[Book Review] The Greenhollow Duology

Titles: Silver in the Wood (#1) and Drowned Country (#2)
Author: Emily Tesh
Genre: fantasy; short stories / novella; LGBTQ; romance; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart. 

The second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known.

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him. 

Review: 5 Stars

This duology was 1. sweet 2. kind 3. engaging 4. magical 5. the embodiment of green magic 6. a little bit wicked. I loved it. Book 1 (Silver in the Wood) started with this amazing legend of the Wild Man in the forest, who we learn to be real, and a man named Henry Silver who has absolutely no business being in the woods at all. A story of is built on their dynamic and it is a beautiful thing. Their companionship is fantastic and the lengths the two go to for each other in book one is so, so good.

In book two (Drowned Country), we meet two more characters who are, without a doubt, such a fantastic addition to Henry and Tobias’ dynamic. ADELA is the GOAT. She’s got so much spirit and life and all things badass. And when the story continues, and the myth of the Wild Man and his domain is explained and evolves — it is so believable.

Tesh’s world and her work is so good. This duology was a fast read — I wish there was more of, honestly. It was so beautiful and so fresh. I would pick up anything else she writes in a heartbeat.

[Book Review] The Singing Hills Cycle Series (2)

Book Covers for The Singing Hills Cycle Series

Titles: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (#1) & When the Tiger Came Down from the Mountain (#2)
Author: Nghi Vo
Genre: fantasy; novella/short stories; LGBTQ; women’s fiction; romance; feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) #1 – A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy. 

#2 – The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Review: 5 Stars

I truly enjoyed these two books. I’m unsure if there will be more, but so far there are only two. Both were wonderful. They were well-crafted, intricate stories about women, about families, about life, and about love. Both of the Singing Hills Cycle books featured Chih, a cleric who wants to record history as it was. On their journey, Chih finds that what they think they know isn’t exactly real, but a version that has been warped by others. They aim to correct it and write the narratives of those they run into.

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih is told this beautiful, tragic, and powerful tale about the exiled empress who is cunning, wild, and lovely through the eyes of a former maid, who is also cunning and wild. Chih learns from her that history isn’t always what was written from Rabbit, the maid. As the story continues, there are moments of the supernatural blended in so beautifully with the realistic. Animals, humans, spirits — it’s all so perfectly woven together so that Chih can write the the true history of empress of salt and fortune.

In book 2, Chih is hoping to get to their destination on the back of a mammoth, but ends up getting caught up in a storm and detained by tigers threatening to eat them. It’s here that they learn again that the history they have written back at the temple isn’t quite the truth. This time, the tigers tell Chih the truth, a beautiful love story where once there was just a history of violence and gore that painted the tigers like vicious monsters.

Again, Vo creates these beautiful characters, this compelling story, and this amazing moral where we’re sitting right there with Chih – remembering that we have to think critically about the histories we learn.

I loved these stories and sincerely hope there are more.

[Book Review] I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make You this Promise Cover Image

Title: I Can Make this Promise
Author: Christine Day
Genre: MG; realistic fiction; contemporary fiction; family adoption
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.

Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.

Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now? 

Review: 4 Stars

This was a really sweet book about family and friendship and determining who you are and what shapes you. Edie is a great middle grade lead and has a really wonderful narrative presence.

The relationships she has with Amelia and Serenity are authentic and honest. They reflect just how it feels to be a preteen / teenager growing up and learning what it means to be a true friend to someone else.

Her family dynamic is lovely. The whole story revolves around her family’s past and her heritage and why it’s a secret for her and as she uncovers the truth, how she and her family come to grips with it is truly wonderful.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, but great read.

[Book Review] Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Lost in the Never Woods Cover Image

Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Genre: YA; fantasy; retellings; mystery; thriller; fiction; fairy tale
Synopsis: [from Goodreads]

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

Review: 5 Stars

This was one of the coolest fairy tale retellings I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me a lot of The Hazel Wood, in that it wasn’t just a happy go lucky retelling with a fun loving character on a journey everything turns out fine.

