Tag Archives: magic

Book Chat: The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summary

Cluck is a Corbeau, a feather-growing, tightrope-walking family. Lace is a Paloma, a family of mermaids that dance in the water. Their families have been enemies for as long as they can remember. Each knows that contact with anyone from the other family would mean infection from black magic. But, when an industrial accident nearly kills Lace and Cluck is the one to save her everything they’ve ever known turns upside down. They have to decide if they can stay true to themselves and let their hearts guide them.

weight of feathers


Favorite Character

Tia Lora – She hasn’t let her past bring her bitterness like some of the other women in the feud and she does her best to give Lace the strength and love she needs to survive within the Paloma family.

Favorite Line

“He was beautiful in ways that made him ugly to his family.”

Fun Author Fact

McLemore has her own mermaid tail! It’s red.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! It is beautifully written with some amazing lines and great characters. The families and their stories are just as interesting as the main characters and the interwoven storylines make it richer and deeper than “just” a story about Lace and Cluck.

Read These Next

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt for another Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in present day Georgia or Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for another couple divided by family and social expectations with a hint of magical realism.

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: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Summary

Taisin and Kaede are studying to be Sages while the kingdom’s lands and 9415946people suffer and dwindle due to fluctuating weather and the arrival of strange new beasts. Neither knows exactly where their path will lead, though Taisin’s strong skill with dreams is promising. Kaede, with little skill, must fight the growing pressure to make political alliances through marriage. But, when a message from the Fairy Queen pulls them into an adventure, everything may change. Together, they face many obstacles, including growing feelings between them and a dream-promised loss that might tear them apart.

huntress


Favorite Character

Taisin – she’s powerful, she’s determined, and there’s a lot roiling beneath the surface that we don’t get to see. I like that her background gives us a bit more commentary on privilege and that her unease with her growing feelings allows the romance to burn slowly.

Favorite Line

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

It’s not especially “new,” but I appreciate that this is repeated and gives both girls strength and self-confidence. Plus, it’s too true.

Fun Author Fact

Malinda Lo is a rockstar and does a lot (A LOT) about queerness in YA. For the past few years, she’s pulled together all the numbers she can on published books with queer characters to show how representation is lacking. Here is her post for 2014.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think so – it’s a fun adventure and the romance is perfect – a slow burn with lots of feeling behind it so when you finally get there, it’s super satisfying. There are also good side characters to give the story depth. It’s a little quick with the storytelling and lacks some depth, but I had fun getting to know Taisin and Kaede.

Read These Next

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee for two very different girls traveling across the US as settlers expand West or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a group adventure with full of character and a touch of fantasy.

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: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

black beauty

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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: Red Queen

 Red Queen

Red Queen by  Victoria Aveyard

Summary

Power is a dangerous game.

The Reds know this lesson all too well. Mere mortals, the Reds are ruled over by the godly Silvers, who possess incredible powers like ultra-strength, telepathy, fire, and much more. The Reds live to serve the Silvers in their homes,  castles, and on the battlefield.

Mare Barrow is one of the Reds. A poor, talentless girl from a large family, Mare faces conscription into the army if she does not find employment soon. When an unlikely circumstance lands her a job in King Tiberias’s castle, Mare soon learns that the world may not be as Red-and-Silver as she’s been taught. Can Mare help start a revolution to help the Reds? Or will her growing affection for the king’s two sons change her mind?

Red

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I was slightly annoyed that Mare can’t seem to have any male friends who are not romantic interests. The budding romance between Mare and one of the princes towards the end of the novel was sweet, but I wish I had seen a bit more … romance? I understood the initial attraction between the two (kind of like Peeta and Katniss) but I didn’t feel pulled into their romantic relationship. However, this is the first book of a three part series, so perhaps we will see more in later books.

Feminist Score:  A+ SuccessRosie

Mare kicks ass. Not only does she first land in trouble because she tries to save her (male) best friend, but she repeatedly fights for what she believes is right. And she doesn’t just fall into her power – she has to learn how to control it. The secondary female characters (like the Queen and Princess)  are just as powerful and important to the story.

In Mare’s world, men and women are treated as virtual equals. Both genders are conscripted into the army, and the potential princesses need to show off their power to get their positions. Women aren’t demure flowers waiting to be protected by men; they are warriors.

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Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Red Queen did a great job discussing economic discrepancies and class wars. The Silvers have all the power and privilege, and use the Reds to serve in their homes, build their technology, and fight their wars. There is very little economic mobility in this society, and the need for change is a theme that is highlighted throughout the book.

