My Favourite Audiobooks

I started listening to audiobooks about a year and a half ago, so I’m still pretty new to them, but I’ve read around 30 audiobooks and wanted to take some time to highlight some of my favourites. I think audiobooks face additional challenges in being well liked and rated because not only does the writing have to hold up to being read aloud (sometimes writing styles just do not sound as good aloud as they do written) and it has to have a good narrator. Narrator is so important and you’ll notice that the narrator played a key role in my enjoyment of some of my favourite audiobooks.

Before I dive into my list, I just want to say that I believe that reading an Audiobook is no different than reading a paperback book or an e-book. I consider both of them to be reading. There’s some reading purists out there who don’t think audiobooks count as reading, to which I say, that is very privileged of you. Audiobooks open up the world of reading to so many more people who may struggle with reading physical books for various reasons, and I can only see that as a good thing. Anyways, without further ado, here is my list (in no particular order):

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed (read by Rebekkah Ross)

The perfect example of a good story paired with a good narrator. The Nowhere Girls features 3 main characters, all with very different perspectives and life experiences. Grace, Erin, and Rosina are all high school students in the same school where their former classmate was basically driven out of town when she accused one of the school’s football team of raping her at a party. When the girls find out that other women have had similar experiences, they band together to seek justice. It’s very diverse and I highly recommend to young adults.

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (read by various writers)

Not That Bad is an anthology of essays written by various writers about rape culture. The essays were collected and edited by Roxane Gay and represent an extremely diverse mix of stories and perspectives. The premise of this book is that we need to talk more about rape culture and that sometimes we suppress our stories out of a feeling that they’re not as bad as what happened to someone else or not bad enough to warrant making a fuss about. This collection re-iterates the idea that it is all that bad and that all stories deserve to be told and heard.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (read by Joanne Froggatt)

If you regularly read my blog, you’ll know that I became totally obsessed with Wuthering Heights and Joanne Froggatt this year. I didn’t expect to like this classic, but Joanne Froggatt does such a FANTASTIC job narrating this that I became totally enthralled with the audiobook. Froggatt’s narration is an Audible exclusive, so you will have to go to Audible if you want to listen to this version. But it is worth it because she does such an excellent job at bringing this classic to life. Audible is also a really good service, despite being a little expensive.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (read by Kyla Garcia)

A lot a people have mixed feelings about this book. The main character is pretty unlikable, which hampers some people’s enjoyment, but I’ve come to the conclusion over the last year or two that I tend to like books with unlikable characters. Julia is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who is grieving the death of her older sister, Olga. Her grief makes her very confrontational and she pushes back against her friends, teachers, and parents. I understand why people don’t like it, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a teenager suffering from grief and the expectations of her parents. I’m also obsessed with Kyla Garcia’s reading of this book. I thought she did such a wonderful job capturing Julia’s character and tone and it made this book so much more enjoyable.

Everything’s Trash, But it’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson (read by Phoebe Robinson)

I love books that are actually read by the author. This is Phoebe’s second book and I thought it she really stepped in up in this one. It’s a series of essays about America, Phoebe’s life, and what it means to be a black women in America. Phoebe is famous for her podcast with Jessica Williams, Two Dope Queens, so she’s a pro at being recorded and it shows. She is extremely funny and woke and really, who better to narrate your audiobook than you. This book is worth reading for her essay on White Feminism alone. A funny and thoughtful collection.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton (read by Hillary Clinton)

This audiobook is perhaps a little dated now (crazy considering it only came out a year and a half ago), but I still recommend it because it made me cry and stoked my righteous anger. I’m sure everyone knows this is Hillary’s perspective of what happened in the 2016 election, which at this point seems a little bit like, who cares anymore. But I think it is so important for us to try and understand what did happen in that controversial election and the gender and societal prejudices that worked against Hillary so that we can aim not to repeat those mistakes in the next election. 5 women have already announced they will be running for president in the primaries and we need to make sure that we support, critique, and hold them accountable in fair and equitable ways. Though Hillary didn’t win, she inched the door open that much further for the women coming behind her.