This is told from the perspective of Wendy and it is not all fun and games and Neverland hijinks. The way Thomas tells and creates this narrative is both gripping and heart warming.

I love the depth to Wendy and Peter for sure, but all of the little interactions with the side characters too. In the hospital’s children ward where the children all want to be the shark, getting to know Jordan’s boyfriend, learning the effects of trauma on the family through their shared interactions. It’s so well written… but honestly I would expect nothing less from the author of Cemetery Boys.

Read this if you loved the original, read this if you loved Hook. It’s spooky, it’s mysteries, and I couldn’t put it down.

[Book Review] The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Fifth Season (Book 1/3)
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy; science fiction; ya; dystopia
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review: 4 stars 

The learning curve for this novel / series was really steep, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this novel in the least. Jemisin has, in this series, created a world, and along with it, a complicated mythology, history, and vocabulary. There is a class system, a series of working pieces, and a natural order of things that from the beginning feels like it needs disrupting. 

Readers walk into this book en media res and it feels like jumping into an eight foot pool without really knowing much more than a doggy paddle. She provides a strong warning at the beginning though, so if we decide to keep reading, it’s really our choice. I decided to keep reading and was not disappointed. 

I love the characters in this novel. Jemisin creates strong voices in each of them. She also uniquely presents the second point of view for Essun, one of the narrators of the novel. Throughout her chapters, instead of getting an understanding of what’s going on around Essun, we see what’s happening through her. 

This is made clear in the very beginning of the text when Jemisin writes, “You’re the mother of two children, but now one of them is dead and the other is missing. Maybe she’s dead, too… And you… you shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, it’s the it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear” (Jemisin, 16). 

This truly and intrinsically places the reader squarely within the narrative framework of the text. I’ve never felt more a part of a novel before this. It was almost like I was going to have to stay with her, suffer with her, survive with her. Whatever this character had to face, so would I, as the reader. 

The interwoven tapestry of the Stillness is so creatively designed in this novel. There are so many connections and characters that are, in the end, all tied to this stonelore. 

I still have to many questions about the stonelore. 

Okay. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review for a minute and here’s what I got:

Sexuality and sex is really well written in this book. It’s so nonchalant and like, normalized that it isn’t even a big deal in this world, but that’s why it’s cool to say something about in this review. 

This book really has a lot to say about systems of power and corruption. It does so in really, really overt, horrifying ways (Damaya’s hand, Syen’s first assignment, the node worker, etc.).  There are so many ways, through this first book in the series, that Jemisin really talks about the struggle of power, and it is really cool when Syenite and Alabaster have their discussions about this. 

I love the dynamics between Alabaster and Syenite. There’s this deep respect, but also utter annoyance. I’m here for it. It was really interesting to watch this relationship grow this book. It was clear right away that Alabaster had this very different ideology, right? And that he could really teach someone like Syenite, if she was open to it. I have so many thoughts about this. I almost wish there was more of this.

One thing I didn’t like at the very when he told her he understood why she did something, but would never forgive her for it. He was the one who told her to do whatever it took to make sure it never happened. She did what she had to. So. That pissed me off. 

(Rant over)

Okay. 

So. 

I loved this book. I loved the relationship between characters and time and the world and the earth. I’m so intrigued to see where this is going. 

[Book Review] The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

Title: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: young adult; contemporary; fantasy; romance; scifi; time travel
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

Review: 4 stars

After finishing Beach Read (you can read that review here), I wanted to read more of Emily Henry’s stuff, so I went to my Kindle app and searched. I decided to pick up her first book without reading anything into it. I was very, very shocked. It was a complete departure from Beach Read. Where Beach Read is this new adult awakening, The Love That Split the World is this young adult fever dream of surrealism and like… magical realism?

Bottom line, it was fantastic.

I noticed a few of beautiful similarities from the first book to the latest. She writes with this wonderful fluidity that made it so effortless to keep reading. (I read this book in two days as well.) Her chapters end and begin so seamlessly, so naturally that it feels like a perfect transition. It doesn’t feel like this huge cut or break like some books. This is why I think I was able to finish the book so quickly. I find that sometimes, when the chapter ends with such finality, it allows me to feel more confident about putting the book down for a spell. In this book, I felt almost compelled to continue, I didn’t want to stop scrolling / turning the page, despite it being the end of a chapter (if that makes sense).

I also really loved this book’s use of storytelling. It seems like Henry did her research (as evidenced by her Acknowledgements) to tell this story. I love the way it begins. It’s a little spooky and reminds me of the Netflix retelling of The Haunting of Hill House with Eleanor. (The Love that Split the World is NOT a horror book.) I love this idea of the universe being so flexible and fluid that someone like Natalie can see through veils.

Natalie is an awesome lead. She’s adopted, she doesn’t have her act together, and she wants to get away from her current problems by moving all the way to Brown. She thinks that by getting out of her small town, everything will suddenly just be better. That’s so relatable.

There are some really strong messages in this book — you can’t run away from your problems; your identity is what you make it, yes, but your heritage can be very transformative; no means no; stand up for what you need; be there for the ones you love; do what’s right, no matter the cost; leaps of faith are sometimes truly cathartic.

The way this book is written seems almost like verbal storytelling itself at points. Where Grandmother reminds Natalie that stories are meant to be heard and remembered, not written down, it feels almost the same for Natalie’s own journey. She goes from her present to Beau’s so effortlessly at times, and their story is so frenetic, it feels like it’s meant to be read aloud. There are so many lines that read like poetry, but here’s the one I love the most:

“The sky split open then. / The stars fell like silver rain. / The world stopped turning. The Universe held its breath” (Henry 389).

If you read Beach Read, and like me, go back to Emily Henry’s first, this will be something of a shock. They’re very, very different.

Natalie can kind of bend time and space, and there seem to be ghosts along the way. The element of the supernatural is nowhere to be seen in Beach Read, but it is so well done in The Love that Split the World. This is definitely YA, it’s a fast read, and it’s well done. I definitely recommend.

[Review] House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

image0Title: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; new adult; adult; romance; mystery; series
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.


Review
: 3 Stars

Spoiler content warning! Proceed with caution!

Like many others, I preordered this book and waited with bated breath. Then tore into it the moment it arrived. And then. I wasn’t dazzled? Like, it took over 100 pages for me to get into it and even then, the only reason I kept reading at all was because it was an SJM book. Here’s the good news— it got better over time!

While I never truly fell in love with any of her characters (maybe a few side characters) I did really enjoy the plot by the middle. I loved the bare bones of it: a murder mystery whodunit. I liked that SJM gave us little pieces that kept coming back up throughout the book (Bryce going to the Istros and seeing something creepy, Danika and Bryce getting caught up in something scary when Danika says she loves Bryce, Hunt’s backstory with Shahar, Jesiba’s whole character in general, Fury) that kept the plot moving.

There were a few plot twists that I definitely expected:

  • Micah — duh.
  • Hypaxia, obviously.
  • “What blinds an Oracle?” (471)

But I found that I didn’t care too much that I saw them coming because it kept the story going, just like the little clues. It was well done.

I really liked the world building in this book. SJM wrote unique and distinct subsets of Lunathion and it was brilliant.  SJM’s writing style changed depending on where we were in Crescent City. I really loved that. My heart raced when they were in the Meat Market. Sentences seemed shorter. When Bryce and Hunt were at the shooting range, there was a carefree feel to the writing that made me feel like the characters.  The energy and time put into this element of the book is clear. Moonwood, FiRo, the Gallery — each territory is its own space, and it’s so wonderfully done.

Another thing I love about SJM is how she goes about creating a new mythos in each book series. It’s clear she’s setting her readers up for a new series too. Before even jumping into the book, readers are given a preview on the “Houses of Midgard” so we’re aware that we’ll be diving right in. At the very bottom of this page, it says, “Sprites were kicked out of their House as a result of their participation in the Fall, and are now considered Lowers, though many of them refuse to accept this.” This preview lets us all know that we’re in for something bigger, but I for one, didn’t expect the amount of the Fall storyline that we got in this book too.

