Tag Archives: death

Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova 27969081

Summary

It’s Alex’s birthday and that means it’s also her Deathday ceremony. But instead of summoning the ancestors and welcoming her bruja gift, she tries to deny it and ends up banishing her entire family (dead ancestors included) to  Los Lagos. She must find her way to the in-between land, rescue her family, and come to terms with her bruja powers, all while dealing with the annoying company of her brujo companion, Nova.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6 – order now!

labyrinth lost

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There’s some good tension between Nova and Alex – and it starts early, so it doesn’t feel like an insta-connection. He’s physically attractive and she’s drawn in by his bad-boy persona and it was nice to see the hints of secrets and things left hidden that slowly appear as the story progresses. I didn’t love their ending, but it was consistent. The other relationship in the story felt a little sudden and underdeveloped, but was still a believable emotional discovery with the way the story played out. Plus – hospital kisses are always kind of fun! (edited: hospital kisses where everyone is celebrating their survival.)

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

Alex lives with her two sisters and mother. Charismatic aunts and grandmothers are important to the story and it’s the brujas that seem to lead the family. While Alex and her sisters bicker, there’s obvious love and strength between them – and it’s Alex’s loyalty and devotion that drives her to look for them in Los Lagos.

It’s also the determination of Alex’s aunt that gives her the final push to do what is necessary, though I won’t say exactly how. Ladies are doing what needs to be done in this book and it’s a sight to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book wins in several different ways.

Firstly, almost all the characters are people of color. I just went back through my copy to see if I can track down the specific country that Alex’s family is from, but I couldn’t find it and I actually think she just says “back home” or “the old country.” Either way, her family is Latinx/Hispanic and so are almost all the characters in the story. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, is Southeast Asian (I think Indian?). I can’t remember a single white person, except for awful classmates.

Then, we have a cultural/religious system that is rarely explored in literature – especially YA. Being bruja is just a thing that is in this book, it’s not exoticized, it’s just something that frustrates Alex because it gets in the way of her being “normal.”

And a main character is BI. On the page.

The one thing I will mention is that Nova’s eyes are referred to as “bipolar” several times. I thought that was a very odd way of putting it since I think it was about color and not like they were flashing two very different or frantic emotions. I would probably choose a different description.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I enjoyed reading Alex’s story and getting to know her family. When she got to the end of the journey and faced the Devourer, I was excited for her to own her power. The immersion in her world was exciting and I thought the premise was really interesting.

However, it did feel a little shallow in some places or underdeveloped. Even though it was an adventure story and Alex and Nova were traveling through a magical underworld, it didn’t feel like the stakes were really that high and things fell into place easily in some instances. I think the characters could have gone deeper and even though there was a lot of world building, it still felt a little more surface level than it could have been.

That being said, I’m excited to see what happens with the rest of the Brooklyn Bruja series and to see how Alex grows into her power.


Favorite Character

Rose – who can resist the creepy little kid with mystical, all knowing insights?

Fun Author Fact

Córdova was born in Ecuador and she was determined to publish her first book before she was 25 (she did! at 24 Vicious Deep was published).

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! The story and immersion in a deeply loyal, loving family – even if most of the book they are separated from one another – with an adventure through a mysterious, magical land is fun! The characters and world aren’t smothered in deep details, but there’s enough world building to sink into.

Read These Next

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for another underrepresented cultural mythology and lovers fighting the underworld to be reunited or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig for a different kind of magic and diversity across a time-traveling heist adventure.

Post Author: Jess

I received my copy of Labyrinth Lost for free through Netgalley for my honest review.

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Book Chat: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-FattahTen Things I Hate About Me

Summary

Jamilah is Lebanese-Australian and is struggling to understand what a hyphenated identity means in the microcosm of high school. At school, she is Jamie, the blonde quiet girl that lives on the periphery of the popular circle. At home and at madrassa, she is Jamilah, the  darabuka-playing daughter struggling to make a space for herself. When the Lebanese band she plays in is invited to perform at the high school formal, Jamilah’s two worlds collide and she must finally decide who she is to everyone.10 things i hate.png


Favorite Character

Shereen – Since she had more time with their mom and she’s a big sister, her groundedness provides a strong example of how to be proud of all parts of your identity for Jamilah. Plus, I love how she has created an active feminism that respects and fits into the rest of identity while still challenging the parts she finds difficult.

