listening to this book rather than reading it. Jennette does a great job with the narration. Her dry humour comes through when it's appropriate, and yet there are other times when you can hear the genuine heartbreak in her voice. This is her story, after all... and it's wonderful to get to hear her tell it to us.

Overall, this is a really strong memoir. I've never seen iCarly, and I didn't even know who Jennette was before this book came on the scene. But I found this to be a fascinating memoir, and I would definitely recommend it to others.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Monday, July 17, 2023

Review - Wings in the Wild [AUDIO]

Wings in the Wild

by Margarita Engle
Date: 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
Length: 1 hour 46 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

This gorgeously romantic contemporary novel-in-verse from award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the “inspiring and hopeful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) love story of two teens fighting for climate action and human rights.

Winged beings are meant to be free. And so are artists, but the Cuban government has criminalized any art that doesn’t meet their approval. Soleida and her parents protest this injustice with their secret sculpture garden of chained birds. Then a hurricane exposes the illegal art, and her parents are arrested.

Soleida escapes to Central America alone, joining the thousands of Cuban refugees stranded in Costa Rica while seeking asylum elsewhere. There she meets Dariel, a Cuban American boy whose enigmatic music enchants birds and animals—and Soleida.

Together they work to protect the environment and bring attention to the imprisoned artists in Cuba. Soon they discover that love isn’t about falling—it’s about soaring together to new heights. But wings can be fragile, and Soleida and Dariel come from different worlds. They are fighting for a better future—and the chance to be together.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I didn't expect to dislike this one as much as I did. I've read a couple of Margarita Engle's other verse novels, both historical fiction set in Cuba, and really enjoyed them. I was curious to see what a verse novel was like in audiobook format. I can't say that I was impressed. Then again, I don't think I would've liked this book anyway, even if I'd read a copy.

Aside from being very hard to follow (which may simply be one of the limitations of the audio format here), the characters are flat, the story fizzles, and the whole thing gets very, very preachy. Dariel's anger over climate change is to the point of being off-putting, and a few times the narrative devolves into statistics and scolding. I almost wondered if this thing had been ghostwritten by Greta Thunberg.

Yes, deforestation is a problem. Yes, artists being persecuted in Cuba is awful. Yes, being a refugee must suck. Those are the things I really wanted to read about. Instead, we got a weak story with contrived relationship complications, a confusing timeline, anti-adult sentiment, and a little too much preaching about how the world is toast if we don't meet yet another arbitrary target for carbon-emission reductions (which will probably be pushed ahead another few years when we reach 2040 and we're not all dead).

If I read any other books by this author in the future, I'll be sticking to her historical fiction... and staying away from the audiobooks.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Performance: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Review - Not If I Save You First [AUDIO]

Not If I Save You First

by Ally Carter
Date: 2018
Publisher: Scholastic
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Length: 6 hours 55 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

Bestselling author Ally Carter returns with an exciting stand-alone novel, about a girl stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with the boy who wronged her . . . as an assassin moves in.

Maddie and Logan were torn apart by a kidnapping attempt when they were young. They were only kids -- Logan's dad was POTUS and Maddie's father was the Secret Service agent meant to guard him. The kidnappers were stopped -- but Maddie was whisked off to Alaska with her father, for safety. Maddie and Logan had been inseparable . . . but then she never heard from him again.

Now it's a few years later. Maddie's a teenager, used to living a solitary life with her father. It's quiet -- until Logan is sent to join them. After all this time without word, Maddie has nothing to say to him -- until their outpost is attacked, and Logan is taken. They won't be out of the woods until they're . . . out of the woods, and Maddie's managed to thwart the foes and reconcile with Logan.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know why I do these things to myself...

It's been a while since I read a novel, but I didn't really feel like reading a novel, so I thought I'd find an audiobook instead. But... have you seen the length of some of those things? Fourteen hours just seems kind of intimidating. So when I found Not If I Save You First, which clocks in at just under seven hours, I thought I'd found a quick, fun read.


I don't know if it was just the narrator or if I would've felt the same way if I'd been reading the print version, but I could not stand Maddie. It's like she was supposed to be a statement against the "not like other girls" trope, but it went so far that the girl was insufferable. When you've just been kidnapped by Russians in the Alaskan wilderness, the last thing you should be thinking about is your hair. And even if the whole carefree valley-girl thing that she lapsed into whenever things got serious was some sort of defence mechanism, it was extremely annoying. I was honestly rooting for her to get pushed off a cliff by the end of the book.

Aside from the far-fetched story, this book has some other problems. In Chapter 14, there's suddenly all this weird, sexist talk that seems to come out of nowhere. It makes the book seem like it was written in the past. And yet, the male MC almost comes across as emasculated thanks to the insistence on Maddie solving all their problems (with a metaphorical flip of the hair and a cheeky, "Whatever!"). This particular book also doesn't lend itself very well to the audiobook format. It was fine when there was just one Russian. He had an accent, so it was easy to tell when he was talking. But then there were suddenly two Russians, and I had to back up a few times to try to figure out who was saying what because there weren't always dialogue tags to indicate it.

One of the biggest annoyances, though, was the author's insistence on continually using the characters' names... even when they were alone in a scene or when Maddie and Logan were by themselves. "She" and "he" would've been more than sufficient and a lot less distracting.

That was part of the problem. This book just didn't hold my interest, and I got distracted a lot. I couldn't tell you some of the finer plot points because I kind of zoned out, and there was even a bit near the end where I forgot where Logan was. By that point, though, I had so little investment in the story that I didn't bother to go back and re-listen. I just wanted to be done.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Performance: 2/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5