I do wish there had been some other form of diversity in the book. Other than an occasional secondary character with brown skin, all the characters were essentially white and straight. Hopefully we’ll see some people of color in future books.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Red Queen was a great adventure story with a admirable, likeable heroine. The world itself  – especially the power dynamics between the Reds and Silvers – is really interesting, and I enjoyed the power plays between the Red noble families as well. I can’t wait to see what comes next in Glass Sword, the second Red Queen book.

 


 

Favorite Character

Cal, the eldest son and heir to the Silver throne. He’s faced with the challenge of ruling a kingdom on the cusp of a revolution. Throughout the book, he’s faced with moral dilemmas and doesn’t always make the right choices.

Favorite Line

“…the last two days have been a ruin on my heart and soul. I think life has simply decided to open the floodgates, trying to drown me in a whirlwind of twists and turns.”

The metaphor of the floodgates really appealed to me. I think that often, especially when you’re a teenager, it feels like nothing happens and then EVERYTHING happens all at once.

 Fun Author Fact

Victoria Averyard has a BFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. I wonder if Red Queen will be a movie one day?

Read This Next

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass. In a reality-show style pageant, girls from various ranks in society compete to be the next princess and wife of Prince Maxon. Pretty awesome.

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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Book Discussion: Mark of the Noba

The Mark of the Noba by G.L. Tomas

Summary

Sterling Wayfairer is just trying to make it through the last year of high school. He’s dealing with his mother’s mental illness, nightmares, and best friends that are cooler than him. He seems to be making it until a mysterious girl collides with his life and he learns things about the weird mark on his arm, the nightmares that feel more real than dream-like, and his birthright. Once Tetra reveals everything, Sterling must accept the truth and his powers to save his friends, family, and world.

mark of noba

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Once Tetra and Sterling meet, their relationship becomes hard to read. It’s not friendship, it’s not romance, but something deeper – but you don’t necessarily feel that depth. Tetra also falls into a relationship with Sterling’s friend, Kip, and that felt like it didn’t fit with her earlier characterization while still being pretty hot. And Sterling’s awkwardness around his crush is adorable!

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Tetra is kick-ass and she doesn’t mess around. I loved that she was willing to wait years to accomplish her mission and did what she had to for survival. But, she didn’t have much space and I felt like her interest in Kip was more of convenience than owning her interest in sexy times. I also disliked the storyline for Sterling’s mother (without giving away too much).

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

A SFF book with a person of color as a main character!!! Very exciting! I thought there was a good mix of diversity – with mental illness, skin color, and economic class pretty well represented. Two issues, though: That the mental illness can just “go away” once things are adjusted and the odd use of “type 1/2/3” for skin color description. I think this was to help show this isn’t Earth as we know it, but I think it would have been stronger without that device. I also noticed when the foreign name was “too hard” and Sterling decided to shorten it; I think this could feel like a microaggression for readers that have this happen in their daily lives because people don’t care to take the time to learn.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

There’s a lot here that can become something amazing. The world needs a little more development to make it truly stand out and the characters are still learning about themselves, but I think the multiple worlds and the adventure can play out in other books to tell a great story.


Favorite Character

Kip – I loved his ballsy confidence even if he’s a little annoying. He’s a genuine friend and does what he can to draw Sterling out.

Fun Author Fact

This is actually written by a set of twins! Guinevere and Libertad run the Twinja Book review blog and they are awesome!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think this will depend on your preference and what you like. It’s a fun adventure and you can get through it pretty quickly, but the story seems like it’ll really get going in future books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has a diverse cast in a world with a hint of magic and a grand adventure or Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham for a mystery book with a brown-skinned, Muslim lead.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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.

Leave a comment

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Book Discussion: Carry On

carry on cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Summary

Everyone knows that Simon Snow is the chosen one. A handsome orphan who only realized he wasn’t Normal when he started “going off” – randomly producing magic – at age 11; Simon is the strongest wizard in history. And everyone knows that Baz, Simon’s handsome and rich roommate from a wealthy old-magic family, is his sworn enemy.  One is the Chosen One, and the other – the Chosen One’s Sworn Nemesis.

But Baz has a deep secret: He has been in love with Simon forever. And as they enter their 8th and final year at Watford School of Magicks, the usual danger and antics ensue… but in a moment of deep grief, there is a kiss, and suddenly, everything changes.