Favorite Line 

“I read headlines describing the crimes as ‘Middle Eastern rape.’ I’ve never heard of Anglo burglary or Caucasian murder. If an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, the only descriptions we get are the colour of his clothes and hair.”

The book may not be subtle in any of the “lessons,” but it is honest.

Fun Author Fact

Abdel-Fattah has worked as a lawyer, an interfaith activist, a consultant for media representation of Muslims and Middle-Easterns, and is not working toward her Ph.D. – I am always impressed by all the things writers do in addition to writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a more surface-level look at identity, racism, and the need to be/fear of acceptance. Jamie/Jamilah’s story is not very complex and sometimes it’s a little too sweet, but over all it’s an interesting look at the process and difficulties of self-acceptance.

Read These Next

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger for another look at a teenager reconciling different identities or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman for a fun, middle grade look at what balancing Indian and Jewish identities might be like.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Shadowshaper

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summary

Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.

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heart

Romance Score: A+ Success

The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.

Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.

The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.

I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.

Also – THAT COVER.


Favorite Character

Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)

Favorite Line

This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family  – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.

Fun Author Fact

Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.

 

 

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Book Chat – Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Pérez

Summary

It’s 1937 and Naomi has recently moved with her half-brother and sister 25256386to a new town where her siblings father will care for them all. There she must try to navigate the racial divides of the oil town while navigating the difficult relationship between her and her stepfather. Then she meets Wash and things begin to improve. Set against the worst school tragedy in US history, the explosion is a larger framework for the individual crises and turmoil that Naomi and her family suffer.

Trigger warning: racially motivated violence, sexual violence, child abuse

out of darkness


Favorite Character

Beto – His old soul seems out of place in the real world and it feels like he’s connected to something deeper; he reminds everyone around him to cherish small details and his connection to something more will serve him as he deals with the aftermath of the book’s story.

Favorite Line

Guys, there are a ton of beautiful lines and the book is amazingly written, but don’t you know by now that I’m the worst at keeping track of them?

Fun Author Fact

Pérez is a teacher, though she also loves libraries, and has taught all school levels. She’s currently a professor of world literature and credits her students for encouraging her to write.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It’s beautifully written and the characters are amazing, but it’s not a happy story. I think this book is valuable, especially if you’ve lead a life privileged enough to not experience racial or sexual violence. If you have personal experience with racial, ethnic, or sexual  violence, I would hesitate to recommend this and would give a full disclaimer that this will only underline what you already know.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson for a contemporary look at similar issues with a more positive ending or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for another look at the end of segregation with another boundary-crossing love story.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance

Book Discussion: Six of Crows

Six of Crows (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

Summary

In a world where some people have the power to create, destroy, and control, there are those that despise them and those that 23437156use them. In a city with a dark underbelly, anything can be bought or sold for the right price. Someone is leaking a substance that will take it all to the extreme. And so, Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind, is offered the biggest heist in history –  but he’ll need the perfect team.

And so, six outcasts join together to attempt the impossible.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

The relationships in this book were good starts but just didn’t go all the way for me. One couple met each other in considerably unkind circumstances and, while I do enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers transition, the depth of hate/prejudice felt like it was a little too easily overcome. I really enjoyed the second couple and loved the respect that one of the people demanded for themself, it’s just too early to give much weight to that relationship. The third couple was more of a flirtation, so I’m not sure I can really count it at all, but it was super fun. Plus, that third couple added some diversity to the bunch, so I doubly liked it.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ success

First, I’ll point out that I debated this for a bit because prostitution and sexual exploitation is a big part of the story for one character, but I finally decided that the way she deals with it and uses her experiences to find strength trumps the abuse. Additionally, the ladies in the book know what they want and they go for it, they’re respected for their skills, and are treated as equal contributors. I appreciated that there was a sisterhood and supportive relationship between the two girls; they know they have scars and give each other the love and comfort needed to acknowledge painful pasts and move forward.

