Tag Archives: magic

November Round Up

Again, I’m still super behind, so I’m going to do a round up because I REALLY want to share these books with you and if I wait for a full post it might never happen.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Being a teenager during the Summer of Sam is difficult – fun is always limited by how safe 25982606you feel and Nora is struggling to enjoy her last year of high school. She doesn’t know what will come next, her brother Hector is growing ever more unstable, and the family is struggling to pay their bills.

This is my second Medina book and I love how she draws out the small details to gives us a really full world and characters. I felt for Nora and celebrated when she made decisions that lead her toward more happiness. Diversity: Nora and her family are Latinx, Hector is dealing with some mental health issues, and Medina is Cuban American.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Miel fell out of a water tower and Sam was the only one that could make her feel safe. She lives with Aracely now and must face the beautiful Bonner sisters as they try to steal the roses that grow from her wrist and keep their ability to enchant the town’s boys. Sam paints moons that light the town and helps its children sleep while keeping his own secrets.

This is modern magical realism at its most lyrical. Pumpkins in a field turn to glass, roses grow from skin, the river can transform someone into their true self – and at the same time, a pregnancy and the ensuing gossip can destroy a girl, birth certificates are necessary for high school enrollment, and hate and misunderstanding can still tear people down. I’m still letting this book sit with me because I’m not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It made me feel and I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I ultimately liked it. HOWEVER – I will shove it at people looking for magic in the everyday and who love beautiful writing. Diversity: Sam’s mother is Pakistani, his father is Catalan (I think?), Miel is Latina, and there are two transgender characters.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Tara’s best (and only) friend is spending their junior year of high school studying abroad 25802922so Tara hates the idea of schools starting. She doesn’t want to be totally alone. But even as she dreads it, she must also face startling news – an alternate Earth with just a few changes has been discovered. As everyone comes to terms with what that means, Tara finds herself navigating a new group of friends, her mother’s obsession with the new Earth, and just what kind of person she wants to be.

I really wanted to love this book – it’s a great premise and it brought up a lot of interesting ideas, but I never felt fully invested in the story. I think part of it was the writing and part of it was Tara as a character. However, I appreciated the honest look at microaggressions that Tara has to put up with – though that appreciation is slightly decreased by the rather poor way the book deals with anorexia and weight in general. In some ways this felt like an older person’s interpretation of how “mean girls” interact without respecting them as full people. I’m not sure exactly what, but something was off. Diversity: Tara is biracial (Indian and white American) and less well off in a very, very wealthy area. Also, #ownvoices.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda is the new girl and, even though she has a secret to keep, she’s making a bunch of26156987 new friends. She even has a boyfriend – and she can’t hold herself back from becoming invested in the relationship even if it’s dangerous. And when the secret is out – who will stay by her side?

This is generally not my kind of book – contemporary, high school drama, and romance – but Amanda is an engaging character and the time switch across chapters adds an interesting depth to the story. And, even with the discrimination and violence that Amanda suffers, this is still a fairly light book. Russo addresses that in her afterword and I’m saddened that the story has to be made so, so palatable for cis/hetero readers (but I’m also glad that trans readers have something light and happy to read). Diversity: This is one of the (or the?) first YA books about a transgender character by a transgender author with a transgender model on its cover.

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (Book #1 of a series)

23495112Elli has been raised to become Queen of her people and when, on the night that she must accept the magical power that comes with the crown, things go wrong, she must find a way to stay true to her loyalties while saving herself.

This was so good! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters. I am disappointed that this is a series starter because I really thought things were going to be nicely wrapped up, but also – yay! more books! Diversity: Bisexual main character, lots of racial diversity among characters.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (book #1 of a series)

Cas is a trainer of Reckoners, dedicated to protecting ships as they cross ever-growing seas24790901 and the pirates that call them home. But, when her first solo mission goes wrong, she must navigate the difficult obstacles that a pirate captain and a baby Reckoner put in her path.