Note: Carry On has a really interesting back story. In Fangirl, also by Rainbow Rowell, the main character, Cath, writes fan fiction for a book series very similar to Harry Potter. Cath essentially writes Harry Potter with a twist – a story in which Harry and Draco get together. And now, Ms. Rowell has written this story.

carry on

heartRomance Score: A+ Success

The romantic tension in this story was incredible. Baz pines over Simon in such an intense, sweet, perfect way – and Simon’s connection to Baz is undeniable. I literally could not put this book down (despite my husband’s plea to go to bed). And when the tension finally broke, and “the event” happened, it was totally worth it.  So perfect.

Feminist Score: Good Effort Rosie

Penny, Simon’s best friend, is a rock-star. She’s book smart and loyal (much like her Harry Potter series counterpart). I only wish she had played a larger role in the climax of the story, but in all fairness, the book was focused on Simon and Baz.

Similarly, I was just as impressed with the secondary characters as well. Penny’s mom runs her family (and much of the country) while raising a whole bundle of witches and wizards. Baz’s aunt, Fiona, is hilarious, whip-smart, and cares for her nephew. And who can resist a world in which women ask men to marry them?
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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The two main characters in Carry On are young gay wizards. The third main character is a British witch with Indian heritage. I really appreciated that Simon pointed out that Penny was really British, because calling her Indian would imply that she wasn’t from Britain. As someone who often struggles with how to answer “but where are you really from?”, I appreciated this level of nuance. I do wish there were a few more characters of color, but overall, very well represented.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

Given its beginnings (essentially, Harry Potter fan fiction), I was a little leery of Carry On.  However, the story doesn’t really focus on the wizarding aspects of the world. Instead, it focuses on the intense aspects of young romance. It may be the best young love romance I’ve read in a long time.


Favorite Character

Baz. His backstory is so sad, and his hatred / love of Simon is so sweet. I’m rooting for him from the beginning, and I love when he finally gets what he wants.

Favorite Line

“How can you be like this” I whisper. “How can you even trust me, after everything?”

“I’m not sure I do trust you, ” he whispers back. He reaches out with his other hand and touches my stomach. I feel it drop to the floor. (My stomach, that is.) “But…” He shrugs.

Fun Author Fact

Rainbow Rowell is active with Nanowrimo. The first draft of Fangirl was partially written during this month-long writing collaborative. She gave a “pep talk” for Namowrimo participants here.

Read This Next

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. From our review: Simon Spier has a secret: he’s gay. While he is coming to terms with his sexuality, he’d prefer to keep it on the down-low from his high school classmates. Unfortunately, he is cruelly outed on the school’s anonymous Tumblr site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon must face friends he’s known his whole life, mean strangers at school, and his close-knit family. To make matters more complicated, Simon has an crush on a stranger he’s been flirting with online. Follow Simon as he navigates high school in Georgia, Drama Club, and his own real life Drama.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. My only caveat is that this is not a fantasy story. While this book takes place in a wizarding world, it primarily focuses on young love and relationships. So go into it knowing that you’re getting into a romance book, and you’ll love it.

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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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: The Witch Hunter

 

 

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Summary

Elizabeth and best friend (and secret crush) Caleb are the best witch hunters in the kingdom. They regularly capture witches and wizards for Lord Blackwell, the king’s uncle and head of the witch-hunter guards. With the rise of magic (and witch-burnings) in the kingdom, their services are highly valued.

But when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft, she has a new challenge: How can she stay alive in a world where an accusation of witchcraft leads to almost immediate death? She has to rely on the very people she tried to capture to keep her alive.

Witch Hunter

 

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

The romance between Elizabeth and a certain young wizard is (naturally) complicated. They each bring their own baggage and prejudice, and are forced to live life-and-death situations every day. I thought the romance was nicely developing, but not particularly swoon-worthy. I’m excited to see where the next book in the sequel takes us.

Feminist Score: A+ SuccessRosie

Elizabeth kicks ass. She saves herself over and over again, puts her friends first, and doesn’t allow crushes to get in the way of what’s really important. She’s the kind of friend and protector you want on your side. Her personality reminded me of Kel from The Protector of the Small series, though of course in a different context.
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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This was my one big gripe with this book. I didn’t think it was particularly diverse. The characters were, to my knowledge, white and straight. The author created her own world (based loosely on Tudor England), so she had a lot of flexibility with creating more diverse characters.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The Witch Hunter was an interesting take on medieval times with (real) witchcraft. I enjoyed Elizabeth, her friendships, and the plot development throughout the book. I do wish there had been some more diversity, but overall, I liked the story.

