Mini Reviews: The City of Brass + Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

MiniI have a set of very different books for you for this round of mini-reviews. These are both titles that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’m glad I finally found the time to pick them up. Everyone has been raving about S.A Chakraborty’s The City of Brass and I’m so happy to have finally met these characters. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero has been on my TBR for years. With the start of Latinx Heritage Month coming, I wanted to finally get to this one in early September. I am very disappointed in myself for not picking it up sooner. You can read my thoughts on these two titles a little more in depth below. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #1
Pages: 533
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 14th 2017 

      “Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
      But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
      In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…”

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“A hot breeze swept past her cheeks, and Nahri lifted her eyes. The cliffs were on fire; the wet trees snapped and cracked as they burned. The air smelled poisonous, hot and seeded with tiny burning embers that swept across the dead landscape and twinkled above the dark river.”

S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is an all-encompassing fantasy with great characters and a world that’s spellbindingly brilliant. Orphaned and penniless, Nahri has managed to survive on the streets of Cairo, stealing and swindling her marks out of money. When she inadvertently summons a dangerous djinn, Nahri discovers the fantastical stories she grew up hearing are rooted in truth. Chakraborty’s world is deliciously multilayered and I loved that with every page, we discovered something new. Nahri was an easy character to like. She’s cunning and resourceful; she wants more than what life has dealt her and is willing to do what is needed to get it. I really enjoyed Dara, not just because he’s the kind of brooding character I’m immediately drawn to, but because like Nahri, he is also thrown into a world he doesn’t quite understand. The world as Dara left it has shifted. His people are no longer in control of the city of Daevabad; instead, the Qahtani, a djinn family, have taken over. The royal family have tried to find a balance in their city between djinn, daeva, and the shafit (offspring of djinn and humans). Their methods are not always humane. Ali is King Ghassan’s second son, both a scholar and a warrior; his own convictions often pit him against his own father. Ali was often times a frustrating character. I liked that he wanted to be better than the example his father and often his brother gave him, but his self-righteousness and naivete made me want to shake him by the shoulders. Chakraborty does a fantastic job giving voice to every side in this story. The internal conflict in Daevabad is not new and the characters’ decisions have far reaching consequences. The City of Brass is a perfect read for those looking for a dynamic fantasy and complex characters.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Gabi,a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Series: N/A
Pages: 284
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14th 2014

      “Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
      July 24
      My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

I am mentally kicking myself for not picking up Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces sooner. This contemporary features one of the most genuine voices I’ve come across, handling difficult issues with honesty and care, with representation that spoke directly to this Latina reader. Gabi Hernandez is many things. Best friend. Daughter. Sister. Fat girl. Mexican-American. In her senior year of high school, Gabi is trying to juggle all her different identities while simultaneously not disappointing her mother and not letting her father’s meth addiction take her whole family down with him. Told in diary entries, Quintero’s novel feels intimate and personal. Gabi feels fully-fleshed out; she’s candid, self-depreciating, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. So many of these characters felt familiar from the eccentric tía to the judgmental mother. The novel addresses teen pregnancy, homophobia, being the child of an addict, and gender roles in the Latinx community. I loved that Gabi found a creative outlet in her poetry and found it really rewarding to see how her poetry matures over the course of the novel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the kind of novel I wish I had as a teen as several of Gabi’s hopes and fears felt like my own. TW: homophobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, rape, and drug use.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

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Mini Reviews: Daughter of the Siren Queen + Every Heart a Doorway

MiniI’ve had this set of mini-reviews in my drafts for over a month and couldn’t quite find the time to fit it in. I finally have a chance to share a few thoughts on Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, the latter of which I’m so glad I finally got to. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Daughter of the Siren Queen
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #2
Pages: 341
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 27th 2018 

      “Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.
      When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.”

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“Warmth envelopes me. The sea enfolds me into the world’s most gentle caress. I am one of her own, and she missed me during my long absence.”

Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen, conclusion to her swashbuckling duology, excels in its entertainment value much like its predecessor Daughter of the Pirate King, but still falls short when it comes to world-building and sometimes characterization. I loved seeing Alosa with her own crew in this sequel. Her father Kalligan has yielded a tremendous amount of power over Alosa, having shaped her into a ruthless and loyal pirate. Captaining the Ava-lee has been the one place where Alosa has had control over her own life. She’s put together a crew made almost entirely of women and one of my favorite parts about this book is when we get to see them working together. Still, I wanted more, especially from the vast array of minor characters. It also would have been nice if most of the conversations Alosa had with her close female crew members didn’t always revolve around men. I’m glad we got to learn more about Alosa and her siren side, but do feel like there was a missed opportunity when it came to her mother. I wanted more interaction between these two, but every meeting was so truncated. Part of the fun of the first book was the banter and growing tension between Alosa and Riden. Levenseller is able to maintain this often entertaining rapport while also pushing her characters outside of their comfort zones. The most rewarding part of their relationship is watching them learn to open up to one another. Daughter of the Siren Queen could still do a little more flushing out with its world-building. I enjoyed finally becoming acquainted with sirens, but I still wanted to know more about this world that Alosa and company occupy. If the first novel didn’t blow you away, you probably won’t be taken by surprise by the second; but if you found the first to be a really enjoyable read, there’s plenty to look forward to in this sequel.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1
Pages: 357
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: April 5th 2016

      “Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
      No Solicitations
      No Visitors
      No Quests
      Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
      But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
      Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
       But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
      No matter the cost.”

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“Hope hurts. That’s what you need to learn, and fast, if you don’t want it to cut you open from the inside out. Hope is bad. Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

Seanan McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway poses an interesting question: what happens to the children who return from their adventures from places like Wonderland? At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, students are learning to cope with returning to the “real” world. For some, the transition is difficult. How can you accept your place in the world when you always want to return to another? For others, the transition feels impossible. Why stay in a world that does not see you for who you are when you can go home to the place that let you be yourself instead of a version forced upon you by others? McGuire’s novella is enchanting and haunting. I loved that each child had their own world that they escaped to, that made sense to them even when it didn’t to those with similar experiences. There are dark Underworlds and bright ones, some with logical foundations and others that thrive on nonsense. While Nancy is the protagonist of this short story, I was really drawn to Jack. She’s such an animated character. The fact that she apprenticed for a mad scientist and carried all these eccentricities back into this world made her such an interesting character. The mystery in this one felt short-lived, but that’s understandable for a novella. The ending was not what I expected. I thought Nancy had gotten to a place of acceptance and so I was surprised by the conclusion. All the children’s stories were so intriguing, I wouldn’t have minded a full-length novel and am happy to discover the next novella in this series covers Jack and her sister Jill’s story. I’d recommend Every Heart a Doorway to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories that involve hidden doors and portals to unseen worlds, and who ever wondered what happens to those who come back.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: These Ruthless Deeds + These Vengeful Souls

MiniIt doesn’t happen often, but I love when you revisit a book that you didn’t love the first time around, only to discover how enjoyable it is upon a second reading. I reread Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks a couple of months ago because I had bought the second from Book Outlet and didn’t want to give up on the series even though the first didn’t blow me away. But with a reread, I ended up falling in love with the story and characters. And after finishing the second, I felt the pressing need to buy the third. It only seems appropriate to pair the final two books together in this edition of mini-reviews. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: These Ruthless Deeds
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: The Vicious Masks, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: March 14th 2017 

      “England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.
      As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…”

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“Perhaps grief was my companion now, to be dragged behind me as intrusive and burdensome as a heavy trunk.”