One Day We’ll All be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Saachi Koul (read by Saachi Koul)

A lesser known essay book written and read by Buzzfeed writer and Indian-Canadian immigrant, Saachi Koul. I didn’t really know anything about Saachi, but I ended up really liking her collection of essays on what it means to be the daughter of Indian immigrants and the struggle of reconciling that with also being a Canadian millennial who grew up with a different set of values and interests. I always appreciate a good book by a Canadian author and I thought this collection had a really good balance of funny, but thoughtful, essays.

The Feather Thief by Kirk W. Johnson (read by MacLeod Andrews)

This is the oddest book selection for me. It’s about an avid fly-tier (someone who makes “fly-ties” for fly fishing to attract fish) who broke into the British Museum and made off with 300 rare bird specimens so that he could use and sell their feathers for fly-tying. It’s an odd topic and one of the weirder heists I’ve heard about, but the book was absolutely fascinating! It’s not a long book and I listened to the entire thing in a single weekend because I was so entranced in the world of fly-tiers and naturalists. The author seeks to understand what happened to the stolen feathers and gives us lots of background on fly-tying and the scientific value of the stolen birds so that the reader can better understand both worlds. The narrator was terribly bad at accents, but otherwise did a great job.

 

Special Mentions:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (read by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber)

I’ve listened to a bunch of historical fiction audiobooks and most of them have not translated well into audiobooks. Before We Were Yours is the best one I’ve read and had a strong narrator and a really interesting, but dark, story.

 

 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (read by Meera Syal)

I didn’t love the ending of this book because I felt it tried to tackle too much in one short book. But the narrator for the audiobook is fantastic and with the exception of the ending, the story is really funny and interesting.

 

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Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

The Feather Thief

Rating: 
Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson
Genres: Non-fiction
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Dec. 2018 on Audible)

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to pick-up The Feather Thief. It’s unlike any of the books I normally read, but I saw it on the Goodreads Choice Awards and was intrigued and then made an impulse buy on Audible. Needless to say, I was very impressed!

This works so well as an audiobook. I’ve said it again and again, but sometimes I struggle with audiobooks and it’s the only time I actually prefer reading non-fiction to fiction because non-fiction reads more like a podcast and it’s easier to digest in audio form. I could definitely picture this as a podcast series and I thought the narrator did a really good job (minus the accents, he is atrociously bad at accents, but it was find of funny).

The Feather Thief is based entirely on a true story and is one of the more bizarre incidents I can think of. Kirk Johnson first heard about the feather thief when he was fly fishing in the American south and his guide mentioned in passing a bizarre story about a young man who had stolen 300 bird specimens from the British Museum in order to use their feathers to make fly-ties for fly fishing. Johnson was totally intrigued by the story and spent the next several years investigating the crime.

It sounds kind of boring, and I could see how it would not be for everyone, but Johnson does a fantastic job recounting this heist that had me totally engaged in the world of fiy-tiers, naturalists, and museum thieves. I sped through this audiobook in just 2 days and was totally enthralled the entire time.

Johnson does a great job presenting the story. There are several components that make this an intriguing tale. First, there’s the naturalists and science. Many of the birds that were stolen from the museum were specimens collected by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the 1800’s and were used to confirm Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many of the birds are exotic species from South America, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, the Blue Chatterer, and the Red-Ruffed Fruit Crow (aka Indian Crow). Many of the bird species in the museum are now endangered and the birds provide an important historical record to scientists and are often still used in research, such as in studying the effects of climate change. The theft of the birds represented a sad blow to the scientific community.

Second, there is the fly-tying community. This was a totally new concept for me. If you’re familiar with fly fishing, you might be aware that fly-ties, which generally look like insects and bugs, are used to attract fish. However, what you might not be aware of is that making fly-ties is an art form that an entire community has developed around. There are some intense fly-tiers out there and those that get into traditional victorian fly-tying can spend hours and days working on specific ties. Because this hobby was developed in the victorian era, many of the feathers used in the fly-ties were sourced from bright and iridescent birds, such as the resplendent quetzal and the king bird of paradise. These birds are rare and it is expensive to acquire their feathers, yet authentic feathers are considered a requirement in the fly-tying community. Dyed feathers are considered (by the community) as incomparable and many fly-tiers participate in the buying and selling of the rare feathers. This is technically illegal, since most bird species are protected and you can’t just buy their feathers, but it’s a little persecuted crime and the sale of feather and entire birds can be found all over ebay and at fly-tying conventions.

