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!

Internment Review

image1Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genre: contemporary; ya; science fiction; dystopian
Synopsis: Rebellions are built on hope.
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review: 5 Stars. Internment was exactly as described. Chilling. It was haunting and hard to read, and yet, I couldn’t put it down. I was transfixed by Layla’s horrible reality in our too-close future. Ahmed writes that it’s fifteen minutes into the future of America and it did indeed feel that way.

My heart was in my throat as I turned each page, hoping for a decent ending for the people in Mobius. Not a happy ending, because there could be no happy ending for this book, I knew that for certain.

This book was HARD. I hated every single thing this book made me witness. Every single horror I had to be complicit in, almost. You know? Like… it made me think about what I would do after the 2020 census, if things played out like they did in the book. It makes me wonder if I’m doing enough now. People are literally in cages at the border right now.

Samira Ahmed wrote this book in response to the 2018 refugees being taken from their children (see Author’s Note). Layla and her family were in a liberal town, in a liberal state, and her neighbors, her friends, they just let them get captured and taken and stamped with a permanent barcode, and put in an internment camp.

Where there are unspeakable horrors and atrocities, there is Hope. Layla and the people of Mobius do the unthinkable in the face of the unknown, because the fear helps them focus on the end goal. Her bravery and her endless faith was inspirational.

This is the type of book that makes you think about what side of history you need to be on. It reminded me of The Hate U Give (see my review for that one HERE), of Night by Elie Wiesel.

It was painful and hard, but necessary to read it. It wasn’t my usual book, but I needed to read it, especially right now. Ahmed’s use of timely political rhetoric, unfortunate and unpresidential rhetoric, and current events makes this book a must read in this day and age.

The Author’s Note is something I want to make copies of and read with all of my classes. Often I tell my classes that if we don’t read our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Ahmed writes that we look back to our history to use its rhetoric for instances like this.

As hard, horrifying, and raw as Internment was to read… it was worth it. I would recommend this book to everyone.

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.

 

I Thought it was Just Me Review

51Nu-VjkudLTitle: I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.”
Author: Brene Brown
Genre: nonfiction; self-help; psychology; feminism;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Shame manifests itself in many ways. Addiction, perfectionism, fear and blame are just a few of the outward signs that Dr. Brené Brown discovered in her 6-year study of shame’s effects on women. While shame is generally thought of as an emotion sequestered in the shadows of our psyches, I Thought It Was Just Me demonstrates the ways in which it is actually present in the most mundane and visible aspects of our lives—from our mental and physical health and body image to our relationships with our partners, our kids, our friends, our money, and our work.

After talking to hundreds of women and therapists, Dr. Brown is able to illuminate the myriad shaming influences that dominate our culture and explain why we are all vulnerable to shame. We live in a culture that tells us we must reject our bodies, reject our authentic stories, and ultimately reject our true selves in order to fit in and be accepted.

Outlining an empowering new approach that dispels judgment and awakens us to the genuine acceptance of ourselves and others, I Thought It Was Just Me begins a crucial new dialogue of hope. Through potent personal narratives and examples from real women, Brown identifies and explains four key elements that allow women to transform their shame into courage, compassion and connection. Shame is a dark and sad place in which to live a life, keeping us from connecting fully to our loved ones and being the women we were meant to be. But learning how to understand shame’s influence and move through it toward full acceptance of ourselves and others takes away much of shame’s power to harm.

It’s not just you, you’re not alone, and if you fight the daily battle of feeling like you are—somehow—just not “enough,” you owe it to yourself to read this book and discover your infinite possibilities as a human being.

Review: In 2016, I found a TEDtalk about being vulnerable by Brene Brown and I used it in my classroom for a PBL Project on character development. In it, she says, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” And it’s something I’ve never forgotten. But I thought that Brene Brown was just a researcher who did that one totally transformative TEDtalk and then disappeared back into her research lab.

I use that talk with my classes and I use that quote daily. It’s the header on my class website, it’s how I try to go into the world, it’s how I try to teach.

Then I had an extra Audible credit and needed to use it. (I don’t really use Audible as much as I should, FYI, there are so so so many good choices out there right now.) And then a familiar name popped up Brene Brown. I clicked purchase and started listening.

It’s almost 11 hours of content was just as transformative as her TEDtalk. She talks about guilt and shame and how they’re different. But most importantly, she does this for women. How these things apply specifically for and to women. In the work place, in the home, in relationships (all kinds of relationships too, sisters, mothers, husbands).

She provides readers with terms and definitions, with scenarios, and with questions you can ask yourself and journaling prompts so you can go through things at your own pace.

I bought the physical book too. I wanted to go deeper into some of the things she talked about with my therapist. Some of the things she talked about hit different for me. Like, they made me think about my own situation differently and I wanted to take specific passages into sessions so that we could work through them.

This book really is titled perfectly.

Everyone thinks they’re alone in shame.

They aren’t.

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.