I recently revisited Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks and ended up enjoying their historical fantasy debut so much more the second time around, so much so that I immediately dove into the second installment, These Ruthless Deeds. Upon discovering that she, along with others, are gifted with special abilities, Evelyn Wyndham soon discovered the lengths people will go to to control those with unusual powers. Still reeling from the loss her sister Rose and the disappearance of the enigmatic and alluring Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn throws herself into doing the only thing she is sure of: rescuing others like herself. Her mission leads her to the mysterious Society of Aberrations, a team of gifted individuals who recruit those like Evelyn and help them develop and control their abilities. With new and old friends at her side, Evelyn soon discovers that nobody, including this Society, is what it seems. I love how willful and stubborn Evelyn is. She can’t afford to be easily taken in because of what happened to her sister, but still holds out hope that those like herself can find a place in this world. Sebastian remains one of my favorites in the series. Tormented by his ability to absorb energy from others, causing illness and even death, Sebastian is always trying to outrun himself. The prospect of learning to control his abilities is almost too good to be true, but Sebastian is desperate. I loved every scene with Evelyn and Sebastian. Not only do their powers cancel the other’s out (Evelyn having the ability to heal), but their personalities compliment one another. Evelyn and Sebastian have an undeniable chemistry that had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for them to finally figure things out between the two of them. Another standout character for me is the charming Mr. Kent. I loved all the humor he brought to the story and though I do wish he would have realized sooner that Evelyn only wanted friendship from him, his presence brought much-needed lightheartedness to the novel. These Ruthless Deeds ends with quite a bang which had me scrambling to buy the third. Please note that a character does contemplate suicide in this installment.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: These Vengeful Souls
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: These Vicious Masks, #3
Pages: 304
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “England, 1883. On the run with the grieving Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn wants two things: to be reunited with her friends, and to get revenge on the evil Captain Goode. Not only has he misused his and Sebastian’s powers to rack up a terrible death toll, but he’s also completely destroyed any hope of Evelyn or her friends regaining the life they once knew.
      Evelyn is determined to make Captain Goode pay for what he’s done, but is her revenge worth risking the lives of Sebastian and her friends? Or is it better to flee the city and focus on staying alive? And with the Captain spreading lies about Sebastian in an attempt to flush them out of hiding and turn the populace against them, does she even have a choice at all?”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

These Vengeful Souls, the final book in Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s historical fantasy series, These Vicious Masks, is packed with action as Evelyn and company make one last stand against the nefarious Captain Goode. There’s an added wrinkle in this final book where the public has become aware of individuals with these amazing and dangerous abilities. Goode uses people’s fears to turn them against Sebastian in particular and the handful of allies he has left. Both Evelyn and Sebastian carry loads of guilt; Sebastian because his power was manipulated, resulting in ballroom full of dead people and Evelyn because she had a chance to stop it, but chose to save her sister. Evelyn wants to put an end to the war between Goode and those who no longer wish to be his pawns. Unfortunately, Evelyn is prone to rash decisions, driven by love and a need to protect those around. She often chooses to go in alone rather than put her friends in danger. Despite mistakes Evelyn makes in this one, I loved that she eventually got to a place where she learned to trust those around her to help her in taking down Goode. Seeing Evelyn and minor characters like Rose, Mr. Kent, Miss Chen, etc, come together and work as a team was really rewarding. It’s a testament to their development as characters. I feel like Sebastian never really got a moment to breath throughout this series and I really wanted this for him. It’s hard to blame him for brooding all the time when he never really had much to celebrate. I really wanted to see him get a handle of his powers and in general, I wanted to see more happy moments for all the characters, but that probably says more about my attachment to them than anything else. Overall, this has been a really enjoyable historical fantasy series that I’d recommend to fans of the genre.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: The Fifth Season + The Poet X

MiniThis week’s set of mini-reviews are two of the most impressive reads I’ve picked up this year. N.K. Jemisin astounds me with her world-building and Elizabeth Acevedo punched me in the gut with her poetry. If you have not picked up either of these authors, you must do so immediately. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth, #1
Pages: 468
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 4th 2015 

      “THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.
      Three terrible things happen in a single day.
      Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
      But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.
      She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.”

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“You aren’t just inflicting death on your fellow villagers, of course. A bird perched on a nearby fence falls over frozen, too. The grass crisps, the ground grows hard, and the air hisses and howls as moisture and density is snatched from its substance…but no one has ever mourned earthworms.”

