Audiobook Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

Author: Victoria Schwab

Series? No.

Goodreads

Booktopia

Libro.fm

Publisher’s Website

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wished for unfettered freedom, a life completely her own, untethered to time and space and people. While many books may explore the journey to achieve such a wish, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE instead examines the consequences and the prices paid. Addie’s memorable journey is a clear defiance to her curse to a fault. In its single-minded pursuit to capture the life of Addie Larue, this book neglected to acknowledge the existence of marginalised communities who were erased not through Faustian bargains, but by colonialism, classism, and white supremacy. Addie’s story is fixated on her own legacy, yet her narrative is one that conveniently forgets the people history would rather leave unremembered.

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Blog Conversation with R. F. Kuang

Anyone who has been following Read at Midnight for a length of time will know that I am an ardent fan of The Poppy War trilogy. As a fandom, we are blessed that Rebecca Kuang is consistently generous with her interactions with her readers.

Today, I am privileged to join in part of her blog tour leading up to the release of The Burning God! I got to chat with Ms. Kuang about the future of Asian SFF, her favourite scene from The Burning God, and her favourite house in Fire Emblem: Three Houses!

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Graphic Novel Review: The Magic Fish

Graphic Novel Review

Title: The Magic Fish

Author and Illustrator: Trung Le Nguyen

Goodreads

Publisher Website – AUS

Publisher Website – US

Rating: 5 out of 5.

THE MAGIC FISH is a graphic novel that resonated so keenly with my entire being, it felt like it was created just for me. And it some ways, it was – in the way that it’s a labour of love which speaks specifically to the Vietnamese immigration experience. It ponders on the barrier and connections between the languages of first and generation immigrants, a relationship that are not restricted to mere words but to encapsulate our entire identity. Tiến and his family uses the framing of various fairy tales to communicate their truths, and the result is a nuanced, heartfelt story that rises above the trappings of fairy tale archetypes. If you can’t tell, I love this book with my whole heart, and I hope you’ll pick it up – marvel in the exquisite artwork, and let yourself be transported in Tiến’s world.

To me, language is a map to figure out where you are. If you can’t read the map, you’re lost.

As someone who grew up with two languages, feeling that I had to discard one to earn another when I immigrated to New Zealand – the weight of this quote, which appears at the beginning of The Magic Fish, absolutely gutted me. Helen, Tiến’s mother, spoke from similar experiences – her ‘past and present selves speak two different languages.’ She is irrevocably transformed ever since a little boat took her away from the shores of Vietnam, to the promised dreams of a foreign land. Helen’s is a woman separated from her past, rarely speaking about it to Tiến. The void of words in between them are filled by the spaces of fairy tales – a tool this book revisits time and again to contextualize feelings that are too complicated, even for people who speak multiple languages.

The first fairy tale depicted is Tattercoats, and here Trung Le Nguyen’s skills at visualizing beautiful costumes is showcased, alongside with his ability to seamlessly weave between multiple narratives. Both Alera and Helen are haunted by the image of a cruel and unforgiving sea, nostalgic for the voice of their mother – whether projected through a magic ring or a phone call. Tiến’s own story also takes form here, as we see him with his friends Claire and Julian, and the tentative crush that he has on the latter. He goes on to tell us that he struggled to find a Vietnamese term for who he is, a boy who loves other boys. All of this unfold between the panels illustrating Princess Alera, the various disguise and celestial dresses that she dons.

And Tien would finally know we came from the same stories.

The next fairy tale we visit is a Vietnamese classic, Tấm and Cám. A Cinderella fairy tale of our very own, which Trung infused with even more character by portraying it through the lens of colonial-era clothing and buildings. Where the retelling of Tattercoats was filled with wistful longing and half-realised dreams – the version we got of Tấm and Cám was one with teeth. We revisit the theme of death and life anew time and again, a story that continues where you would expect a clean cut ending. The Magic Fish remind its readers of a tale’s ability to transform, whether it’s through the metamorphosis of memories, or the magic of retelling. It also gently warns of the expectation of happy endings, when lives are infinitely complex and has a way of persisting through generations – like Vietnam and her children, a country moulded by the hands of colonisation, yet refuses to fit anyone else’s narratives.

It’s an old, old story. Details change. Things change. And now this story is ours. Yours and mine.

Finally, The Magic Fish ends with a rendition of The Little Mermaid. In the Author’s Note, Trung states that he’s always viewed this Hans Christian Andersen tale as a story of immigration – and I could not agree more. A girl who gives up her ability to communicate at a chance of fulfilling dreams in a distant land, who chafes and suffer with every step she takes. It is my favourite of the tales, beautifully drawn using inspiration of Hong Kong fantasy aesthetic and the imageries of ballet. It’s a tale that encourages the rewriting of our own endings, illustrate how love overcome barriers, and the beauty of a mother and a son learning to speak in one another’s language. It’s a heartfelt and victorious culmination of the narrative threads that this graphic novel is working towards. I’ve never felt more satisfied and joyous on the completion of a graphic novel, and I will treasure this book like a well-loved fairy tale for years to come.

It’s almost unfair how this graphic novel is both beautifully illustrated and poignantly written. As a child who grew up in a family of refugees, who have witnessed the silent sacrifices of my elder, who have learned to love a language and culture I once tried to discard – this book felt like a key to invisible shackles. I know I’ll be putting this into the hand of every Viet person I come across, first and foremost my own mother – who also raised me with the words of fairy tales.

There are a lot of excellent books releasing this October, but please make sure this one make its way onto your bookshelf!

Midnight Designs and Audiobook Review: Black Sun

I have been a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse since I read Trail of Lightning. With Black Sun, she cements herself as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary SFF. I have both a book review and some graphics for everyone today, ahead of the excitement for Black Sun’s release next week!

Book Title: Black Sun

Author: Rebecca Roanhorse

Series? 1 of 3

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Release Date: 13 Oct 2020

Goodreads

Libro.fm

Book Depository

Audiobook Review

Disclaimer: I received this audiobook through the Libro.fm ALC program. I love Libro.fm with my entire heart, but this is an honest review.

To be frank, I am not sure if I can quite verbalise how much I love Black Sun with mere words. I have spent most of this week in a complete daze as I left my few remaining brain cells with The Meridian, its expansive world, and its multifaceted cast of characters. From the very first chapter, where a boy is ritualistically transformed into a god – under the vivid visuals of a sun being devoured by a crow – this book has gripped me by the throat and absolutely refuses to let go.

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Book Review: A Deadly Education

BOOK & AUDIOBOOK REVIEW

Title: A Deadly Education

Author: Naomi Novik

Series? 1 of 3

Release Date: 28 Sep 2020

Goodreads

Booktopia

Libro.fm

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Australia in exchange for an honest review. I also purchased a copy of the audiobook for my own personal use.

I have consistently loved Naomi Novik’s novels since reading Temeraire during high school. Uprooted remain one of my favourite stand-alone fantasy to this day, and Novik has proven time and again that she is a master at crafting a palpable atmosphere with every book. So when I heard that Novik was releasing a new series that mixed academia and dark magic, A Deadly Education easily became one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. It’s been a few days since I finished the book, and while my feelings on it are decidedly mixed, I still catch myself thinking about this world. The Scholomance is a haunting setting that leaves its spectre on both the magical world within the novel, and on my subconscious. If you’re looking for an otherworldly and evocative read for the spooky season, you should have this book on your radar. Although I think there are a few issues with the pacing and the worldbuilding which I will explore below.

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Book Review: The Silvered Serpents

BOOK REVIEW

Title: The Silvered Serpent

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Series? 2 of 3

Goodreads

Booktopia

Libro.fm

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the prequel, The Gilded Wolves. It will not contain spoilers for The Silvered Serpents.

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Tigers in Viet Lore and Upcoming Novellas

About

Let me be perfectly clear, this post is not belatedly inspired by the Netflix documentary, Tiger King. The idea for this post stemmed from my excitement for two upcoming Tor.com novella by authors from the Viet diaspora:

I love fantasy novella, I love Viet folklore, and I love the recurring imagery of tigers in our tales and imagination. Hence, this is a self-indulgent post where I reflect on these stories and how ponder on how they may link to the novellas above, while I wait eagerly for their publication date.

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Audiobook Review: The Bone Shard Daughter

Title: The Bone Shard Daughter

Author: Andrea Stewart

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Goodreads

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Booktopia | Libro.fm | Book Depository

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also purchased my own copy of the audiobook for the purpose of this review.

There is a lot going on with The Bone Shard Daughter: part fantasy, part political thriller, part mystery, part sea-adventure, part sapphic romance. If all of that sounds good to you, you’ll be even more please to know that the book emerges more than just a sum of these parts, delivering a page-turning debut that is brimming with potential. I just finished the novel a few hours ago, and I already long to dive back into the world of the Endless Sea, its twisty magic systems, and its numerous characters.

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Battle of the Audiobooks

Why Audiobooks?

In the past year, over 80% of my books are consumed, at least in part, through audio format. I love audiobooks for many reasons, first and foremost as it allows me to multi-task and read while I am doing chores or engaging in other hobbies (it was houseplant tending in the summer, and now thanks to the lockdown I’ve been embroidering as I listen to audiobooks).

I also admit to being a little bit of a skim reader, and audiobook slows me down and let me savour a tale. There are also some books that are inherently better told orally, particularly ones that feature a story telling tone (like The Starless Sea, or Strange the Dreamer, or Raybearer). I know some readers feel that audiobook interferes with their interpretation of the tone of certain scenes, but for me, a good audiobook narrator amplifies those feelings and injects more life into it. Case in point, you haven’t lived until you inadvertently listen to a smut scene while out in public, something fellow romance readers can attest to.

However, audiobooks are eye-wateringly expensive when purchased on their own. As someone who goes through 8+ audiobooks a month (bless you, x2 speed), I have several apps and accounts dedicated to maximising my share of audiobooks each month. I’ll go through a few of them with you today and let you know which are my favourites.
The tl;dr version: libro.fm owns my life at the moment.

Note: My experience with these apps are limited to what an Australian resident can access.

Audible

Lets get the obvious one out of the way, for a long time (I’ve been an audible subscriber since 2015!) this was the only valid audiobook option for Aussie readers. The alternative was either borrowing the cd/tapes from your local library, or drop $50 to own the CDs yourself.

Costs: AU$16.45/month for one credit, additional books are priced $14.95 each for the Australian marketplace.
For the US Marketplace, Audible Premium Plus is US$14.95-22.95/month, which gives you 1-2 credits and unlimited access to the Audible Plus catalog for the month.

Pros:
1) Excellent selection of audiobook, including some books that are restricted to Audible only (this is also a con, see my notes below).
2) Cheapest way to obtain additional audiobooks when your credits have been used up, if you’ve been a member for 3+ months, you get the option to buy a 3 credits for AU$34.95 when you are down to your last credit.
3) One additional free audiobook a month, selected by their staff – more often than not it’s one I am not interested in, but they had I’ll Be Gone in the Dark this month and the true crime enthusiast in me is very happy.
4) If you are in the US Marketplace, you also have access to their Audible Plus catalog, which has some great older titles. Currently it has the entire The Bone Witch trilogy by Rin Chupeco, Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, just to name a few.
5) I like using the Audible app, as it syncs to both my car and my tv seamlessly, and there’s a lot of variation on the speed, all the way up to 3x – trust me, you need 3x speed when you have to listen to non-fiction for work.
6) Easiest experience with returns, as I find I can return titles up to 6 months and you can do it directly on the website instead of contacting their customer service – unless you have returned a large number in a short period of time. Even then, they tend to let me return more titles if I contact them via email.
7) My primary ebook reader is a Kindle, and I like the convenience of my audiobook and ebook syncing as I switch medium.

Cons:
1) Part of the Amazon family, which uses loss leaders and other predatory tactics to edge out local independent booksellers. A cursory google search will also tell you about the poor working conditions experienced by their employee. I understand it’s difficult to boycott Amazon altogether, especially in parts of the world where it remains the most accessible way to get the latest ebooks and audiobooks.
2) The Amazon exclusive titles bar audiobook access from libraries and other retailers, it especially targets popular titles e.g. many of the Leigh Bardugo and SJM titles. For more details you can read this article on libro.fm.
3) Audible titles uses DRM, which means you can only play them through audible’s official apps and cannot legally import them into other apps or audiobook players that you own. So while you have purchased the audiobook, you are tied to Amazon/audible services in order to listen to it.

