I received a review copy of the audiobook of Arcadia's Gift from the author. I was in no other way compensated for my review, though I have been following her on Twitter for years. I was glad for the chance to listen to this book, and relieved I liked it so well.
Arcadia's Gift is about half of a pair of twins, Arcadia (Cady) Day, and what happens to her when her sister Avalon (Lonnie) is taken from her in a terrible accident. She experiences Lonnie's death with her, which puts her into deep shock. Then, as she's getting her life back together, bonding with a boy who's helping her through her grief, she learns something has happened to her to complicate her recovery.
One might think a book about grief would drag, but this book isn't entirely about grief. It does handle the subject well. The book is about hope, and love, and what happens next.
Cady is drawn very believably. She's a teenage girl, flaws and all, and the text never excuses her mistakes. Everyone around her wants to go easy on her because of her grief, but she holds herself to a higher standard. She also experiences her grief in very real ways. She wants to stop hurting, but she fears leaving her sister behind. She wants to move on with her life, but then she feels guilty for feeling happy or carefree. She sympathizes with the classmates who miss her sister, but she grows infuriated by the stark reminder of her loss in the memorial left at her sister's locker. The push-and-pull of emotions is relatable to anyone who's ever lost someone close.
Her relationship with Bryan Sullivan, too, develops in a very real way. At first, he reaches out because he knows what she's going through, and he wants to give her the support he needed when he went through something similar. There was already some attraction there, but his kindness and compassion make him easy to like. He, meanwhile, sees her strength and caring firsthand. Their feelings develop realistically, over a period of time.
There is definitely a place for this book on YA shelves. I know a lot of people who bemoan the lack of heroines whose strength lies in their compassion, whose conflicts aren't resolved by beating someone up (or getting their boyfriends to do it). The story never lacks for tension, but the conflict depends on Cady's inner strength. I had expected the climax to kick off from someone trying to hurt her, but I was pleasantly surprised.
This book stands well on its own, though it leaves plenty of unanswered questions for a second book. I know I care about the characters enough to want to keep reading.
Arcadia's Gift is self-published, but it doesn't read like a self-published book. It's far more polished than I've come to expect from nontraditional publications. There are places where the wording seems a little clumsy or overdone, and Cady sometimes slips into a more adult voice. I would've liked to have seen more done with her two closest friends, who vanish for the last few chapters. Overall, though, it could've passed for any traditionally published YA, if I hadn't known ahead of time it was self-published.
The audio edition, too, is very professionally done. I couldn't have distinguished it from any other Audible production. The sound quality is clean, and Ashlyn Selich was an excellent choice of narrator. She captures Cady's vulnerability and confusion, and she sounds the part of a teenage girl. There wasn't a lot of variety of accents, but she was able to modulate her tone so that I could follow who was speaking without difficulty.
If all authors put this much work into presenting their finished products outside traditional publication, I would read a lot more self-published books.
Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I went into this expecting a cookie-cutter urban fantasy. I was pleasantly surprised. Though this predates many of the current genre standbys, it manages to avoid many of the tropes that have made some aspects of the genre seem tired.
Kitty Norville is a radio DJ on KNOB. She's also a werewolf. One night, she wonders aloud about Bat Boy, the tabloid staple, and asks people to call in with their stories. Calls pour in, and her boss asks her to make it an ongoing theme. Soon, she's syndicated across the country, doling out advice about dating a werewolf, and pissing off the local vampire and werewolf leaders.
The werewolves in this series are about more than just furry animalism. The pack politics that make it so hard for her to disobey her higher-ups highlights several points in our world about consent, power, and bullying. Carl, her pack leader, is adamant he doesn't want her to continue doing the show, because to do so shakes the very foundation of his authority. But she continues, because she needs the show as much as the callers need her to continue putting it on.
Kitty's strength isn't always in her fighting, though she does make a point to take a self-defense class so she can take care of herself. The two most tense moments in the book are defused through her words.
The book sets up a lot of subplots for later exploration, but that's also a weakness. So much of the book is setup, with so little payoff, that it's hard to feel invested in any of the plots at all. The ones that end up getting addressed this book weren't the ones I would've guessed.
I plan on listening to the next book in the series. I'm looking forward to hearing what else Kitty can get up to.
I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Marguerite Gavin. She has an excellent radio voice, and I could believe that Kitty would have her husky alto. But her cadence was sometimes off, changing the meaning of some of the dialogue, and I'd have to mentally fix it.
I consider myself a fan of Jasper Fforde's. I've now read everything he's published in the US, and I've enjoyed rather a lot of it. I like his weird worlds, his twists on reality that are almost plausible, and I like his sense of humor. This being a whole new series, I wasn't sure what to expect. I wound up liking it, though, and plan to read more.
The Last Dragonslayer is about Jennifer Strange, who's (almost) 16 and is a foundling in a world where magic exists. She runs an agency of magic users in the absence of the manager, who vanished in a magical accident. Her replacement, Tiger Prawns, arrives, and through his eyes we learn of the odd world Jennifer lives in, where there's one surviving dragon and magic has been steadily dwindling for years. Then, all of the world's precogs (seers and psychics, basically) have a vision of the world's last dragon dying, and millions of people converge on the dragon's territory hoping to grab a piece of land when the barrier keeping people out drops.
Jennifer is confused for two-thirds of the book, and, because the book is in first-person, that means the reader is, too. She pieces together the puzzle slowly, but all isn't revealed until the very last chapter. The action of the last third makes up for a lot of the confusion of the earlier sections.
I wondered, for most of the book, why the protagonist was female. She has a lot of traditionally masculine traits, and romance never comes into the equation. It would be a spoiler to say why I felt this choice was a masterful one, in the end.
Jennifer is a flawed hero. She takes on too much, says the wrong things at the wrong time, and often trusts the wrong people. She muddles through a lot of the plot, and she lets her anger get the better of her judgment more than once. She also has agency, sensitivity, and a strong sense of who she is.
This book has a lot less of the quirky humor I've come to enjoy in Jasper Fforde's books. There were some jabs here and there, but the book's tone is mostly serious.
It also lacks a lot of the YA trappings, though it is a YA book. There's no bad language or sex. But then, I don't recall a lot in Fforde's other novels. The biggest thing that marks this as YA is the age of the protagonist.
I listened to this book on audio. For the most part, Elizabeth Jasicki's narration was good and clear, and she sounded like a teenage girl. But, narrating dialogue, she often drawled, whispered, or did some combination of the two that quickly became grating. If she narrates the next books, I do hope she finds a better way of narrating dialogue.
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