I thought the concept behind this was really interesting, though I would have liked more explanation about exactly why the person that made a rogue Reckoner possible made that decision (although, the “who” of this mystery was easy to see from the very beginning). Diversity: Cas is of Asian descent (I think Chinese?), there’s a main f/f relationship, and there’s a lot of diversity among the pirate crew.

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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!

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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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Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember 25231892

Summary

Mnemba is recovering from a terrible attack at her cousin’s safari business as one of his most successful guides. Kara arrives with her father to study unicorns in the wilderness – a final trip before she returns to “proper” society and marries. Together, they discover poachers abusing unicorns to exploit the land and must decide how to save the animals and reconcile their growing feelings for one another.

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heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I thought the relationship between Mnemba and Kara grew slowly and naturally. There were a few lines about skin color that felt a little off, but overall I liked how these two girls found each other and found happiness.

Rosie Feminist Score: A+ Success

Mnemba is recovering from a brutal attack and finds relief with her cousin and his safari business. I appreciated her strength and resilience dealing with her history. Plus, she’s an entrepreneur making sure the business grows and helping Tumelo bring in the best customers. Kara is a scholar pursuing the secrets of wildlife and attempting to avoid her required marriage back home. Both girls are working the system to find their own kind of success.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in the book and its world. This is an alternate Earth, much of it is the same, but there are few changes – the country names, magically animals are real, and, apparently, the fact that girls are legally required to marry back in Kara’s home country. I’m not sure why, but the closeness of the worlds bothered me. This story centers around two women falling in love, which is apparently acceptable for Mnemba’s family but not for Kara’s, so that’s definitely a bonus. However, there were parts of the story that felt…even though there are comments made about the way the pseudo-Europeans that visit for safaris and how the two cultures mix and judge each other, it still felt a little unbalanced. If it’s an alternate-Earth, why couldn’t it be the Europeans that lack technology rather than the Africans?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t that much. I really enjoyed Mnemba’s character and her family, but I didn’t ever feel like I really connected with the story. I just think the writing wasn’t completely there for me. BUT, I really loved the idea that there are magical beasts in the world and biologists study them just like other animals.


Favorite Character

Mnemba – I loved her resiliency and her head for business.

Fun Author Fact

Ember names her pets (and she has many) after Harry Potter characters.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think many people will enjoy this book – especially if you’re thirsting for lady-lady romance stories and different locations. 

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for pirates, sea monsters, and lesbians or Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst for queens with forbidden magic and forbidden love.

Post Author: Jess

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The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Chat: The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Summary

Nix travels on her father’s ship as he Navigates across time searching for a way to return to his beloved dead wife, Nix’s mother. Nix isn’t sure what will happen if he succeeds, but he’s the only family she has, so she does what she can to track down the next piece in the puzzle of their journey. Their adventures have taken them to mystic Persia, ancient China, and more, but now they’ve become entangled in political intrigues in 19th century Hawaii and everything may unravel.

Nix may find the answers she’s looking for, the family she’s always wanted, or…she could find the end to everything.

WARNING: Our podcast has SERIOUS SPOILERS and you don’t want to mess up your first read of this book – STOP LISTENING and GO GET THIS BOOK if you haven’t read it yet.

girl from everywhere

Favorite Character

Nix! – She is smart, resourceful, passionate, caring, and committed to making the best life choices she can. What a great character for readers to have!

Favorite Line

And once everyone agrees something is one way, all the other ways it could have been disappear.

I love the idea of unending possibilities and that dreams can create worlds if we believe in them.

Fun Author Fact

  1. Heilig has an MFA in Muscial Theater Writing which is very cool and she has posted some songs on her blog.
  2. She is open about her mental health struggles on twitter and is helping to break stigmas and start conversations about lots of important topics!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! Nix is amazing and her story is exciting. Time travel is one of those things that can turn non-SFF lovers away, but here the people and intrigue are so good, you just want to keep turning the pages!

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more sailing adventures with intense lady characters and interesting beasts or Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis for a story that is driven by characters living in different worlds.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Adventure, Heavy Topics, Historical, podcast, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Otherbound

16081758Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone – but she doesn’t know it until Nolan finally manages to push his way into controlling her body.

Nolan has always lived in two worlds; his own, struggling to focus on his school work and his family, and Amara’s, seeing flashes of her life as he blinks through his own.

When they finally realize they’re truly connected, both of their worlds are transformed by political intrigue and the race to keep Princess Cilla alive.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Three relationships develop throughout the story. Amara and her fellow servant/slave Maart is the most established. It’s obvious there is true affection and love, but I do sort of wonder if it’s a relationship and love borne out of the dire and lonely circumstances that the two found themselves in. Amara and…the person from the end is a little surprising and there are hints of it throughout the book, but it’s interesting to see how it plays out once the politics are out of the way because of the previous power dynamics. Nolan and his flirtation are very cute and show that Nolan is finally fighting for his own world alongside Amara’s.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Amara and Cilla are doing what they must to survive. If that isn’t the feminist story right there, what is. They fight for what they believe in and for each other. It’s interesting that Cilla doesn’t see her privilege and that Amara must maneuver through the power imbalance to make things work. I see a lot of echoes of the troubles in the feminist movement (white feminism vs inclusive feminism) here, although the skin colors don’t correlate (also, echoes of pretty much any system that privileges people in our world). I liked that all the women in this story are whole characters – even when you only get small bits of their lives (like the Captain’s) you still see them as more than just an empty vessel to move the plot.

I don’t give full points because I do feel like it’s tough when a male character is forcing his way into a woman character’s head and controlling her body – while I know that Nolan wasn’t necessarily doing it on purpose (all the time), it still feels like a kind of mental rape in some sense.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: A+ Success

There is a lot of ground covered in this book. Nolan is suffering from what looks like epilepsy in our world and Cilla has curse-created hemophilia. Nolan is missing a foot and uses a prosthetic; he is also probably depressed since he can’t fully function in any world, but he also can’t leave either behind. I do find it interesting when what is considered a disability in our world has a magical explanation – since we find that Nolan has never had epilepsy, that’s just the our-world diagnosis for a magical malady, I think it somewhat avoids the “magical cure.” BUT, it’s a difficult thing to maneuver.

Nolan is of Mexican-descent. His family speaks Spanish or Nahuatl at home and when they cook a “real” meal he has to call Grandma Pérez for instructions. Plus, his family is financially struggling, something you don’t often see in YA and underscoring the deep problems with healthcare and health-related expenses in our world.

Princess Cilla is dark skinned and there is a wide variety of skin colors in other characters in Amara’s world. As we move through the story, we learn that Amara is bisexual (#ownvoices story) and find what looks like a happy ending with someone. All in all, there is a lot here that gets pulled into the story while always feeling like it has a purpose to the characters and plot.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked the premise of the book and the story. I thought it was an interesting idea and I love parallel universe/magic worlds! I thought the characters and their stories were intriguing and I was pulled in. I loved seeing such a diverse group of characters going along without that being key to the story.

There was a lot of build up to the climax of the story – action happened at the very end and, while it was all really good, it felt like everything happened really quickly. I also feel that some of the things lacked explanation: what exactly pulled the travelers into Amara’s world? why was Nolan only able to “watch” for so long? what made him weak when the other travelers were strong and able to control their “hosts”? I want to know more about the mechanisms!


Favorite Character

Amara – She’s resourceful and dedicated to what she believes is right and wrong. I appreciated her desire to escape servitude coupled with her understanding of the difficult blurring of friendship and servant/master relationships.

Favorite Line

“Amara had chosen to love the Maart of yesterday and today. She couldn’t look beyond that…Amara knew he’d already chosen every version of her.”

The idea of this kind of love = swoon.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is definitely a more character driven story. The world is built on small details with little things pulled in to add to it – like not saying someone’s name after they die – that help underscore the differences between Nolan and Amara’s worlds. The action comes close to the end and, while it’s not as big a climax as you might expect for the length, it’s still good.

Fun Author Fact

Duyvis is one of the co-runners of Disability in KidLit, a site we absolutely recommend. She is also autistic and bisexual and champions the #ownvoices cause in books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for another full cast of folks that represent the real world,  Adaptation by Malinda Lo for a more sci-fi thriller in our world, or  The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more fantasy with pirates, sea monsters, and lady-lady action.

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: Truthwitch

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Truthwitch (Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

Summary

Safiya and Iseult are a team. And they do ok for themselves until they plan one heist too many and are put on the run. They try to escape, but get pulled into bigger and bigger plans – Safi is a Truthwitch and a domna with rights to an earldom and people want to use that to stop the return of global war. Iseult is a Threadwitch but she can’t do what every other Threadwitch can. And they have a Bloodwitch, a king, a queen, and a prince trailing after them.truthwitch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I was actually pretty excited in the beginning because it seemed like maybe there wouldn’t be a romance. When it did show up, parts really sparked, but as a whole it felt like a convenience rather than a true build up. I also find the “I hate you…oh, now actually I think I love you” thing pretty difficult to believe unless there’s a lot of strong character development. I didn’t feel it here.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Safi and Iseult are best friends and I really liked that they worked together to protect one another and to reach their goals. I thought together they exhibited a good range of being women – and neither was the “better” character. A few things rankled – Safi being used as a political pawn without her full knowledge and the situation of women in all of the kingdoms was implied to be less than the men. There was one odd scene – at one point Safi’s clothes have been destroyed and a man she is with (her captor/protector) thinks to himself that he shouldn’t see her legs or something of that nature. It was really random and seemed to be added in just to give him something to complain about and to shame Safi since there was no prior context or mention of clothing taboos or keeping things covered.

The score here probably could have gone lower just because women get treated like crap and are victims in a lot of situations, but Safi and Iseult do manage to work their way out of most of the terrible situations and stand up for themselves, so I’m leaving it here.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

The book gets mega points for featuring a large cast of characters that are people of color – they’re described as tan or golden or brown in many cases. Iseult is very pale and that marks her as part of a group that everyone hates. I give negative points because it honestly just felt like “oh, let me switch their skin colors!” The ruling families/kingdoms felt like all other (Euro-analogue) kingdoms just with POC. There was no explanation for why Iseult’s people were disliked – because they were nomadic? because they were poor? because…I’m just not sure and the reasons that I could find made it just seem like a skin color-switcheroo without much else behind it.

In a fantasy world, you have a giant opportunity to create new cultures and to really subvert things. I didn’t see that. Also, there weren’t many (any?) other forms of diversity that I can recall. I suppose you could say economic diversity, but…it doesn’t get called out in the story much at all. I suppose you could maybe say it discusses privilege and the responsibility that comes with having it, but…that’s a stretch.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story had an interesting premise and I really liked that this was about two lady friends that are on an adventure and pulled into bigger and bigger things. There is, however, a lot to be desired in the world building and explanation department. I wanted to know more about where the powers come from, why the wells dried up, and more explanation of the side effects of the powers. (Like – why did Iseult always need to maintain her emotional balance? There are tiny, tiny, vague hints, but not enough for how often she talks about staying in stasis.) A lot of things are left out or only sketched for us. I will assume that this is because it’s a series and the intention is to leave lots of questions for explanation later, but it made the story feel like it was only a surface exploration of the world.


Favorite Character

Iseult – She has a level head and balances Safi’s impetuous, stubborn, and haphazard actions.

Favorite Line

The writing just wasn’t there for me. I liked the idea of this story, but I’m not sure I liked this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure – if you don’t mind a more shallow dip into a fantasy world, this could be for you. If you prefer deep world building with lots of background information, then probably not.

Fun Author Fact

Dennard was a marine biologist before becoming a full time writer.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a fantasy world with more depth and a ton of diversity in the characters or The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi or The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine for more diversity and adventure

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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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 Discussion: Akata Witch

 

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Summary

Sunny has albinism and lives in Nigeria; her distinct appearance garners lots of attention and she’s tired of dealing with her frustrating classmates. After she gets into a fight and finds herself defended by another student, Orlu, she discovers there’s a lot more to the world – and herself – than meets the eye. Joining with her neighbor, Chichi, and newly arrived troublemaker, Sasha, the group of four are quickly embroiled in a dire race to stop the end of the world. They must quickly learn complex magical skills and gain wisdom beyond their years to stand against the evil that is coming. Together, the four discover truths about friendship, loyalty, and bravery.

akata witch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This score is almost a default because this is definitely on the younger end of YA (really MG) and there’s no real romance. Sasha and Chichi end up flirting and getting a little involved with one another, but there’s still not much there to gauge. You can see where friendships can turn into deeper, more romantically inclined relationships, but it’s not happening in this book.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

There are a ton of role models in this book – Sunny, Chichi, Chichi’s mother, Sugar Cream, tons! And for the most part, they’re able to be themselves without harsh judgment. For example, it’s very clear that Chichi’s father has left his family behind, but because of her life choices – intentionally never marrying and focusing on knowledge – Chichi’s mother never comes off as pitiable, pathetic, or an “easy woman” (all stereotypical ways that an unmarried mother could be treated). Sunny and Chichi both have strong skills and are respected for them. Power and magical strength also generally comes through the mothers in this world, so there’s a lot of respect there. Plus, Sunny calls out and fights for equality in several situations – once the sun can’t bother her, she won’t give up her chance to play soccer with the boys. Being a girl won’t get in her way.

The one thing that drops this down from a full score is Sunny’s father and the way he treats both his wife and daughter. It’s never really made clear why he dislikes Sunny so much, except that he didn’t want a daughter and definitely not one with albinism. That’s obviously a big reason, but it doesn’t explain why he never moved past the disappointment and embraced his child. He’s also not the most tender of husbands, but it’s hard to tell if this is rooted in dissatisfaction with the “odd” mother-in-law he married into or general unhappiness with his situation. But, the lack of clarity is somewhat fitting for a younger narrator. And, I can see how this would give comfort to girls living in a similar situation – here’s a powerful character with a father and brother that don’t like her much, but that doesn’t hold her back from being amazing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

So, this is one of those books where this score could go a couple of different ways depending on where you’re reading it. In Nigeria, it might get a lower score, although having a character with albinism does add some weight. Plus, two of the characters have lived/were born in the USA, so that’s different. In the US, this obviously tells a story placed outside the country’s borders with characters that look different from those currently the majority in most books. Really, no matter where you read it, you’ll get some level of representation that is generally lacking, so I’m going with the highest score.

BUT, big caveat – there can be an issue mixing albinism and magic. This is a huge stereotype and something that can lead to horrific treatment of albino people (especially in Africa). I think this gets a little bit of legitimacy because Okorafor is Nigerian-American, so she’s aware of the issues, and because Sunny is not the only magical person. Her three friends don’t have albinism and they’re just as magical as she is. This helps offset the “magical albino” trope quite a bit. It’s also clear that Sunny is not magical because she is albino, but that it’s an inherited trait from her grandmother, which further works to disconnect it from the stereotype. Still – something to be aware of.

Another note, Sasha and Sunny are both treated a little differently because they’ve lived in the US for extended periods of time. You do get a bit of the mistreated immigrant story line, mostly through microaggressions, like calling Sunny akata which is a negative term used for black Americans. Sunny, however, tries to accept and then find power in the term – so we get an immigrant narrative in a country that is not the US (!) and someone subverting an insult to find power.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Right between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really loved getting to know Sunny and her friends. I loved the world that she discovers as she learns more about the Leopard People and I LOVE a magical realm that is centered somewhere besides Europe with a distinctly African flavor, but which does not totally ignore the existence of magic across the globe. And, this is very specifically placed in a particular country and town (because Africa isn’t a country!). I would love to know more about what happens and how Sunny’s life changes as she grows into a young woman. I also would love to see how she balances the two lives and her relationship with her family…You know a book is good when it leaves you wondering what happens after you close it.

The one downside is that it felt like the end wrapped up very, very quickly and in a much tighter little ball than expected. I have seen Okorafor post on twitter that the published ending was not her intended one, so hopefully she will get a chance to expand on the story and flesh things out for us! (Note: A sequel should be here late 2016!)


 

Favorite Character

Orlu – I feel for him so much! He is like little-me – the rules are there for a reason, the rules help and guide us, don’t break the rules! And yet, he finds the strength to do what he must.

Favorite Line

“Neither (brother) even glaced at the counter. She smiled. Her dumb brothers never cooked. She didn’t think they even knew how! A human being who needs food to live but cannot prepare that food to eat? Pathetic. In this case, it was an advantage. They weren’t interested in any food until it had been cooked for them.”

Okorafor has a way of pulling out issues with just a few phrases – showing inequality, family dynamics, and Sunny’s personality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! It’s fun, it’s about magic and magic school, and the characters are engaging. And, it’s closer to middle grade so you get some of that innocence and joy that can be missing in “older” YA.

Fun Author Fact

Nnedi Okorafor is a heavily awarded writer and at least 3 of her stories are optioned for film or being adapted into a screenplay at this very moment.

Read These Next

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall for a middle grade, magical Mexican story about five sisters and their journey from Texas to Mexico to return a dead man to his family or Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for a Brooklyn based, Carribean-flavored story about magic and fighting for your family (review coming soon!).

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: Uprooted

uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Summary

 

Every ten years, the Dragon takes one girl from the Valley. He chooses between all the seventeen year old girls in the villages and keeps her in his tower for ten years.

Agnieszka is seventeen this year – and she is dreading the Dragon’s arrival. She knows that her best friend, Kasia – the most beautiful and sweet girl in the Valley – will be taken away from her by the Dragon. Once he chooses her (and he always chooses the most special girls), she’ll never be the same. After their ten years of service, Dragon-born girls always choose to leave the Valley forever.

But what happens when the Dragon arrives… and chooses Agnieszka instead?

 

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort [Warning: Includes Spoilers]

The romance between Agnieszka and the Dragon is built on shared power and understanding. In most situations, I would not be okay with a (seemingly) kidnapper-victim romance, but this story is so much more complicated than that. Their romance takes a while to develop, and the Dragon resists at every turn, but by the time it does, Agnieszka is powerful in her own right. I love that she instigates their intimacies and his gruff but well-meaning resistance until she wins him over.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

Both Agnieszka and Kasia are powerful heroines and best friends. They regularly put their lives in danger for each other, and play a leading role protecting their Valley. I love that Agnieszka is so powerful, even more so than the Dragon, and harnesses her magic to defend her people. I also like how Kasia uses her… changes… for the good of the kingdom.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score:  You’re Trying

This book wasn’t quite as diverse as I would like. While there was one witch of color, most of the main characters are pale. And perhaps this is wishful thinking – but I would have loved if the most beautiful girl in the land, the one the Dragon would choose for her beauty alone, was not another blonde, pale girl with delicate fairy features.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

really enjoyed this book. I didn’t expect the regular twists and turns of the story, and was constantly surprised. I also liked the world itself- the interaction between a kingdom, an enemy land, and The Wood.


Favorite Character

Agnieszka – From the beginning of the story, she’s extremely brave and willing to put herself in danger for her best friend and others in the village. I loved watching her discover her power, and soon have more skill and knowledge than the Dragon himself.

Favorite Line

There are many beautiful passages in Uprooted, but I love the opening few lines:

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacfirice, and he were a real dragon. Of course, that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted ot eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Woods, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you love dark fairy tales. The world itself, strong friendships, and twisted plot will keep you reading way past your bedtime! 

Fun Author Fact

Naomi Novik is a first-generation American who grew up listening to stories about Polish fairy-tales. Agnieszka’s name comes from an old Polish fairy tale, Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba.

Read This Next

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (check out our review here). Mare is a poor girl from a large family facing conscription in the army. But when she learns she has magic – a power that only the Silver upper-class possess – her life is changed forever.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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