Moxie Review

Title: Moxie
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: contemporary; feminism; ya; realistic fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Moxie girls fight back!Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Review: 4 Stars. I read this book on the heels of Samira Ahmed’s Internment. (You can read that review HERE). To say Moxie was a departure from that would be a gross understatement. However, this book was fun and a delight to read. Vivian was a strong and caring and carried the book the whole way through. She was a three dimensional character and really well written by author, Mathieu. She was nerdy and unsure, but strong and caring when she saw others needed her to be so.

Inspired by her mother’s glory days, she creates a zine for her school to empower the girls to fight back against the patriarchal structures in place that hold them back.

What I like is that Mathieu brings up events that are relevant for all girls in all high schools. Dress codes, rape culture, inappropriate groping, lack of administrative support… these are all things girls face in countless high schools.

What’s more, these girls, through their collective coming together because of the zine get actual results. It’s really cool.

The boyfriend character is interesting. He keeps doing this “not all guys” thing and I think I get that he’s trying to learn, and Mathieu is trying to make a point, but his repetitive “I’m not those guys, I’m sensitive, look at me, I get it, you’re cool,” schtick didn’t really sit well with me. I’m wondering if she did this to point out how annoying it is, but the fact that Viv and he stay together in the end makes it all the worse. Like, sure, he’s trying, and sure, he’s quasi-supportive, but like… just because he’s the first guy that ever showed interest in her doesn’t mean she has to stay with him and teach him how to be “not all guys.”

I don’t think it was Vivian’s job to teach him how to be a decent guy. It’s not her job to teach him to shut up and just listen. It’s not her job to realize that girls who say the administration tried to cover up a rape or attempted rape aren’t lying.

/rant
Either way, this book was GOOD. Really good. That boyfriend piece is really just a small part of the plot and the rest of it is really female empowerment centered. The female friendships are strong and the driving force of Vivian’s kickstarting Moxie in the first place. The girls in this high school stand proud and tall together, even when they aren’t sure how to do so, and it’s really remarkable. This book is inspiring. And quick. It was fast paced, fun, well-written, and going in my classroom library.

Moxie girls fight back!

The Poet X Review

THE-POET-X-e1542251351500Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: poetry; ya; contemporary; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Review: 5 Stars. Have you ever read a book and literally read every single word? And focus on every single word? Maybe you have, but I haven’t. I read really fast, I mean, fast, and so I go through words like… Pop Rocks. You don’t just eat one Pop Rocks piece at a time, you pour the package into your mouth and get the experience that way. I take in full sentences like that, not word over word, but full sentences at a glance.

It’s really hard to explain. I understand everything I read, with amazing clarity but I’ve never focused in, really looked at the words used in every single sentence in a book until The Poet X.

Of course I’ve analyzed literature and poetry for school work, and I read words out loud of course, but if I think about words on the page, The Poet X, made me think about the economy of words, and the precision with which to use them.

The whole book is poetry, told in narrative, about Xiomara, a Dominican girl growing up in a strict home, trying to find her voice. She uses this book as her journal so readers gain insight to her as she writes her feelings down about her family, religion, growing up, boys, and poetry.

Acevedo has a powerful way of expressing the thoughts and feelings of a girl growing up in a stifling home. Of a girl growing up in a body she has no control over. She’s got so many powerful poems in this book.

My favorite is “Unhide-able” because Xiomara is trying to come to terms with her body in a house that wants her to cover up her body, in a neighbor that wants to catcall her body, in a generation that wants to speak out about her body and the jealousy that comes along with it. She writes:

“I am I unhide-able.

Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said / was “a little too much body for such a young girl.” / I am the baby fat that settles into D cups and swinging hips / so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school / now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.

The other girls call me conceited. Ho. Thot. Fast. / When your body takes up more room then your voice / you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, / which is why I let my knuckles talk for me. / Which is why I learned to shrug when I name was replaced by insults.

I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am” (7).

So many women go through this same thing. So many teenagers and women alike just have to take this kind of criticism and this kind of rumor gossip mill stuff and Xio captures it perfectly here in this one poem. Xio learns to shrug the gossip off, like many of us do, but at 16 — what kind of message is she internalizing?

At the climax of the book, Xio writes, “The world is almost peaceful / when you stop trying / to understand it” (223). It’s so powerful, right? Acevedo has such a gift for language. If you’ve never heard any of her actual spoken word, please do yourself a favor and go (HERE) now. She’s so amazing.