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Favorite Character

Elizabeth – She is fierce, brave, and smart.  She’s a witch hunter. What a bad-ass.

Favorite Line

I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone. I’m going into that tomb alone; I’m going to die alone. This is what Nicholas knew, what he didn’t want to tell me. He didn’t have to. Because deep down I knew it, too.

In this line, Elizabeth learns that she has to (once again) face her biggest fear to save her friends. And in this moment, she has to decide what kind of person she wants to be – the witch hunter she always was, or the friend of the witches she’s starting to become.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I enjoyed the book, especially the plot an d the development of the main character, Elizabeth. It’s not quite on my “hangover” list, but it’s a good read.

Fun Author Fact

Virginia is a huge English history buff. Many of the settings for The Witch Hunter are based on real places in castles and  manors in England.

Read This Next

Try The Selection series by Kiera Cass. While the plot seems a little silly (think The Bachelorette for the next princess), the series is set in a dystopian kingdom with lots of political changes. Check it out!

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.

Leave a comment

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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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Book Discussion: A Harvest of Ripe Figs

A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman

Summary

Shulamit is queen and trying to balance her kingdom’s expectations and new motherhood. What starts as a small disagreement between merchants slowly grows into a deeper mystery involving theft, assumed diva-fights, and misused magic. As the Queen tries to solve the crime, we learn more about her partner, Aviva, her bodyguard duo, and a dragon.


heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This is definitely more New than Young Adult – there’s sexy times that don’t fade to black and the relationships are established; there are definitely stomach flutters from the couples, but it’s more the “I’m super into you and know everything about” kind of flutter rather than the “young love super exciting new relationship” flutter.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There’s a queen without a king and she’s open about her motherhood – that’s pretty awesome to begin with. There’s also women merchants, two talented lady musicians, and strong women advising the queen. The one man that tries to diminish women in the story is caught and punished and the women band together to support one another. The wider population wants to believe that the two musicians are divas fighting against each other, but we see them come together to strengthen each other instead.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There’s a lot of diverse stuff going on here: a Jewish culture, a lesbian queen with an active relationship, a disabled bodyguard, diversity in skin tone/race, and a  lady-warrior as well (although the wider population reads her as a gay man and is totally ok with that, too). Additionally, there’s all kinds of body shapes, a magical gender transition, and a chronic illness. There’s a lot going on here, but it feels organic and the people and relationships are just as sweet, kind, and supportive as the ones we get in more main-stream books. Extra nice to see a healthy, happy queer relationship without tragedy involved.

wow iconAwesome Score: Good Effort

This book has a great premise and the characters are interesting. I want to know more about Shulamit’s kingdom and her people, but I felt like some pieces were underdeveloped and a bit shallow in places. Even so, there were a lot of really important things going on in this book: a healthy, lesbian relationship portrayed through the day to day, healthy portrayals of sex from different viewpoints, and support to a child that didn’t receive it from his family. In addition to the “important” things, this is also just a great story with characters you can feel invested in. Overall, I really enjoyed getting into this world and want to know more about the dragon-allied Queen and her next hurdle as a ruler.


Favorite Character

Riv – she’s smart talking, strong, and dedicated to her queen. She’s also pretty bad-ass and her relationship with Isaac is sweet and equality-based.

Favorite Line

Sorry again guys – I was doing so well! 😦

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really want to recommend this because it has so many great themes and characters and is a fun, light read – perfect for when you need a distraction from life. It didn’t catch my attention fully, but I know it will hit the spot for some readers – especially those that don’t often see themselves in books. The world and characters are really interesting – it’s just slightly less developed than the fantasy I’m used to. Even so, I will definitely keep this and Shira Glassman in mind for future recommendations!

Fun Author Fact

Shira Glassman is one of the part-time moderators of Writing With Color, an incredible resource for writers trying to make their worlds more realistic (by incorporating diverse cultures, races, and religions). It’s also a great tool for readers, as it helps you understand what tropes and stereotypes are harmful – especially ones you aren’t aware of.

Read These Next

Goodreads recs The Errant Prince by Sasha L Miller for similar themes in fantasy and I’ve heard lots and lots of good things about Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo.

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 Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy