Editor: Charlie Watson
Genre: anthology; romance; erotica; shapeshifter; lgbt; folklore
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nothing is quite so deliciously freeing as caving to your instincts. For centuries, shapeshifters have personified our impulse to bow to our animalistic nature. From lycans to skin-walkers and everything in between, shapeshifters give us a chance to connect with our inner-selves and celebrate our intriguing differences, our passions, and ultimately our humanity through their necessity of striking a balance between their human selves and supernatural selves.
Review: Transformed was a really interesting read. From selkies to cobras, this anthology had every type of shifter you could imagine. Transformed is categorized on Netgalley as Erotica, and for the latter half, I understand why, but the first half is pretty tame. Some of the stories are sweet stories of finding yourself or a dormant part of yourself and embracing that.
I liked the diversity of voices and characters represented in this anthology. There were a plethora of shifters and their stories were so unique it made the reading of each one an experience. I especially enjoyed the story entitled “Thwarting the Spirits” about a mongoose and a cobra and when it ended, I wished there was more. Jones’ writing was beautiful and magical and left me wanting more. The same can be said for Liz McAdams’ “For the Love of the Hunt” and her story of a shifter who’d forgotten a primal part of herself.
Overall, this anthology was fun, sexy, and thrilling. I enjoyed the compilation for what it was!
*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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: Toil & Trouble
Editors: Tessa Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood
Genre: short stories; fantasy; anthology
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth. History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations. Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
Review: Toil & Trouble is a brilliant collection of short stories about powerful women that bend and break the traditional chains that bind them. From a series of varied perspectives, the power of women comes through in ways that are soft and easy as well as hard hitting and intense. Each author tells the story of the witch or bruja as if magic itself coiled around the words. The prose is beautiful and poetic, and yes, sometimes heartbreaking. I enjoyed every single short in this collection and will be buying it the moment it is released.
*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
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: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
Author: Fannie Flagg
Genre: fiction, historical fiction, LGBT, feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) It’s first the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women — of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder.
Review: If you’ve seen Fried Green Tomatoes and liked it, you’ll love the book a thousand times more. The book answers all of those ambiguities from the movie and sheds more light on all of the characters. Ruth and Idgie’s relationship is pure and beautiful and clearly defined. Ninny as a storyteller is wonderful and Evelyn is much more defined.
If you haven’t seen the movie, this book is told from multiple perspectives in multiple eras. Depression Era south, 1980’s Birmingham. It’s got everything you’d expect a historical fiction novel to have — a busybody with her own news column, family, love, loyalty, action, and humor. When you read this, you’ll fall in love with Flagg’s characters — from Smokey Lonesome, the hobo who tramps around the country on the rails, to Idgie Threadgoode, feminist icon who defies gender roles in a time where women were meek and obedient.
The only thing that stopped me from giving this a 5/5 is how Flagg wrapped up a few of my favorite characters. The writing style is unique — each voice is distinct, and no one gets left behind.
Title: Queer There and Everywhere
Author: Sarah Prager
Genre: nonfiction, LGBTQ
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.
Review: As advertised, this is the first of its kind in terms of a nonfiction book for YA readers in the LGBTQ community. This was a fun and easy read that could be informative AND a jump starter for an independent research project. If you’re interested in the hidden history, this is the book for you. From famous people we’ve all heard of like Abraham Lincoln to ancient people like Elagabalus, you’ll learn more about how queer people have lived and thrived through the ages.