The story Acevedo weaves through her poetry is one about self acceptance more than anything but it takes a huge family detonation to come about. That hit home for me. I think it does for a lot of people. It’s so relatable and honest. It’s hard to find out what we’re meant to be when we aren’t allowed to be ourselves, right? I think Acevedo captures that so well in this book.

Do yourselves a favor. Get this book. Binge it. You’ll thank me.

 

** I don’t have any affliation with Barnes and Noble, buy it anywhere you want, just buy it.

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.

 

The Education of Margot Sanchez Review

image1Title: The Education of Margot Sanchez
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Genre: ya; fiction; contemporary; realistic; own voices
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:
Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

Review: The Education of Margot Sanchez was pretty dang cool okay. It starts out with this bratty little girl who thinks she’s too good for all these BS family “the more you know” teachable moments, but then she gets educated in multiple ways.

She makes all these lists of all the things she thinks she knows or hates in the moment, but as she goes along through her journey, these lists evolve right along side her.

Margot’s real journey begins because she’s trying to follow advice from her mother. She’s reminded of her mother’s own struggles coming to the US from Puerto Rico when she begins her high school career at a fancy rich private school. She’s immediately an outsider and she does everything to change herself— changes her physical appearance and her personality.

I tend to shy away from stories like this because they irk me. I hate female characters who do this, but because the author writes in this part of Margot’s backstory as her justification instead of me having to read her going through it in the present, I could buckle down and get through it. For a long time, Margot sees no issue in this— which is part of her education.

I love the way Lilliam Rivera writes Margot in this book. It feels authentic. She doesn’t automatically learn her lesson the first time. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know I love a character that falls down a lot. I think any real reader does. I don’t like the character that does everything right. Who can like a character like that?

Rivera’s Margot reminds me a lot of Zoraida Cordova’s Alex in Labryinth Lost. (You can check out my review for that book HERE.) She’s a bit on the whiny annoying bratty teenager side, but it so fits her character. She doesn’t get it right or do the right thing every time. She’s real. And so are her relationships and friendships.

I like the way the author brings out the real world issues just as clearly as she brings up the more intimate family and cultural issues. Gentrification comes up right along side machismo and gender roles. Rivera makes it clear in her text that YA readers can handle these mature topics just as easily as they can handle school yard crushes, fitting in, and broken hearts.

 

Saved by the Cowboy

51zulZ0TBCL.SX316.SY316.jpgTitle: Saved by the Cowboy
Author: A.J. Pine
Genre: romance; family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Once upon a time, Sheriff Cash Hawkins left his simple life for something bigger—and came home with a broken heart. Now he has everything he needs right here in Oak Bluff, California—his job, his dog, and a quiet ranching town best explored on the back of a horse.  Olivia Belle believes in fairy tales—just not for herself. So when her boyfriend drops to one knee at his sister’s wedding with a proposal that is more business than romance, she hightails it out of San Francisco in search of the only evidence she knows that true love exists—her grandparents’ lost love letters from fifty years ago. When Olivia speeds into his town like a modern-day Cinderella in her ball gown and glass slippers, Cash’s careful existence is finally thrown for a loop. Maybe the answer Olivia’s looking for is in Oak Bluff, but the life she ran from is more than 200 miles away. As for Cash . . . he knows a thing or two about being left on bended knee. Olivia Belle could be his happily ever after . . . if this runaway bridesmaid doesn’t run off with his heart.

Review: This novella was a quick fling. I was intrigued by the description, but it took me a few chapters to actually get into it. I didn’t realize going in that this was part of a series, and perhaps that’s why it felt like there was too little development in the beginning. Oak Bluff seems to be this special place, but it never really gets the drawn out detail it deserves, especially since it’s Olivia’s first time there. Cash seems to be a feature character, but even he and his dog don’t get that much description. I couldn’t actually picture what he looked like, which for a romance novel, seemed a tragedy indeed.

While I thought generally, the descriptions could have been much, much better, more detailed, and given more time to grow, what I did like was the love story. Cash didn’t expect Olivia to change for him, and she didn’t expect him to change for her. There wasn’t this idea that one had to give anything up for the other. In many romances, the woman (more generally) is asked to give up something to be with the man of her dreams, or, more recently, has had to give up something in order to find the man of her dreams. That wasn’t the case in Saved by the Cowboy. Although the title suggests that Olivia was this woman who needed saving, I would argue that both characters save each other in the end.

I would imagine that someone who’d read the other texts in this series would enjoy this more than I did, but it was sweet and quick, and overall, a fun journey.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Labyrinth Lost

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.

A Court of Frost and Starlight

Image result for a court of frost and starlightTitle: 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 ….