That brings us to the heist. Edwin Rist has been an accomplished fly-tier in the community since he was a boy, but has always struggled to afford the feathers required for many of the traditional victorian fly-ties. He moved to England to pursue his degree in the flute, and at the age of 20, pulled off a pretty epic heist of the British Museum that was not even discovered until months later. He broke into the museum with a suitcase and stole 299 birds before disappearing into the night. He claims he only intended to steal a few birds of each species for his own use, but got carried away in the face of such beauty. He then proceeded to find buyers for the birds and feathers.

The British Museum has some 1500 drawers of birds, so it took them months before they even discovered the theft, and when they did, they were flummoxed about who would possibly be interested in such a small, but specific, subset of birds. Edward Rist was eventually caught (obvious since we’re sitting here talking about him), and was put on trial for the heist. However, even though he had been caught, many of the birds were unaccounted for. A good number were seized from his apartment and he did list some of his buyers, but almost a third of the birds still remained unaccounted for. Where were these birds? Did Edwin stash them away somewhere? Did he have an accomplice? Are they still floating around the seedy underbelly of the fly-tying market? These were the questions Johnson set out to answer. This book recounts the history of the birds, the fly-tying community, and the heist, but it also sets out to track down what happened to the missing birds and whether or not Rist acted alone and was correctly tried.

It really was a fascinating story. Like I said, I can see how this wouldn’t be for everyone, but as someone who is currently engaged to an ornithologist and has heard more than my fair share of interesting facts about birds, I was intrigued. (Plus my partner was thrilled when he walked into the room and heard me listening to this; he was like, “wait… are you listening to a book about Alfred Russel Wallace?!” and then proceeded to get really excited for me) I thought the heist was interesting because it’s mystifying. What could possibly possess a 20 year old flutist with his entire life ahead of him to break into a museum just to steal a bunch of birds? But I think what was most interesting to me was the fly-tying community.

The fly-tying community is not messing around. They are a serious community. I don’t know if Johnson portrayed them accurately in this book or unjustly made them look bad, but to be honest, I think they deserve it. I’m sure there’s a lot of honest fly-tiers out there who get a lot from the community and what to improve it, but overall, I thought the community was pretty shameful. Johnson isn’t that critical of the community, but I think he was rightly frustrated with them. The heist obviously drew a lot of negative attention to fly-tiers as a community, which is unfortunate, but I think this community really needs to be held accountable for their destructive actions.

No one person is every indicative of a community, but the way you react to that person is. The fly-tying community essentially won’t talk about Edwin Rist. They don’t condone what he did, but they also don’t really seem to care that much about what he did. The community openly participates in the buying and selling of rare and endangered birds and they are never held accountable for it. Much of what they’re doing is illegal, they just try and hide it under legal means (like “I got the birds/feathers in an estate sale” or “I inherited them”).

I’m biased and I’m obviously going to side with the scientists, but these fly-ties are never actually used for fly fishing. There’s literally no reason why the community can’t use fake or dyed feathers. It’s a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with taking intense pride in your hobby, but not at the damage to endangered species. Many of the people Johnson interviews openly state that they don’t understand why the museum needs so many birds and believe museums should be selling their birds to fly-tiers. They feel they have a greater entitlement to the birds and are of the mindset that they’re honouring them through art. The most shocking to me was Ruhan Neethling (yes I’m calling you out by name dude because I think you are shameful), who bought two of Rist’s birds and knowingly kept them (many buyers sent them back to the museum when they found out they were stolen) because he felt the museum didn’t deserve them as much as him and that unless the museum could tell him exactly what they’d do with the feathers if he returned them, he’d be keeping them. As if the museum needs any reason for the feathers to be returned, the birds were stolen for them, no reason is needed for their return.