Overall, in terms of worldbuilding, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end — (literally every mythical beast will appear, any animal can be a shifter — can we talk about the magpie shifter at the market? omggg — every scary creature you’ve ever heard of is in there too, and angels, fae, and mermaids will be in here also) but I knew how to swim, so… I dealt with it.

That being said, her characters were not fun. Like. From Bryce to Hunt to all of them, it was tough to care about literally any of them. I get that SJM wanted to write an adult fantasy book but having her main heroine be the jaded party girl was not easy to read. I think I understood the intention — hide who you truly are and watch people show you their true colors — right?  But in my opinion, that went on too long. Bryce’s grief was palpable and parts of that felt so real and so raw, and I truly go that. Those pages were tense and hard to read for the right reasons. But so much of Bryce was hard to read for the wrong reasons.

And don’t get me started on Hunt. With his brooding “tortured soul” thing? It was just really rough to read for SO MANY pages.

Bryce is very anti- alphahole the whole book, but then, on a DIME, she turns around and attempts to give up everything for Hunt. Her entire character is built on this idea of not giving up herself for a man, and then she sells herself to Jesiba for him? Tries to sell herself to Sandriel for him? After everything he did to her — it’s like antithetical to her character. I still don’t understand it as a plot point.

Some of the other characters were also like… kind of like character cliché shells to me. Like Ruhn, Bryce’s overbearing-yet-essential-skill-having parents, the friends who just give up on her when everything with Danika goes down.

It was almost like the plot took all of SJM’s attention and then she just pulled character cards that she started working on but hadn’t finished yet. It’s almost like she plans on filling out the character traits in the subsequent books in the series.

At the end of the day, I still:

  • read all 800+ pages

still enjoyed:

  • the banter between Bryce and Tharion
  • Bryce telling off Ithan and the wolves
  • Hunt telling off Amelie
  • Bryce’s dynamic with Lehabah and Syrinx

still cried when:

  • “My friends are behind me, and I will protect them” (702) and “My friends are with me and I am not afraid” (703).
  • “I forgave him a long time ago… I just didn’t know how to tell him” (735).
  • “Light it up, Bryce” (764).

and will still buy the next one.

Sorcery of Thorns Review

IMG_1283Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: fantasy; ya; lgbt
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Review: 4 stars. This was another Lit Coven selection — if you are looking for a badass book club that is primarily YA fantasy, look no further. You can find them HERE. Last month we read These Witches Don’t Burn (my review of that is HERE) and I loved that one too. So, you could say that my book club picks out some bomb titles for us to review.

So, this month, it’s Sorcery of Thorns. As you read from the synopsis above, this one is about a girl who is framed for a crime, and then has to figure out how to stop the actual perpetrator(s) from continuing their crime spree. I had some predictions as the text went on, but not really. Like, about 100 pages in, I thought I knew who, but I had literally no idea how until it was revealed.

In my These Witches Don’t Burn review, I said I was usually pretty good at predicting things, but maybe I’m not as good as I thought after all. (Lol). In the end, I didn’t really care about not being able to guess because I liked having Elisabeth reveal it all to me. It’s a new experience to be shocked by the big reveal. (okay, so I guess that means I am good at it usually, but not in these two cases?)

I really liked the dynamic between Nathaniel, Elisabeth, and Silas. That trio was so strong and foundational. I mean, I think obviously Silas was my favorite character. With Katrien as a strong second supporting character. Their unwavering devotion to Elisabeth, their faith in her was awesome, and fun to watch unfold. Silas was a strong character’s even stronger sidekick. As demon’s go, he was pretty amazing. The way Rogerson wrote his backstory and character development felt pretty damn spectacular.

Everyone in Austermeer has these preconceived notions of what it means to have a demon, and how those demons feel about their human masters. Elisabeth sees something in Silas that no one else does, and that’s wicked cool. (tangent: but, I HATE that I used wicked there. I didn’t want to use it, but the New England transplant in me couldn’t think of a better word to use, and so I used it, and didn’t replace it). I LOVED Silas and Nathaniel’s relationship too.

Another obvious favorite for me was Nathaniel’s almost acquiescence to Elisabeth. I even marked a page because of how he confessed himself to her. Like he hated it, and only did so begrudgingly. “God, Elisabeth, I’ve been doomed since the moment I watched you smack a fiend off my carriage with a crowbar” (343). All the way through the book he calls her a menace. It starts honest enough, but then basically becomes a pet name of sorts. It’s kinda cute. I like it. PS: Nathaniel is bi, and just so casual about it. He’s like, if you’re gonna talk about my love life, might as well be accurate about it. Like, he trusts Elisabeth enough to be honest with her, but it’s so flippant and just naturally a part of him — well introduced and written in, Rogerson!

What I love the very most is Elisabeth’s attachment and connection to the books. I think every avid read wishes to be as connected to books as Elisabeth is to them. When Katrien explains why she is, I found myself wishing I was her.

“None of this is its fault” (377) she says about a book some of the wardens are using as torture practice. And later, when they need their help, I got seriously over emotional when the books spring forward and do her bidding. A little bit of freedom and a whole lot of sacrifice.

This adventure is so full of story, heart, and vivid world building. There’s so much to take in, so much to want to figure out as you’re reading. I didn’t feel like I was in the 19th century aside from the carriages, the cravats, and the female hysteria. Women can be in the Magisterium, can be Directors of the Collegium, but if they read too many books, they’re prone to hysteria? That was the only jarring thing for me.

The ending was perfect. The last paragraph specifically.

While I would love more in this world, I’m secretly hoping this is where this ends. Goodreads doesn’t have it listed as a duology or as a series, so I’m thinking it’s a standalone and this makes me very happy indeed.

Gods of Jade & Shadow Review

image1Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: fantasy; historical fantasy; mythology; mayan; fairy tale;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Review: 4 Stars. This was a fantastic book. It wasn’t just a fantastic read, it was, like, fantastical. I don’t know enough about Mexican and Central American mythology and wanted to dive into this universe after the first chapter. Sheepishly, my only actual references to anything before this book were movies like The Book of Life and Coco, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Because of this, when Book of the Month had this as an option, I jumped at the opportunity, because I’ve always been fascinated with mythology, and boy I’m glad I did.

I love this book though, because I feel like I’m completely drawn in as a third character on Hun-Kamé and Casiopea’s quest. The imagery, the characterization, and the emotion of this book all weaves such a beautiful tapestry. As I was reading, it felt like, at any moment, I could be transported into the 1920’s right with them. Moreno-Garcia’s way with words is astounding.

It took me a full chapter to really get into this book, not gonna lie. I was bored by Cinderella-esque story, but then Moreno-Garcia literally called me out and wrote Casiopea saying she wasn’t some Cinderella type and so I was like, “okay, dang, sorry… guess I’ll give it a shot.” If I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the chest is opened and the quest itself officially began that I truly got invested in the story.

None of the Leyva family is given much backstory, (aside from Martín) except that they treat Casiopea (and her mother) like servants. Even her mother wants her to fall in line and just suck it up, but it all kind of serves a purpose— there’s no guilt when she leaves, and as a reader, I have no second-hand guilt about her leaving anything behind when her quest begins either.  I guess that’s the intention, and because it works, it furthers the plot along.

I really loved moving through Mexico with Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. Getting to see the different states through Casiopea’s eyes was a joy because Moreno-Garcia really captured the “small village girl experiencing the big city” vibe. From the train rides, to the carnivals, it was so exciting to read.

My absolute favorite part of the book was Juan. The charmer. I went on a short twitter rant about him. (You can view it HERE.) I legit laughed out loud when he threatened to crush her every bone. When he promised to drown her and use her bloated body as an instrument. And then when he backed off so quickly and held his hands up, “I thought we were just playing” — seriously. He was my favorite stop on their quest.

Each stop on their quest had a different feel. Someone had secret wisdom for Casiopea, just in case she needed to get out of a bind, Juan brought humor to a tricky situation, an immortal seductress brought temptation and revealed hidden truths, and a sorcerer helped them relay on each other.

The hardest part for me— although beautiful — was when Hun-Kamé explained to Casiopea the reality of what would come should they succeed. “There is no ‘after,’” she whispered (245).

That part hit me straight with an obsidian knife to the heart. Like she’s willing to walk the Black Roads for you bro. And now there is no after. Ouch.

But then later, Moreno-Garcia got me again when Xibalba sees in Hun-Kamé’s soul and “the flowers, linked together, spoke to her. They said, “My love.” (326)  She still has to go back to the Middleworld alone, but at least he’s feeling it, too! I think there’s a speck of dust in my eye.

Overall, this book was beautiful, adventurous, and full of heart. I loved the language, the Mayan myth, and the spirit of the story. It’s made me want to find more stories with the same energy so I can learn more and immerse myself in the culture even further.

It’s a great read that I’d definitely recommend!

These Witches Don’t Burn Review

image1Title: These Witches Don’t Burn [1/?]
Author: Isabel Sterling
Genre: fantasy; ya; paranormal witches; own voices; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Review: 5 Stars. When my book group, the Lit Coven, (find them HERE) decided to read this book, I was late to the party. I’d instituted a summer book buying ban and decided against reading anything I didn’t already own, but obviously I folded, (DUH) and bought this. It only took me reading the description before I was clicking BUY and devouring it upon its arrival.

Okay, so let’s start with setting. I’ve only been to Salem three times, but Sterling put me back there pretty much immediately. From the touristy areas where all the witch shops are, to where the more suburban houses are, it was New England through and through. She did a great job at setting the scene and using the historic undercurrent to highlight the very real threat for her main characters in 2019. I loved how this modern day clan of witches lives and breathes the history of what happened in 17th century Salem, and Sterling’s writing made that happen for me.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about this book are the very real and relatable characters in this book. Hannah is a solid main character. She’s, like many of the other MCs I tend to like, not perfect, but learning and growing. She relies on others, seeks truth, doesn’t just accept things as fact, and questions everything the adults tell her to believe. Go Hannah!

She trusts her judgment and believes in her friendship with Gemma, even when she knows it goes against everything she’s ever learned. She trusts her heart and her mind. But she’s a teenager, so she’s also learning how to come to terms with heartbreak, and relationships. She’s also a really strong example of an unapologetic and badass lesbian. I love Sterling’s writing of her character.

At one point, a side character,  Benton thinks he can persuade her to date him, and she’s like, um, “no dude, I’m gay.” The way Sterling injects the social commentary of turning girls straight here was so smooth and so easily done, just a quick conversation. Then it was done and handled, and then both Hannah and Benton move on, as friends.

Morgan is also badass. She’s bi, and so cool. Hannah assumes she’s a lesbian, there’s a clarifying convo in there about assumptions, and then they move on and it’s literally no problem. Another cool move by Sterling. Morgan is confident, calm, and perfect for Hannah— the complete opposite of Hannah’s ex, Veronica.

Veronica is the epitome of unhealthy relationship.

———-Okay, hold up————

Listen. I promise this book is about witches. But Sterling’s writing is SO GOOD we have to talk about how she writes these characters.

Okay, back to Veronica. So unhealthy. Manipulating. Wishy washy. She wants Hannah back, but only so Hannah doesn’t have someone else. Ugh. But so well written. Isabel Sterling. You are so so good at writing characters and character interactions. For real.

The plot itself is kind of like a mystery whodunit but with witches and a teenage love triange thrown in for good measure — if you’re into that sort of thing. As it’s in Salem, and it’s called These Witches Don’t Burn, there are some assumptions you can make, right? Someone wants to burn witches. So people are after Hannah – the witch. Despite, everything though, throughout the whole book, I wasn’t actively trying to figure out who it was that was trying to hunt witches. I’m usually pretty good at guessing who the bad guy is, but this time, it took me a bit to figure it out.

BUT
I REALLY LIKED that. I liked not knowing. I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted to enjoy the story and the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the characters and the drama of the romance and the family / clan dynamic that I didn’t guess who the witch hunter(s) was/were until the end.

These Witches Don’t Burn was amazing. I am putting it in my classroom with a big huge 5 Stars on it so my kids know it was an amazing read.