Tips:
1) You can sometimes buy audiobooks from Audible for less than the listed membership price if you get the Kindle edition beforehand. For many titles, you can ‘add the Audible narration’ for $2.99-3.99, sometimes it’s cheaper to buy both the ebook and audiobook for a title – especially when the Kindle edition is on sale.
2) If you don’t go through 1 audiobook a month, you can email Audible Support for a Silver membership, which charges you the membership fee on alternating month.
3) The first time you try and cancel your membership, you will be offered a significantly discounted subscription – especially if you were on a 12 month plan!

Scribd

Scribd gives you access to both e-book and audiobook, but as I don’t enjoy reading on my phone, I primarily use it for audiobook access. It costs significantly less than a monthly audible subscription, and touts to give you ‘unlimited’* (a lie!) access to their vast library. It’s similar to a streaming service/Netflix for ebooks and audiobooks.

Costs: US$8.99 or AU$12.49 monthly for access to their full library, with some limitations.

Pros:
1) Their catalog of audiobook is seriously impressive, and they are continually adding new titles it. Many new releases appear on the app the very day of the release. I can also access a few titles that are not ordinarily available on the Audible Australia marketplace, e.g. I got to listen to Red, White, and Royal Blue and A Mountain Sings long before it appeared in my local audiobook market.
2) More often than not, I can listen to at least 3 audiobooks before I get throttled and the access to titles become limited. While the app is not ‘unlimited’ as it claims, it’s still more cost-effective than the alternative of paying $15-16 per audiobook.
3) I like the ease of use of their app, and I find that it’s much easier to find new titles on this interface as oppose to Audible, as you can sort titles by “Most Recent” or click on a particular publisher to view all of the new releases for a particular category.
4) You have the option of reading e-books or accessing magazines from the app as well, I find this particularly helpful for non-fiction I use for work.
5) They have gotten better at indicating when the restrictions on certain books will be lifted by adding a specific date on when your account will be eligible for a title again.

Cons:
1) As mentioned, while it’s cost-effective the app is not truly ‘unlimited’. I can usually listen to 2-3 audiobook titles before my options are limited for the month to older releases or books that are outside of my preferred genres. The most annoying thing is there is very little transparency to indicate exactly when this shift will occur, as the algorithm is determined on a number of factors: including popularity of the book, publisher’s contract, and your own consumption level. This generally means that you are limited to one popular bestseller/new release a month.
2) While ‘saving’ books to your lists on the app is marketed as an option to keep track of your TBR, I found that the algorithm uses this to limit books I prefer ahead of the books I generally don’t care to read. For this reason, I have avoided using this option.
3) You don’t actually own the books, as the app costs me upwards of $100 a year, not owning anything at the end of it can bug me. When audiobooks are purchased outright from Audible or Libro, I can often share my account with my partner (like I do with Netflix). I can’t share a Scribd account due to limit on the level of consumption per month.

Tips:
1) Due to factors mentioned above, it’s best that you avoid listening to popular new releases on Scribd if you have the choice – as this can mean you’ll be quickly blocked to accessing further titles for the month. I find that I get the most use of my account when I listen to titles that have been backlisted for 1 year+. However, if it’s a title you really want, do not hesitate to jump on it, as I’ve noticed publishers are quick to pull titles from the service as well, particularly if they are popular.
2) Try to spread out what you listen to over the months, as how many audiobooks you can read a month is dependent on how many you read the prior month. For example, if you managed to read 4-5 titles in the previous month, it’s likely that you’ll be blocked after 1-2 titles in the subsequent month. If there are many upcoming releases you would like to listen to for a particular month, it’s best to calm your Scribd activity the month preceding those releases.
3) You can try to put your account on hold until the titles you want become accessible again.