N.K. Jemisin’s first novel, The Fifth Season, in The Broken Earth series is an example of masterful and innovative storytelling that spellbinds readers from start to finish. This is the first time that I’ve read a book where a substantial portion of the novel is written in second person. While I wasn’t sure this would work, especially considering the other two perspectives included in the novel are told in third person, I quickly fell in step with this point of view. Jemisin has a way of weaving all three perspectives into one cohestive story that had me wanting to turn back to the beginning and experience the whole thing over again. Jemisin’s world is complex and I’m in awe of how much information she is able to provide the reader in this first book without it feeling overwhelming. Essun is the first character we are introduced to and we’re immediately put in her shoes as a mother who has just discovered her child has been killed. The young Damaya offers a more naive perspective and through her chapters, her and readers’ disillusionment about the world is shattered. Syenite puts readers right in the middle of a powerful, but troubling institution and it is here where readers learn the full scope of terror for people living in this world. I loved how there are different types of people and beings (for lack of a better term) in this world that all have distinct functions and whose relationships with one another help shape this world. The Fifth Season launches readers into a world that is both fascinating and frightening with characters that are impossible to forget. Special shout out to Annemieke @ A Dance With Books for the great buddy read.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
      Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
      But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
      So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
       Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

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“Late into the night I write and
the pages of my notebook swell
from all the words I’ve pressed onto them.
It almost feels like
the more I bruise the page
the quicker something inside me heals.”

Elizabeth Acevedo stuns with her debut novel The Poet X. Xiomara is easily one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. For fifteen-year old Xiomara, having strangers and most especially men, draw conclusions about her based on her body is nothing new. She’s developed a thick skin because she knows the only one who will fight for her is herself. Hardly one to express herself openly, Xiomara is just beginning to find her voice in the poetry she writes. Her relationship with her parents is complicated. There is unspoken resentment and anger. Xiomara is trying to discover who she is and what she believes while also trying to please her devout mother. Her father is physically present, but emotionally distant. Her twin, Xavier, whom she’s always been closed to, is slowly pulling away, dealing with his own battles. Acedvedo’s writing is honest and poignant. With each page turned, I grew more and more invested in Xiomara’s story. Her journey to find her voice in a world that wishes to suppress it is both beautiful and devastating. Acevedo’s novel in verse put me through a range of emotions from happiness to heartbreak and in the end left me feeling deeply moved.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Mini Reviews: A Dash of Trouble + Pitch Dark

MiniToday I have two immensely different mini-reviews for you, but both are by Latina authors, so it kind of makes sense that I’ve paired them together? Yeah, let’s go with that. Anna Meriano’s A Dash of Trouble was so charming that I already have plans to purchase it for my niece come Christmas and I enjoyed Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark so much, I might have to buy for myself soon. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: A Dash of Trouble
Author: Anna Meriano
Series: Love Sugar Magic, #1
Pages: 320
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: January 2nd 2018 

      “Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.
      Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

      Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.
      And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?”

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“They all had sticky smiles on their faces. Leo licked cinnamon sugar off her fingers and smiled too, but her thoughts kept wandering to the recipe book under her bed. She didn’t know what was worse, the guilty feeling of a secret or the impatience of wanting to try her next spell.”

Anna Meriano’s debut middle grade novel A Dash of Trouble is sweet, magical, and an utter delight. Eleven-year-old Leonora “Leo” Lograño just wants to be treated like her older sisters. But as the youngest of five daughters, Leo is often kept out of the loop. She also struggles to feel included when she grew up without speaking Spanish and everyone else in her family is either fluent or learning. As this year’s Día de Muertos celebration is approaching, Leo is determined more than ever to not be left out, but her curiosity leads her to a family secret that changes everything. The women on her mother’s side of the family are all brujas, witches with individual gifts from conjuring objects out of thin air to communicating with the dead. Leo is ecstatic, but she must keep her new knowledge a secret because like everything else, her family thinks she’s too young to learn about magic. In secret, Leo begins working spells to help her best friend Caroline, but it all starts to fall apart when her spells don’t go quite as planned. Now Leo must figure out how to fix her out of control magic without anyone in her family finding out. Leo is such an earnest character who I could not help but love. She wants more than anything to not be treated as a child and while her decisions aren’t always wise, her motivation comes from a good place. I loved all the different dynamics between Leo and her sisters and could picture each so clearly. Meriano includes real recipes in her novel (minus the magic) that are perfect for young readers to follow (with adult supervision) and hopefully helps bring this heartfelt and funny novel to life.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Pitch Dark
Author: Courtney Alameda
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.
      Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.
      Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.
      In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.”

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“He groans, and the weight of his voice hits my temple, physical as a fist. Pain explodes from the crown of my head to my cheekbone. My nose cracks. Blood faucets from my left nostril, splattering over my mouth and chin.”

Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark takes the intricacies of science-fiction and combines it with all the thrills of a horror story in a novel that grabs readers from page one and doesn’t let go. Alameda’s two leads, Laura Cruz and Tuck Morgan, are both capable characters on their own, but they also make an excellent team and I loved the fact that they both had room to shine despite this fact. I was really impressed by the amount of detail that went into this novel from the descriptions of spaceships like the John Muir to the world-building. One of the novel’s drawbacks, however, is the time-frame. The events of the novel occur very quickly making the development of a connection between characters feel a little hasty. Still, it was hard not to fall in love with Pitch Dark‘s characters and feel the excitement of the story. I also loved the fact that Pitch Dark is a multi-layered novel that also addresses humane nature, racism, and the politics of written history. I also want to say that if you get a chance, read Alameda’s Author’s Note at the end as it really resonated with me.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: First & Then + An Enchantment of Ravens

MiniI meant to post these mini-reviews before the end of the year, but with all the posts I was hurriedly putting together, I didn’t get a chance to post this one. In a rare case, I actually regret not writing a full review for An Enchantment of Ravens as I enjoyed it more than my mini review implies, so if my brief thoughts don’t convince you to pick it up, I’m hoping this little note will. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: First & Then
Author: Emma Mills
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: October 13th 2015 

      “Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them: first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
      Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

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“It was endearing, in that way that almost ached sometimes, how much my folks wanted Foster to be okay. And I think even more than I did, they wanted Foster to be normal. For me, being normal meant fitting in. For them, I think it just meant being happy.”

Emma Mill’s First & Then is a Pride & Prejudice inspired contemporary that failed to grip me emotionally, making it difficult to enjoy. I had a hard time getting immersed in this book and a lot of this had to do with the protagonist. Though I understood that Devon’s judgmental thoughts were meant to create that needed tension with her love interest Ezra and draw parallels to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, it was still difficult to get behind a protagonist who referred to the freshman gym girls as “prostitots.” Her long-standing crush on her best friend Cas never radiated with me, but this was mostly the fault of the author never showing her readers why someone like Cas was worthy of such a crush. I wanted to swoon along with Dev over Ezra and knowing their relationship was gradual should have made my slow-burn loving heart skip a beat, but I mostly found the star athlete to be too wooden and meaningful interactions between the two to be lacking. The standout character and who really held the whole story together was Devon’s younger cousin Foster. He gave Devon and Ezra a common purpose and added heart to a story that would have completely fallen apart otherwise. There isn’t anything extraordinary about First & Then, but if you’re looking for a simple Jane Austen retelling, you might enjoy this one more than I.

Rating: 2/5

★★


Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 26th 2017

      “Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
      Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
      Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

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“Just like that the wrongness spread. The breeze dropped away, and the air grew still and oppressively hot. The birds stopped singing, the grasshoppers stopped buzzing, and even the wheat dropped in the stagnant air. The stench of decay grew overwhelming.”

Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens is a enjoyable fantasy with intriguing world-building and multilayered characters. Isobel lives her life dealing with the fair folk on a daily basis. As a talented portrait artist, many fair folk have commission her to paint their portraits in exchange for an enchantment. Isobel has learned that though the fair folk are beautiful, they are incredibly deceptive. She has relied on this knowledge and her own shrewdness when dealing with them. Her connection with the autumn prince Rook is more of an unspoken connection at first and it is for this reason that I hesitated to get behind their relationship. I’m not a fan of the insta-love trope, but as the story progressed, the author ended up selling their relationship better over time. I probably would have taken to the idea of Rook and Isobel sooner if the story had shown them interacting more during his portrait painting. The fair folk were fantastic antagonists in this book. I loved how dark and twisted Rogerson’s wrote them. Their fascination with humanity helped, but also hindered Isobel as she tried to escape their realm. I loved the imagery of the different fairy courts and like Isobel, readers quickly learn that just because something is enchanting, doesn’t make it innocuous. An Enchantment of Ravens does a wonderful job of showing two contrasting beings trying to navigate the other’s world and after finishing, I’m really surprised that this won’t end up being the start of a series rather than a standalone.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★