The other tough point for me was with one of the relationships. As mentioned above, I definitely feel the appeal of a hate-to-love relationship development, but the enmity between two characters in this book is based more on ingrained aspects of their identities than on personality clashes. When I think about a racist falling for someone with the skin color they’re prejudiced against but justifying it because “they’re different than the rest,” I get a little uncomfortable. While I think the relationship can eventually grow so that both characters move away from their deep prejudices, I still wonder about it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are six main characters and we get a good range of people. I’m going to try very hard not to spoil things that come out slowly in the story, so…Kaz has a poorly healed leg that gives him a limp and lots of chronic pain. He also is suffering from what looks like PTSD thanks to an awful experience when he first arrived in the city. Inej is brown skinned, from a nomadic people, and has the agility and silence of a ghost cat. Nina is beautiful and curvy and takes pleasure in all of life’s tiniest joys. She also owns her sexuality and is determined to protect the life she wants. Underneath Jesper’s penchant for gambling is an interest in someone that was fairly well hidden until half way through the book. There are two other main characters that make up the six, one has some deeply hidden secrets that come out very near the end and the other would, I suppose, be the “normal” character, if you discount where he spends half the book.

As a fantasy world, there’s no excuse for not reflecting the diversity of the real world and I think Bardugo does a good job with this. She also has a note in the back that I found sweet considering the focus of this blog.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had been feeling like I had abandoned my fantasy roots for a bit (untrue, but I had an itch) and Six of Crows brought me back around. I really liked the characters, the story, and the world – the hints of our own world that came through added extra dimension. I also thought the intrigue and underworld were engaging; I wanted to know what happened and if the crew would be successful. I’m not giving it a full score because it slowed down slightly in the middle and I’m still feeling a little confused about the true feelings or alliances of some of the characters. It’s clear they’re in it together, but I feel like it’s uncertain if that is forever or just until we escape.

All around, it was fun and intriguing, and I’m waiting eagerly for the next book.


Favorite Character

All six are well-rounded and I felt like we got to know all of them equally, but I really love Inej. She’s suffered, she’s deeply embedded in the underworld, but she doesn’t let the brutal gangs beat hope and faith out of her. Plus, I’m concerned if I don’t choose her, she’ll let out all my secrets!

Favorite Line

“Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns you heart.”

Fun Author Fact

Bardugo wrote a song for her book series, the Grisha Triology.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Definitely! If you like ensemble books full of adventure and big personalities, you’ll like this. The characters are amazing and the different points of view made the story richer and more exciting. It also kept the mystery longer as pieces dripped out slowly.

Read These Next

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another trilogy-starting, intense read with strong characters and lots of adventure or Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith for a spy, fantasy, intrigue story.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

Post Author: Jess 

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Summary

The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is killing his wives. He was a strong, fair leader and then, after he went out to hunt, he came back cold 21524446and hungry for brides. No one knows exactly why his wives die, but they know they don’t like it. The people of the kingdom enforce a system – one girl from every village before the cycle starts again. So, when it’s time for our main character’s village, she knows her beautiful, stunning, amazing sister will be picked – because everyone loves her more. Since the main character is strong and loyal, she knows she has to do something to gain the king’s attention and take her sister’s place. She successfully does so and then, once she’s in the palace and married, manages to live out the night – and many more. Lo-Melkhiin finds her an intriguing adversary and she uses mysterious powers to keep death at bay.

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

Lo-Melkhiin is killing his brides. And it’s totally by choice. The main character is fighting for her life in a situation with a huge power imbalance. There’s no cute guy coming to save her and she’s not looking for one. I guess there could be some romance if you consider how her parents respect and honor each other, but…since she gets pulled from her village fairly early on, I don’t count that.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

I give points here because the main character is a strong, clever girl doing what she can to ensure the safety of her family and her people. She maintains a respect for her culture and does her best to subvert the power systems to work for her. In addition, she becomes a symbol of strength and a smallgod (sort of saint or protector) for the women and girls of her kingdom which is pretty badass. Overall, I think she’s a pretty cool character even if she’s a little obedient or submissive in the palace.

What I did not like was the motivation behind sacrificing herself for her sister. Even though it was slightly played as “I’m stronger/made for this,” the narrative about her sister being more beautiful, more beloved, and all around better came through more clearly – and it felt like a kind of “I’m not worthy of living, so I’ll just die for her” sacrifice rather than courage. Now, she still sacrificed herself and found a wellspring of power while doing so, so I’m not docking points (we all find strength through different scenarios), but it was a little disappointing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit/You’re Trying

This may not feel like a fair score to some readers, but I have reasons. Good things first: the character lives in a desert and is part of an underrepresented culture. She’s a girl that saves the world. Faith is a big part of the story. And yet.

Even though this book takes place in a newly created desert culture, I felt like a lot of the words and details used to give cultural “flavor” were added in after cursory google searches. For example, I found the description and use of veils (face and hair) fairly inconsistent throughout the book. In one scene, it talks about how she wears her hair loose under her scarf; I know this is definitely common practice in some communities, but it didn’t make sense in relation to later scenes. And the use and discussion of henna was seriously confusing. Like, so confusing I wonder if the author has ever used or been around henna. Throughout the book, the main character is given daily henna designs to prepare her for events/seeing her husband. Generally, it seems as though this happens after she is bathed and dressed in her finery, but there is never any discussion (that I remember) of letting the henna dry, sitting still to ensure the designs don’t get marred, or removing the dried henna. This is most obvious in one scene where she is running late and the henna master comes to reapply the designs just before she gets dressed and goes out to see Lo-Melkhiin. This is problematic because 1. her henna would still be wet and 2. if she did have a few minutes to let it dry, little crumbly bits of brown paste would be falling off while they ate or talked and I doubt that is appealing for her husband-king.

Those are small details. Another huge thing is the religious-cultural placement. With a title so explicitly referencing A Thousand Nights/Arabian Tales, the story feels oddly placed – I originally thought this was because it didn’t seem to tie into the usual Arab and/or Muslim context, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s just poor worldbuilding. The addition of magic and the “beings” that roam the world “using” humans also added to the troubling bits. I don’t know if the author removed it from Islamic culture because referencing djinn (a genie -though never named as such) and magic would entail more work and cultural knowledge or if she was trying to pull the story out of that cultural context for some other reason, but it sort of felt like a cop out. I think this book would function better with a different title, too. This one calls back to a well known set of stories and then removes itself almost completely from the traditional tales; not referencing the originals would make it work better as a whole. Overall, the world was underdeveloped – if this was supposed to be a totally new world, the worldbuilding needed to be more complete, if this was referencing an existing culture, the lines needed to be drawn more clearly.

NOTE (3/2016): I’ve heard a lot about the author’s intentions and she definitely tried to make this a polytheist/pagan culture so that it didn’t call back to Arab/Muslim culture. She also was/is an archeologist so I feel a little bad for saying she didn’t seem to do research – I’m sure she did a lot. I think it comes down to the title calling up things that made it unfair to judge.

wow iconAwesome Score: You’re Trying

Overall, I was intrigued by the premise. It seems Scheherazade/One Thousand and One Nights retellings are a coming trend and I’m excited to see how the stories are placed (or replaced) in cultural contexts. I had high hopes for this book and at times throughout the story I was drawn in and intrigued, but overall I took a lot of notes on the random, weird details that pulled me out of the book. Generally for me, lots of notes means a story is lacking depth or pull because I am more focused on small things than on the exciting characters and narrative. I think the world Johnston built could be really engaging and interesting, but it feels like it sits at a 5 when it needs a 10. I also found the power/magic confusing and underdeveloped; maybe that’s a narrative tool since the main character never really understands it, but it just felt poorly written.

Even so, the premise of the story is intriguing and I think that some readers will enjoy the book.


Favorite Character

The Skeptic scholar – I liked his subplot and the main character’s interaction with him

I didn’t mention the Skeptics in my comments above, but this again was such a weird naming choice because it made me think “Are we in Rome? How are we in Rome now?”

Favorite Line

There are some powerful lines in this book, but I was so distracted by the random other things I didn’t write any down. One thing to note – there are very few character names used throughout the book. We never learn the main character’s name and most other characters are referenced by relation (“my sister,” “Lo-Melkhiin’s mother”) which is an interesting choice.

Fun Author Fact

E.K. Johnston is/was an archeologist!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Personally, I would say no. But, different books for different folks (Yes, I know that doesn’t exactly rhyme). The premise is intriguing and the character is strong, it might do it for you. I’ve been holding off because I really don’t want to compare books to one another, but if you are intrigued by a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, I’d rather recommend The Wrath and the Dawn. Its world is more developed and the characters are more compelling, though the focus is different.

Read These Next

As mentioned, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh or An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another world where stakes are high and escape is difficult and family must be saved.

Author Post: Jess

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Note: I received access to an early ebook of A Thousand Nights through NetGalley. My review is (I think, obviously) not affected by that.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

This post heavily edited after thoughts.

Summary

Scarlett graduated from high school early and opened a detective agency – both for something to do and to investigate her own family’s tragedy. When her newest case gets rolling, she realizes there may be more to it than she first thought. Soon, she finds herself deep into a millennia-old battle involving djinn and curses – and her own family history.

scarlett undercover

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I appreciated that Scarlett’s policeman/mentor has a thing for Reem, Scarlett’s sister, but has enough respect for her choices to not push. Scarlett has her own long-time friend turned possibly-something-more that gives her the best kind of confusion and excitement. The two don’t do too much physically, but I still felt the tingles and thought it was super cute and a happy start for something that could be awesome. Even so, the romance is more warm than hot and not the focus of the story.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying and Good Effort

Scarlett and her sister are making it on their own after family tragedy. Reem is on her way to being a successful doctor and Scarlett is still a teenager but has her own business. She’s an entrepreneur with great marketing ideas. In addition, there’s a diner owning, straight-talking mama bear who gives the sisters advice and watches out for them.

But. But…Reem wears a headscarf and in the story, she becomes serious and unfun and unsocial when she starts wearing it – all things opposite from the hijabis I know. Also, the thing that happens to their mom is embedded in a stereotype that Muslim women and is an unfortunate perpetuation of something that, while a problem in the community, is not really necessary or good to have in a book. Having her fight the stereotype would have been nicer.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

Scarlett is a brown-skinned, Muslim girl that left high school early because it was too easy. Her character is spunky and smart and is determined to figure out the answers to what happened to her family. I appreciate so, so much that this character is here and available. I also like that we get to see several ways of being Muslim (though see note about regarding Reem). Scarlett makes some decisions that are less traditional (not praying all 5 prayers, getting a tattoo, not wearing a headscarf) but she is no less Muslim than her sister who does do those things.

One thing that struck me as odd – Scarlett and Reem have very different names. I know it’s not impossible, but I thought it a little weird that Reem had a fairly traditional name and Scarlett’s was fairly…not. Other things that made me reduce the score: the religion as written is a mess of randomness. I don’t think anyone (Muslim) would recognize this as Islam as they know it, but maybe as a book with pieces of Islam thrown in with a bunch of other stuff to make it work for the story. There are also a few things that are pretty anti-tradition, for example, one of the characters  gives the peace greeting to Scarlett and then ends up attacking her. That’s a pretty big no-no. And, like, obviously not all Muslims follow everything, but when you’re writing a religion with such bad press, you should try to adhere to most things, you know?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

The mystery in this book isn’t super hard to figure out, but it brought in a lot of interesting possibilities and the characters were fun. The book is written at a quick pace and Latham has a very specific way of writing. It sets the tone really well and calls back to old detective stories. In some ways, it feels like a brilliant bit of building Scarlett’s character – she wants to be a detective, so she “puts on” the things she thinks they do. I liked Scarlett’s personal story and the larger mystery, and the value of family – chosen and born. But, I would have liked representation that was a little more recognizable as and positive about Muslims and Islam.


Favorite Character

Gemma – she’s a smart kid and has a full grasp of the real world and who she should really ask for help. I appreciate her bravery in reaching out for help and her love for her brother that keeps her going.

Favorite Line

But Deck’s words still chafed like burlap pants.

The similes in this book are HILARIOUS! I picked this one because it made me laugh out loud, but there were tons of others. The writing sets the tone and expertly captures Scarlett’s voice.

Is this book worth a hangover?

Scarlett Undercover is fun and fast. It’s a light mystery and the story is quick. I liked the book and I was initially excited about more representation, but I’m afraid that this doesn’t really hit the mark fully. This isn’t quite as deep as I expected it to be, but I’m still glad I read it and would easily recommend it to others.

Fun Author Fact

Latham used to help with autopsies. That’s both fun and creepy.

Read These Next

Tiny, Pretty Things by Sona Charaiportra and Dhonielle Clayton is a mystery embedded in the intrigues of ballet school or Endangered by Lamar Giles that follows Panda as she exposes people’s affairs and then fights a blackmailer.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, High School

Book Discussion: More Happy Than Not

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Summary:

Note: Try to read as little as possible about the book. Take my word for it, you want to read this with as little knowledge as possible about the actual plot so this post is as spoiler free as More Happy Than Notpossible.

Aaron is struggling to deal with his father’s suicide. His girlfriend does the best she can to bring him back toward happiness, but then she leaves for art camp and the distance between them pushes Aaron to spend more and more time with his new friend, Thomas. As their friendship grows, Aaron feels his old self returning, but his old group of friends does not approve of the new closeness between their buddy and the “new guy.” As things reach a tipping point, Aaron discovers that some things are inescapable no matter how many times you try to elude them.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There was SO MUCH good here. Aaron and Genevieve are adorable with their “remember when” game and their sweet, thoughtful dates and their joy and panic about their first time. The slow tension of growing close with Thomas and trying to understand what that means is also sweet in its own way. I’m taking points away because of things that happen in the last half of the book (including a rather emotionless repeated action in an alley).

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

Aaron’s mom tried to put herself in between her husband and her kids, and that’s something no mother should ever need to worry about. But, I appreciated her strength, her dedication to her sons’ happiness, and her efforts to do her best. Again, a mother trying to do her best with very few good options.

At first, I was really excited by Genevieve and Aaron’s relationship – they are so sweet, he obviously cherishes her, and the physical moments involve a lot of consent. But once Genevieve heads to art camp, things kind of fall apart and it hurt my heart to see her making choices so that she ends up with less than she deserves. Yet, by the end, it seems like things are turning around for her.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot covered in this book – I got the sense reading that Aaron’s family was Hispanic (and double checked for the review – they’re Puerto Rican). In Aaron’s neighborhood there’s quite a bit of racial diversity – his boss has an “Arab accent” and his friends are varying skin tones. Everyone is lower income and I appreciated that this story incorporated details about that as part of the scenery and Aaron’s life without making it an “issue.” The biggest factor of the story, though, is with sexual orientation – Aaron slowly realizes what he thinks he likes may not be the true or only answer. The unfolding, unpuzzling of his feelings was sweet and painful and sad and joyful and made the story doubly poignant. With this it would seem that an A+ is in order, but events near the end made me dock a point. Yes, I know what happens reflects reality, but this book has just enough of a hint of the future that I had hope that maybe the end-of-book events could be excluded from Aaron’s experience.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

I LOVED this book. All the characters came together perfectly. Before reading, I had only heard that the book was amazing and a must-read, I was totally shocked when things started to come together and, as much of a gut-punch as it was, I LOVED it. Aaron was a sweet character – as a boyfriend and as a confused, sad teen. I wanted to date him or comfort him – or both. His story is going to stick with me for a while as I think about my own life and the things I wish I could escape.


Favorite Character

Thomas – He has amazing date ideas that he’s not too miserly to share with a friend (rooftop planetarium? AMAZING) and highschool-me would totally want to date him. He also is an amazing friend to Aaron, being caring, honest, and gentle when Aaron opens his soul. I loved that he was comfortable enough to react the way he did and I’m so excited that teen readers will have him as an example of how to be a friend or ally.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if…” (270)

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY. I feel silly because I’ve been so enthusiastic about the books I’ve reviewed, but this is really an amazing book with great characters and an intense story. To prove it: it was a cool weekend in the middle of July and I stayed inside and read this book.

Fun Author Fact

Adam Silvera is really, really tall. Unfun fact: he struggles with depression. I mention this because I’m so thankful that authors are speaking up about these kinds of things and providing an opening for their (teen) readers to talk about them.

Read These Next

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli for a cute, secret boy crush story or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for a story about overcoming confusion and prejudice.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

Summary

The story switches between the present and the past, following older sister, Sohane, as she unravels her feelings around her younger sister, Djelila. As Sohane battles with guilt, grief, and anger, we learn that while she was growing more religiously observant, her sister was spending time partying with her non-observant, non-Muslim friends. And the neighborhood jerks took notice – they began harassing Djelilia for her “misbehaving” and Sohane sort of agreed with them…until they took their attacks too far.

Favorite Character

None of the characters really jumped off the page. Most of the time, they felt flat and, while I thought the tension between guilt and righteousness in Sohane’s narration was great, I really wish the book had alternating chapters between Djelila and Sohane because neither felt fully developed.

Favorite Line

This was written very, very sparsely. It was not the style that either of us generally read and no lines really stood out.

Fun Author Fact

Amelie Sarn is also a comic book writer.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I am not sure. It might be the translation, but if felt very stiff and lacked development. I wanted to know more about the characters and get more deeply embedded in their lives, but the lack of description created a kind of barrier. In some ways, this felt like a very long-form journalism piece rather than a book. I still found Sohane and Djelila’s story interesting, there just wasn’t enough to it.

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for another perspective on bullying or This Side of Home by Renee Watson for another story about sisters struggling to understand the slow cracks in their relationship.

Post Author

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School