At the end of the day, Scribd is geared more towards the casual reader than to people who want to read 5+ audiobooks per month. Even with the limitations in the app, it’s still vastly cheaper to use Scribd to supplement my library selection/Audible credits.

Libro.fm

I only began using libro.fm around 1 month ago and have loved my experience, primarily because they support independent booksellers with their platform. I find their app and website aesthetically pleasing, and it does not hurt that they are very generous to book bloggers/booktubers/influencers – often offering us a range of complimentary recent releases, and there’s always at least 2-3 titles from Authors of Colour in the mix! Needless to say, I am in the beautiful honeymoon phase with libro.fm

Cost: US$14.99 for a monthly membership that gives you 1 credit, which is comparable to the cost of Audible. While the monthly membership is only an option for people with a US/Canada based credit card, international users can purchase a gift membership for $15 per credit.

Pros
1) You own a DRM-free audiobook after purchasing from libro.fm, meaning you can literally take your book anywhere you’d like and are not limited to their app.
2) They split the profit of their sales with a local independent bookstore of your choice, and you can choose the recipient during your sign up process.
3) I love finding new books through their Bookseller Picks page. As I can’t visit real bookstores to read those little recommendation cards I love so much anymore, this is the next best thing. The recommendations are diverse and often aligns with my reading taste, for example, The House In the Cerulean Sea and Mexican Gothic are currently being highlighted. Similarly, I love the Libro.fm Playlist function for much the same reason.
4) They have a fantastic Audiobook Listening Copy program for librarians, booksellers, book educators, and book influencers alike, if you are eligible I highly recommend that you sign up. Sometimes, I gain access to books that are not ordinarily available in Australia through this option e.g. this month I got Skyhunter by Marie Lu, which is not on the Australian audiobook marketplace.
5) Very prompt customer service, while you cannot return books through your own account, I found that they are very responsive to emails, often responding within the first few hours to any queries.

Cons
1) Predominantly US-based, including the independent booksellers you can support. Their membership bit harder to access for international users, but not impossible through the gift membership option.
2) A smaller catalog than Audible, but a cursory search show me that they have all of the titles I was after on Audible in the recent months.

Tips
1) You can gift yourself a gift membership, and use the credit to purchase books that are not generally available in your region, even if the website says there are restrictions. This is life-changing for the people stuck in the Australian marketplace, I finally got myself Mexican Gothic!! I have sight set on multiple titles like Gods of Jade and Shadow, Lobizona, and Felix Ever After. For me, this access alone the $15 per credit is worth every cent.

If I have converted you to libro.fm, please consider using my referral code to grab yourself an audiobook for free. I also get an audiobook credit when you have paid for your first membership month, so we can both live our best bookish life.

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Do you read books via audiobooks? What are your favourite audiobook providers? Aside all of these I love my Libby app as well, but I’m aware that experience with libraries greatly vary base on your location so I didn’t delve into that here.

Book Review: Empire of Gold

Book Review

Title: Empire of Gold

Author: S. A. Chakraborty

Series? Yes, 3 of 3

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Goodreads


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the first two books, City of Brass and Kingdom of Copper. There will be no spoilers for Empire of Gold.

Empire of Gold is the pitch perfect conclusion to the expansive fantasy trilogy that has captured my heart and mind over the past few years. Reading the ending of this book got me doing something I have not done in an age: staying up past 2AM alternating between crying my eyes out and smiling with glee. It was tough saying goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know and love, but I can think of no better farewell than this satisfying finale.

The ending of Kingdom of Copper was ingeniously cruel, leaving the fandom reeling and begging for answers for over a year. The conclusion of this trilogy starts off where it all begins, in an unnamed Egyptian village by the Nile. This setting invited an examination of Nahri’s personal evolution since book one, the ways in which her newfound powers and her found-family have both changed her and helped strengthened her existing identity. Nahri has played several roles in her life: Cairo street thief, companion of Darayavahoush, revered Nahid, wife of an emir, a healer, a survivor. Some of these identities were choices, others were a necessity for survival. With each, Nahri has reclaimed a position in a world that often sought to exclude her. In Empire of Gold, that personal journey delves ever deeper as Nahri navigated all of her past alliances to find a place where she belongs.