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Arc & Audio ARC Review: Aces Wild: A Heist by Amanda DeWitt

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens in Vegas when an all-asexual online friend group attempts to break into a high-stakes gambling club? Shenanigans ensue.

Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?

Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross.

Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends—the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so much fun! I was drawn into the story immediately and immediately sympathetic to the main character. He was sarcastic, self-deprecating, funny, and a very believable teenager — some of my favorite things in a protagonist. He made a lot of very realistic, very bad decisions, especially early on when he felt like he was alone and his world was falling apart. Sometimes he even knew they were bad decisions and he still made them. He was a very realistic teenager, in other words.

I LOVE that the entire crew he pulls together for his heist are ace. It’s such a fun detail, and so relatable – not having friends in your immediate surroundings but connecting with people all over the country on fanfiction forums and then forming a chat support group for ace people? Definitely felt familiar, which drew me in even more. I almost felt like I was a member of the group and in on their shenanigans.

The heist itself sometimes took a backseat to the family and friend group drama, but I’m ok with that. There was still plenty of heist action there, but I was there for the character interactions anyway as I generally prefer character driven to plot driven stories. I love love loved the characters. They were all such individuals, with unique characteristics and mannerisms that didn’t feel forced at all. They felt like real people you might find anywhere. Well, they felt like real teenagers that you might meet at the outskirts of the school social scene, which is where I’ve always been the most comfortable. In short – I wanted to be their friend too. They were very obviously my people.

I like how the ‘being ace’ aspect was handled, as well as the tentative love story. It was sweet and realistic and believable… and familiar. Aside from the whole heist thing, it could have been me and my friends in high school and college.

That sense of familiarity, of belonging, made me love this book 1000x more than I would have based solely on the plot. Obviously not everyone is going to feel this sentimental about the book and characters, but I think a lot of people will really see themselves here and feel seen.

Las Vegas was an excellent choice of setting because the glitter and glamour made an excellent contrast to the seriousness of the beginning and then an excellent background and distraction during the plotting and executing of the heist itself. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but after reading this I feel like I was there. The descriptions didn’t ever try to take over the story like in some books, but I still felt like everything was very grounded in a specific place and could even almost see it playing out in my head. in fact I did see it that way – I have very specific visual memories of events in the book. It was like watching a movie. Ocean’s 11, but with teenagers.

The audiobook was narrated flawlessly and I love the narrator and the choices he made for the different voices and the way he told the story. Just perfect all around. I bumped the speed up to 2x because he spoke a little slowly for my taste – many people do – and it was still perfectly clear and easy to understand and all the emotion came through easily.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Peachtree Teen, and Recorded Books for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory by M.K. England

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Synopsis:

The official prequel novel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the hotly anticipated action-adventure game developed by Eidos-Montréal and published by Square Enix.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Racoon and Groot. They’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, turning a tidy profit as heroes for hire—or, they will be if Peter Quill can get his act together. After he botches the most critical part of their latest mission—getting paid—his newly assembled crew is close to ditching him for good. Now he needs a big payday, fast.

When an old acquaintance shows up offering a whole lot of units for a field trip to Peter’s past, it’s a no-brainer. Thirteen years ago, Peter fought the Chitauri alongside the Resistance on Mercury to prevent an invasion of Earth. Now it’s time to go back. The old Resistance base has a squatter, and it’s up to the Guardians to ‘gently escort’ them off the premises… and unmask a wartime traitor while they’re at it.

But war is heavy, man, and the Galactic War screwed up each of the Guardians in their own special ways. The brand-new team is barely hanging together, and the mission brings up all kinds of bad memories. It’s make or break time for the Guardians, and they do so love breaking things…

Just hopefully not each other.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I somehow missed the “official prequel to the blockbuster video game” on the cover of this. As I haven’t played the game, I think I am missing key details that would make me care more about the events within the book. Additionally, I haven’t seen the Guardians of the Galaxy and related Marvel movies (just the trailers) — which means I’m missing a LOT of key details and most importantly, the characters’ canon personalities and interactions. I requested this solely because I have loved everything MK England has written and I assumed I would love this as well, despite not being familiar with the franchise. I have read other books and fanfictions of franchises I am unfamiliar with and loved them in the past. However this… missed the mark for me.

I liked the plot all right, but I didn’t really care about any of the characters. Additionally, it was confusing with the way it was structured. It is divided into sections that alternate between the present and the past, 12 years earlier. I listened to the audio, which made it very difficult to flip back and check whether I was in the present or the past. I think the confusion stemmed mostly mostly from the fact that both feature Peter getting into scrapes, fighting for his life, etc but with a different set of crewmates each time. The characters weren’t distinct enough for me to easily tell which scenario I was in sometimes, especially with similar battle scenes and running from the enemy scenes in each. Also they were all — especially Peter AKA Star Lord — a little annoying. He was very much a bumbling fool who is eternally optimistic and somehow always comes out on top while everything and everyone around him falls to pieces and I’m not really a fan of that character type.

I was into it, but not really, I guess? Like I cared enough to keep listening, but not enough to choose to listen over doing/reading other things. I actually listened to half of this and then put it down for eight months and by the time I decided to give it a second chance, I’d forgotten enough details that I had to start over from the beginning. This should have made it easier to tell whether I was in the present or past in any given scene, but they still blurred together for me. I realized eventually that I was having trouble distinguishing between Gamora (present) and Ko-Rel (past) in their interactions with Peter. At 80% in I can’t really tell you the point of it all. Things keep happening but they don’t make any impact on me. I’m in the midst of the plot twist / confrontation with the enemy and I think I’m going to put it down again because I have other things to read that will hopefully hold my attention more.

I think this would go over well with fans of the movies and games franchises as well as those who like an emphasis on space action/battle scenes and not so much character development.

The narrator was fairly good and did a decent job giving the characters different voices (except for some of his female voices which were difficult to tell apart, possibly contributing to my confusion.) I found his voice a bit on the annoying side, though I don’t know how much of it was his voice and how much of it was his voicing of Peter as the POV character (who I also found annoying). He also tended toward the dramatic, but that’s understandable given the amount of battles and narrow escapes and arguments between the (very dysfunctional) characters.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media (Marvel) for providing an audio arc for review.