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.

 

Circe Review

circe-madeline-millerTitle: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; retelling; mythology;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review: 5 STARS

Circe was, to date, my favorite read of 2019. I’d read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first (you can read my review of that one HERE) and knew going in that I would love the writing, but I didn’t realize quite how much.

With authors’ second books, you find yourself hoping for greatness, and in series, you’re generally hyped and not too severely disappointed, but in standalone books, it’s hard to gauge. Is it going to be as good as X? No? Oh well… But Madeline Miller does not disappoint with Circe.

Yes, this book is in the same universe, and yes, Achilles and Patroclus appear here, but this book can be read before or after The Song of Achilles and it won’t really matter if you know your original myths.

Miller has done her own retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from a different viewpoint. The Song of Achilles was the Iliad and Circe is the Odyssey. That’s really what these books are for me. They’re retellings of Homer’s epic poems. But instead of The Best of the Greeks getting the glory (ie: Odysseus in this novel, Achilles in her first) it’s really Circe who becomes “greater.”

Against all odds and literally ALL GODS, she thrives and becomes so powerful that the Olympians and the Titans are afraid of her. I think that is so badass. Like, she’s the first “come at me bro” in history. She doesn’t do his for her own glory like the heroes do either, she does this because she has to stay sane. She’s a goddess, it’s not like she’s going to wither away and die, or starve, but she could definitely go mad, right? But instead, Circe becomes the best of them all, and even Telegonus realizes it before the end of the novel.

I am IN LOVE with Madeline Miller’s writing style and below, I’m going to write out one of my favorite scenes to demonstrate (see: fangirl) a little. You can skip over the italics and what’s in between, and come back after the long ——- if you’d like to avoid anything directly from the book.

“Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”

Miller’s description of the inescapable reality of Circe’s plight is tragic and so beautifully written. It mirrors what she does as a character to the men on her island, except that as nymphs they suffer endlessly — immortality really is a beast when you’re a prize to be sought after, isn’t it?.

Later in the same passage, she talks about pigs escaping and throwing themselves over cliffs. Circe wonders, “if it were a man… would I pity him. But it was not a man.”

Walking by the sty she comments on how they are only sorry to be caught, not sorry for invading her island and her person, and her power and ruthlessness is on full display as she shows them no mercy here. I love the straight up potency Miller fills her with as she says to the pigs, “Sorry you were caught… Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.”

In that moment, reading that passage, I had full on goosebumps.

———————————————————-

Overall, I really loved how Circe, as a novel, is able to tell us so much about the Greek world. We meet major heroes and characters from myth like Minos, Daedalus, Jason, and Medea. We learn more about Circe as the witch in myth, and how a witch is certainly different from a goddess, and in her case, more powerful, and more feared.

But in the last 100 or so pages, Miller does something brilliant I think. She answers some of my most pressing questions about Odysseus’s return to Ithaca. She’s filled in the gaps on the Odyssey story. It’s really ingenious because Circe is in exile, on a tiny island, and yet, her narrative completes the story that spans the entire Greek world.

We also get to see a vengeful and spiteful Athena, and while I love grey-eyed Athena, patron of wily Odysseus and benevolent Athena— this one was better. It makes me think that maybe Miller’s gearing up to give us the Medusa story we all deserve?

If you haven read either of Madeline Miller’s texts and you’re ready for a more mature take on Greek myth— pick up both of her books now!

The Hazel Wood

Image result for the hazel woodTitle: 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.
ReviewReading 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.

Dreaming in Cuban

Image result for dreaming in cubanTitle: 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.

Beloved

Image result for belovedTitle: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Genre: Fiction; Classics; Magical Realism; African American Culture
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Review: I admire Toni Morrison’s writing as much as I admire any writing out there. She is able to create complex characters with ease… characters you come to care deeply about. Sethe is as complex as they come, and after a while, you begin to understand the decisions she makes, even if you could never understand or fathom the horrors she’s lived through. There’s a lot to this story — hauntings, magical realism, love, tragedy, horror. The plot moves swiftly in three sections of a narrative, each more intense than the last. The intensity of the story, the intensity of the trauma, that’s what makes the story so beautiful and difficult to read.

Toni Morrison, like Sandra Cisneros, holds a special place in my heart as a reader and would-be writer. If I could do just an ounce of what they do in their writing, I would feel accomplished.