Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: fantasy; young adult; LGBT; paranormal; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation… And she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: While reading this, the first thing that came to mind was, “heck yes, a Latinx bruja story!” I legit haven’t seen many of these on the market and with paranormal fantasy as big as it is, that’s a tragedy. That said, I am happy to report that Córdova has opened up this niche market to the wider audience with her first book of her Brooklyn Brujas series. Authors like Isabel Allende and Cristina Garcia have been bringing powerful Latinx women to the written page for decades and with Labyrinth Lost, Córdova puts herself on that list of authors too — for a young adult audience.
Alex is an interesting narrator for this first installment. She is written like a perfect middle child — I am one, I know what it feels like, okay! — Somewhere between knowing everything and getting away with everything, Alex is just looking for ordinary in a family that is anything but. Like any true YA heroine, doubt and panic lead to major second guessing which leads to a major lack of communication between mother / daughter. (Really, between the whole family.) This is my only gripe with this book. Had ONE of the 400 years of brujas and brujos in Alex’s family told her what she needed to hear, many of the conflicts would have resolved themselves. But as I continue to think about this, I think, what sixteen-year-old girl talks to their parents about the stuff that matters? And there are a few instances where she tries and gets brushed off, so I take away this gripe. But I don’t erase it. Because it was there.
That said, the storyline was beautifully written. Woven like an Ancient Greek tapestry by Penelope herself, Córdova takes you into Los Lagos, the In Between as it were, and writes three dimensional characters all the way through. The villain is interesting. The plot is too. Alex’s character development is both realistic and touching. I like Nova as a character. I like Rishi, but less than I like Nova. Alex does something really impulsive for Rishi that I think is counterintuitive to her character’s whole motivation. In fact, when this particular scene happened, chapter 33, I was riding on a train from Cavaillon to Salon in Provence and I slammed my book down in my lap in a most dramatic fashion. My fellow French passengers were not amused. Je suis désolé. Like my earlier gripe that I took back because she’s sixteen, I think I have to use that same card here too. What do you think?
I’ve already put in an order for the second book and can’t wait for it to arrive.
Title: A Court of Frost and Starlight
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.
Review: I preordered this book and anticipated this release so so heavily. I thought I was getting the next full installment of the series, not a 3.1 “day in the life” kind of novella. Maybe that’s my fault. I loved getting back into the characters and their lives, and I am glad I spent the time to preorder it, but it was not everything I hoped for. Some people really enjoy these types of books, the kinds that give their characters a semblance of normalcy after a long battle or a hard heartbreak, and typically, I am those readers. But this time, I was just expecting more.
I wanted this to be the fallout of the Battle of Hybern, and instead, I got the story of recovery after trauma. The varied POV changes also threw me a little. I wonder if this is to set up a series of spin offs from the characters in the future? Anyway. I’m still going to be ordering the next one, so ….
Title: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling; ya; hero’s journey; adventure; dystopian; lgbt; mythology
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation. While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.
In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….
Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; mythology; lgbt; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Review: This book is everything an epic retelling of mighty Achilles should be. In the beginning of the novel, as Patroclus’ backstory was being introduced, I started to feel some type of way because I always loved Patroclus’ story and Madeline Miller’s telling of it wasn’t what I remembered at all, but when he is sent to live with Achilles, I stopped caring about that completely. The relationship between these two heroes grows slowly and softly and sweetly in a way that proves just how passionate about the classics Miller really is.
As Achilles and Patroclus grow older (not that old, they’re barely teenagers at the start of the Trojan War), they cannot avoid the world forever. The dynamics between all of other characters shift, but the bond between Achilles and Patroclus stays steady. I knew how this was to end, obviously, but JESUS did I cry. The best of the Greeks indeed. Patroclus’ love for Achilles, and Achilles’ lust for legacy create a beautiful and tragic story of love and honor. Thetis, I hated you, but in the end, you did right by your son.
Definitely looking forward to more from Madeline Miller after this.
Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie tale; adventure;
Synopsis: (from SJM’s website) In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, Celaena, an assassin, is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass—and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.
Review: I am already very familiar with this author — I’ve read her ACOTAR series and I adored it. So picking up the TOG series seemed like a no brainer. I wasn’t disappointed by this first book in the series. The characters (although spelled in an awesomely difficult way) were well developed and full of conflict, the world building was as detailed as I expected it to be. One thing that was interesting and unexpected was Maas’ choice to change points of view. I like books that are driven by a single protagonist, so that was an interesting twist.
I’m excited to continue the series to learn more about Celaena’s past. Maas’ character development really creates a beautiful and full female lead. But the supporting characters were equally well written. Chaol is broody and sullen, which I really like in a male lead. Dorian was more than just an arrogant prince. Celaena’s relationships with the other characters were realistic and plot driving.
i love Sarah J Maas and was not disappointed in this book. I couldn’t put it down. It didn’t hurt that I was on vacation while reading — a private island definitely helps the reading vibe.
Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, fairytale
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
Review: Reading this book was almost like walking into fairy tales for the very first time. It had an almost Grimm feeling to it but in a wholly original way. The author created an amazing cast of characters and a strong narrator, Alice, that made the read swift and adventurous. The twists and turns were unexpected and mysterious and the whole time I read it, I just kept wondering how it would end. I wasn’t disappointed. Albert’s writing style wove truth and story together beautifully. She created a modern, realistic New York City and juxtaposed it perfectly to the fantastical and horrifying Hinterland. As everything in fairy tales are better in threes, I’ll leave at this: I’d 100% read more about Alice. Three times.
*Special thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses [Book I/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price … Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jeweled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
Review: Recommended to me by one of my friends, this book was interesting to get into. It’s very much a fantasy book, but it reads more like a coming of age novel with a strong and stubborn female lead. This lead, Feyre (pronounced fay-ruh), is caring and wise, and as a reader, you root for her success.
As an avid reader, I was impressed with the author’s ability to create a character like Feyre. She feels intense emotion, she doesn’t make all the right decisions, and she’s driven by instincts and the goodness in her heart. She felt so real and authentic that I couldn’t wait to keep reading. It was obvious to me that this was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but at no point did I feel like I knew what was coming. Instead, I fell in love with Feyre and Tamlin along with the rest of the Spring Court and counted on Feyre to conquer all.
Title: A Court of Mist and Fury [II/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy; Action; Adventure; Romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) SPOILERS FROM BOOK 1
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people. Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.
Review: This book has all of the things I’m looking for in a good novel — it has a great plot line, amazing subplot lines, organic and realistic characters, and the suspense factor that makes you turn the page. Now, from the reader and ACOTAR fan in me, I love this book because the main characters are so, so, so lovable and believable. I like when I can get behind a character and fall in love with their arc. That’s exactly what has happened here. The characters you love in ACOTAR are built upon and made more complex in this second installment. The characters you meet in ACOMAF are strong and fun and interesting. Maas has a gift for character development and shows that most clearly through Feyre’s development. Plus. Yummy Rhysand, amiright?
The Persephone and Hades subtext was not lost on me. I loved that so much. Maas is great at turning what I loved about ACOTAR on its head. Feyre is still Feyre, but she’s seeing through new eyes and without the constant fear of dying at Amarantha’s hand, she can begin to see clearly.
I cannot wait for book 3.
Title: A Court of Wings and Ruin [III/VI]
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: Fantasy; Romance; Adventure; War
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
Review: As with ACOTAR and ACOMAF, Maas clearly understands the written word. She has brought us back into this Prythian universe, into the heart of the battle, and all the while we know exactly what we’re in for, because we know Feyre. A character as complex and daring as any heroine I’ve ever seen, Feyre can handle everything thrown at her, without the savior that most female heroines are bent on having in books elsewhere. She’s flanked by powerful characters on all sides. The depth of the relationships all intensify and become much more realistic in this third installment of the series. The Feyre and Rhysand relationship intensifies in the most delightful way. He’s everything I look for in a male lead. He’s tender, loving, and trusting. He’s strong and selfless, and at times, you want to knock him upside the head because he’s being too selfless. All that being said, I quite enjoyed the diversity of the minor characters in this one, more so than the others. The yummy Helion, the sweet Tarquin, and Mor! OMG Mor….All that’s to say that I can’t wait for Book 4 in the ACOTAR series.
Title: Dreaming in Cuban
Author: Cristina Garcia
Genre: fiction; magical realism; historical fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Here is the dreamy and bittersweet story of a family divided by politics and geography by the Cuban revolution. It is the family story of Celia del Pino, and her husband, daughter and grandchildren, from the mid-1930s to 1980. Celia’s story mirrors the magical realism of Cuba itself, a country of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption. DREAMING IN CUBAN presents a unique vision and a haunting lamentation for a past that might have been.
Review: I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved how Garcia was able to switch perspectives and give us effortless magical realism. Pilar’s character, divided and unsure is my favorite of the women, and I love her journey. From sharing her abuela’s thoughts before bed to being an artists, Pilar truly finds herself in this novel. All of the storylines and character arcs are interesting and bittersweet.