Anyways, I thought many in the community showed a complete ignorance to the scientific importance of the birds and showed no remorse over the birds having been stolen. Johnson indicated that he could see a marked increase in the buying and selling of birds and feathers in the fly-tying community forums and on ebay since the heist and postures that this influx is likely related to the stolen birds. Unfortunately there is no way to prove someone is trading stolen birds. All they had to do was remove the museum tags from the specimen and it could never be proved that it was stolen. This also struck me as sad because even though the museum managed to recover almost 200 of the birds (in the form of full specimens and plucked feathers), the birds without tags were no longer useful for scientific purposes. All in all, I think about a third of the stolen birds were returned still with tags, and therefore could still be used for science.

But I think what makes the fly-tying community so frustrating is their refusal to discuss Edwin Rist or the heist. They are both essentially taboo subjects in the community. Any posts on community forums about either always receive complaints and are immediately removed. To me, this demonstrates a lack of remorse on behalf of the community. They don’t seem to want to be better. They just want to return to the safety of anonymity so that they can continue to not feel bad about trading illegal feathers and continuing to endanger bird species. So that’s my rant about the fly-tying community. Like I said, I don’t want to condemn anyone’s passion or community, but this community obviously has a seedy underbelly and regardless of what Edwin Rist did, I think they need to address it.

Back to the book, I obviously liked it, but my one complaint would be that the ending felt a little anti-climatic. I commend Johnson for his investigative journalism and I understand that sometimes our conclusions and investigations don’t end the way we hope they will, and it was just a little disappointing. The ending felt a little abrupt and not wholly satisfying. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes and I did thoroughly enjoy the journey. I would recommend this book to bird lovers, fly fishers, those who love a good heist, and those who love a good true story. This was definitely weird, but in the best way.

November Summary

November has been the BEST reading month! Last month I sent a new PB for most pages read in a month, but it didn’t last long because I beat it again this month. I always read a lot of books in November because I get really into the Goodreads Choice Awards and always try and read as many of the nominees as I can (I decided to make this my November monthly challenge). This month I read a whopping 17 books, granted 6 of them were graphic novels and short stories, but it was still a new personal record for most books read in one month. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 17
Pages read: 5,221
Main genres: Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Fiction
Favourite book: So many good books! So hard to choose, but probably Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

So, like I said, a lot of the books I read this month were nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read a lot of books, so I won’t spend too long on each one. To start things off I read two books by V.E. Schwab, Vicious (⭐⭐⭐⭐) and it’s sequel, Vengeful (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the Sci-fi genre. Vicious was published 5 years ago, but it’s only just geting a sequel, so I decided to read them back to back and really liked them. I don’t think the second book was quite as good as the first, but they’re fast-paced novels that examine morality and the things that drive good people to do bad things.

I also read a few non-fiction books, which is a genre I don’t normally read. I decided to read Phoebe Robinson’s new book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the humour category, and absolutely loved it! I read Phoebe’s debut novel in 2016, which was pretty good, but I think she really upped her game in this book and I would totally recommend the audiobook. I also received a free copy of Abbi Jacobson’s new book, I Might Regret This (⭐⭐⭐), from Hachette, which I was thrilled to read, but ended up not loving quite as much as I’d hoped. Through I’m still a huge fan of Abbi and Broad City. Hatchette also sent me an early copy of Wundersmith (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), the sequel to Jessica Townsend’s debut novel, Nevermoor. I read Nevermoor a few months ago and was pretty much obsessed with it, so I immediately jumped right into the sequel and was delighted that it was just as wonderful as the first book! It’s a middle grade fantasy series full of whimsy that gives me huge Harry Potter vibes. A solid 5 stars – this series is incredible and I would recommend to everyone!

I read a few very short books, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (⭐⭐⭐), which is a short illustrated picture book that he wrote for charity (which I didn’t review), and For Every One by Jason Reynolds (⭐⭐.5), which was nominated in the Poetry category. Both books were nice, but honestly, I thought they were both a little too short to pack that much of a punch.

For graphic novels, I read the latest volume of Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (⭐⭐⭐⭐). I absolutely love this graphic novel series, but the latest volume pretty much killed me, and it appears Vaughan and Staples may be going on a bit of a hiatus over the next little while, so that kills me even more. I also devoured the first 3 volumes of a new graphic novel series called Fence, by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad (⭐⭐⭐⭐). Only the first volume is published at this time, but there are 12 issues available and I liked the first volume so much I actually had to seek out the individual issues instead of waiting for the next two volumes. It’s a series about a high school boys fencing team, which sounds kind of boring, but it actually excellent!

In addition to Phoebe Robinson’s new audiobook, I also listened to Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (⭐⭐), which is the second and final book in Julie C. Dao’s dualogy. I really liked the first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which I also read as an audiobook, but the second book was a huge disappointment. The narration changed characters and I found this one pretty boring compared to the delightful nastiness that was the first book. The first one was a retelling of the evil queen in snow white, where as this was one a more traditional snow white retelling, although they were both sent it an asian inspired fantasy world, which I liked. Speaking of asian- inspired fantasy worlds, I read R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the fantasy category. It is a heavy book, but wow! Kuang’s story is rich is depth, setting and history. It examines the Sino-Japanese war and the atrocities people commit against one another in war and how we justify them. A heavy hitter, but very well written and plotted.

My book club’s November pick was You by Caroline Kepnes (⭐⭐⭐.5). I’ve been trying to get to this one for a while and with the TV series being released on Netflix in December, it was good timing. You is a mystery/thriller novel told from the point of view of a stalker and boy, is it creepy. I didn’t like it quite as much as I hoped, but it is still very well written and quite different than most other books out there. I finally finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith (⭐⭐⭐.5), which I started reading way back in July (shocking I know). I had put it aside around the 300 page mark, but I finally picked it up and read the last 150 pages. I quite liked this book, but it is not very compelling, and for that reason it was hard to pick up, despite liking the story.

Finally, two of my favourite books of the month, along with Wundersmith, were The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐). The Simple Wild was nominated in the romance genre and I was instantly motivated to read it when I found out it was about Alaska (I have a bit of an obsession with Alaska since reading The Great Alone earlier this year). It had a bit of a slow start and the main character was a little vapid at times, but I ended up loving this book! The main character was 26, which is refreshing since most of the books I read feature teenagers or families. I’m starting to really appreciate family dramas, and this one was a mix of family drama and romance that really worked for me.

Our Homesick Songs was my last read of the month and it was also a family drama, but this time historical, that completely captivated me. It’s about the disappearance of cod in Newfoundland in the early 1990’s and the impact it had on rural communities. It’s a simple story about a family living in a remote fishing town, but it is so beautiful written and evokes a strong feeling of homesickness and loneliness. Newfoundland is where I was born and raised, so it had particular meaning for me and I was incredibly impressed by Emma Hooper’s prose. I devoured this book and it is definitely going to be one of my top picks of the year.

So there you have it, all 17 of the books I read this month. There were some really great books. The fact that I rated three of them 5 stars is very rare since I sometimes go months without rating anything 5 stars. I feel like I’ve finally escaped the book slump that I was in over the summer and I’m feeling very inspired by all the great books I’ve been reading!

I’d love to know, what books did you read and love this month?

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Nov. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 on Audible)
Series: Rise of the Empress #2

Well, this was a huge disappointment after the surprisingly good first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I was not expecting to love the first book because I thought it was a Snow White retelling, and I’m not that into fairytale retellings. But it ended up being a retelling of the evil queen in snow white – her slow descent into evil and how she became to be so obsessed with beauty. I do love a good villain origin story, and this one was an Asian-inspired retelling full of all kinds of nastiness, so I thought it was a great twist of the classic fairytale.

In contrast, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix was the boring Snow White retelling I thought I was getting in the first book. Honestly, you don’t even really need to have read the first book to read this one. The first book is told entirely from Xifeng’s point of view (evil queen), but this book is told from Jade’s point of view (snow white). In this book Xifeng is basically evil incarnate and Jade is the good girl out to save Feng Lu. It made me wonder why Dao spent so much time on Xifeng’s characterization in the first book if she was just going to abandon her in this book. I actually didn’t have a problem with this being a Snow White retelling, it just would have been so much more interesting if it was told from Xifeng’s point of view.

But Xifeng has basically lost her humanity in this book, so instead we get to listen to Jade’s inner monologue for 300 pages. Jade is the daughter of the late Empress Li-Wa (sorry, listened to this on Audiobook and can’t find the spelling), who Xifeng usurped in the last book. Xifeng didn’t want any of Li-Wa’s children around, so she sent Jade off to live in a monastery, thinking she would bear the Emperor new male heirs, and more or less forgot about her. However, Xifeng has been unable to produce an heir and calls Jade to the royal palace.

Up to this point, Jade had no idea that she was the lost princess, the true heir to the throne. So she struggles with suddenly being Royalty, but becomes indignant when she arrives at the palace and discovers how much her people have been suffering under Xifeng. She discovers that Xifeng is a servant of the Serpent God and has been killing women and eating their hearts to remain young, so Jade sets off on a quest to collect the dragon relics so that she can raise the lost dragon army (she is apparently the daughter of the Dragon Lord). She teams up with Ren, a young girl and warrior from the palace, and Koichi (again, not sure of spelling), who is a little person and Shiro’s son.

From there, this becomes a classic kind of fantasy quest novel. Jade, Ren, and Koichi travel around Feng Lu collecting the relics, hiding from the Serpent God and Kong, who is now Xifeng’s hunter. They meet a number of people and ghosts who help them along their journey and learn all kinds of stuff about these individuals, but honestly, I can’t remember half of it now or what the importance was, but I’m sure they would have been somewhat shocking twists had I cared at all about Jade.

That was probably my biggest complaint about this book. I just didn’t care about Jade. Okay, I was pretty into the fact that the main romantic relationship in this book involves a little person, but otherwise I just found Jade such a do-gooder that it was boring. She supposedly doesn’t know she’s a princess, but as soon as she finds out, she’s suddenly like the ultimate philanthropist and all obsessed with ending the suffering of her people. She didn’t care at all about the empire before finding out she was a princess and now she’s all incensed about it and has to like swoop in and save the world. She’s constantly trying to be this good, noble person and it was just sooo boring. Like she tries to save Ren from having to work by making her a fake handmaiden, and Ren is just like, “B*tch, don’t feel bad for me, I could kick your ass and I’m not too proud to work.” And then Jade kept trying to send Ren and Koichi away cause she just couldn’t bear for something bad to happen to them. Like, get over yourself Jade, you would literally be dead 8 times without them and this quest belongs to them just as much as it does you. Just because you’re the princess, you’re no more entitled to take down Xifeng than Ren, whose grandmother was murdered by her.

So yeah, mostly I thought Jade was just like, super boring, and I didn’t care at all about the relics or their quest to find them. Honestly, this whole book felt like it was just a lead up to the real plot. I was interested in Xifeng and the havoc she was wreaking on the empire, and I did want to see a showdown between Xifeng and Jade, but I didn’t care at all about the quest and the relics. It just all felt like filler to me and overall I found the plot disappointing. Plus, like where were the seven dwarves? If you’re going to do a Snow White retelling you should at least commit to the dwarves.

And finally, I really didn’t like the ending. The entire book is narrated by Jade, but then when she goes into her enchanted apple sleep it gets narrated by like 3 other characters in her absence and it just felt really disjointed. Plus, Dao tries to tie the ending back to Xifeng’s story with a few random twists relating to the first book. I think she was trying to make us empathize with Xifeng again, but it just didn’t work at all for me. You can’t have her be this psycho, evil queen for 90% of the book and then try and make us care about her again.

So overall, I was really not impressed with this book. I was so excited to read it and I thought the story had so much potential. I just wish it had been from Xifeng’s point of view. What is Jade like from her perspective? I don’t want to totally discount the book though because it is possible this has some important cultural aspects that I’m just missing as a white person. I also just finished The Poppy War, which is a historical fantasy about China that I’ve heard holds a lot of meaning for Chinese People. This said though, I enjoyed The Poppy War a lot more than this, even though I probably didn’t pick up a lot of the nuances that people more familiar with the culture and history would.