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: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: fiction; ya; contemporary; realistic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Review: Books that make me feel both empowered and ready to take on the whole damn world are why I read books! Angie Thomas’ debut novel is inspiring. Important. Relevant. Engaging. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Activating. Starr is a brilliant protagonist who rises up and claims her voice. She begins her story by having two sides, the side she shows at school and the side she shows at home and they never mingle. B the end of the novel, she’s learned that both parts of her life are important and they need to be able to coexist for her to really be herself. She starts as a Tumblr activist, someone who retweets hashtags and shares posts, but by the end, she’s the one making moves for awareness.
The relevance of this book in the United States right now cannot be underestimated. With the help of social media and the internet, more and more cases of racially unjust acts of violence have come to light, and this novel highlights that brilliantly. This book isn’t about Starr having all the answers — that would be unrealistic. How could Starr have any solutions if there AREN’T any real solutions yet? As a teacher, I know that I will teach this book year after year after year.
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: 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
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: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genre: contemporary; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community. Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind. As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
Review: Recommended to me by a friend, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is definitely a departure from my regularly scheduled reading. This is no YA Fantasy, that’s for sure. But! I LOVED IT. It was fast paced and fun to read. The storylines are pieced together in a really beautiful way. I especially loved Nikki – a die-hard feminist looking to make a difference in the world – in her world. I laughed out right at some of the Punjabi stories, just as I imagine Nikki would have. The mystery element, at first threw me, but again, I was surprised at how well it was woven into the contemporary story of a woman finding her place in the world.