Snapshot Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Title: With the Fire High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Series: N/A
Pages: 392
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: May 7th 2019

      “From the New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award longlist title The Poet X comes a dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.
      Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
      Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.”

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“And something special does happen when I’m cooking. It’s like I can imagine a dish in my head and I just know that if I tweak this or mess with that, if I give it my own special brand of sazón, I’ll have made a dish that never existed before.”

  • The writing – It’s no secret that I loved The Poet X. It reintroduced me to poetry and created a thirst for more. Acevedo’s sophomore novel is told in prose and it’s no surprise that her writing is just as poetic. There were times while reading where I had to pause just to appreciate her imagery.
  • Emoni – I really enjoyed Emoni as a character. She has so much love for her daughter and her grandmother. All throughout the story, you can feel her hesitation when it comes to pursuing her dreams. She has responsibilities that have kept her from doing so, but learns that it is herself that has been holding her back for so long. I loved reading about her passion for cooking. It’s an outlet for her emotions and her creativity. Something she is a natural at, but a skill where she still has a lot to learn.
  • Afro-Latinidad – The exploration of what it means to be Afro-Latinx is at the center of who Emoni is. I loved that the MC was so adamant about her identity. Being black and Latinx aren’t mutually exclusive; being black does not subtract from her Latinidad and being Latinx does not subtract from her being black.
  • Teen parenthood – Most books I see about teens with children have to do with teen pregnancy, so it was refreshing to read a book about a teen mother with a toddler.
  • Emphasis on family and friends – Emoni might not have much, but she has an incredible support system, from her best friend Angelica to her abuela. As strong as these relationships are, Emoni doesn’t have the best relationship with her father and feels distant from her mother’s side of the family, but I loved that these relationships end of shifting for the better.
  • Magical realism – Although this one might strictly be called contemporary, Acevedo weaves in elements of magical realism. Emoni’s cooking is said to elicit emotional responses from those who taste it. It’s presented very subtly, but I think that’s one of the reasons I loved it so much.

  • Nothing comes to mind!

  • Elizabeth Acevedo creates another wonderful and very relatable MC in With the Fire on High. Emoni is a character who is both vulnerable and strong and whose successes at the end of the novel feel like your own.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Hunt the Flame
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Series: Sands of Arawiya, #1
Pages: 472
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: May 14th 2019

      “People lived because she killed.
      People died because he lived.
      Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
      Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.
      War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.
      Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.”

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“There was a pulse deep inside her that relished those visits into the depths of darkness. She hated the Arz. She hated it so much, she craved it.”

Hafsah Faizal’s debut We Hunt the Flame is a sweeping Arab-inspired fantasy that gets better with each page turned. In order to keep her people from starving Zafira bint Iskandar has disguised herself as the Hunter, the only person able to enter the evil forest known as the Arz without being driven to madness. In Arawiya, all caliphates have been touched by the Arz, one of the many aftereffects of the land being robbed of magic years ago. When Zafira is approached by the enigmatic Silver Witch, she is offered the opportunity to rid the world of the Arz for good and restore magic. But in order to do so, she must journey to the island of Sharr, one masked in mystery. Unbeknownst to her, she isn’t the only one being sent to Sharr. The sultan has sent his own son, known as the Prince of Death, tasked with retrieving the book that promises to undo the curse laid upon the land and kill the famed Hunter. In order to survive the island, strangers must form unlikely alliances, but their distrust of one another may be their undoing.

Faizal’s writing is nothing short of brilliant. Her descriptions are lush and often lyrical. She has a knack for capturing every dark and eerie backdrop. The Arz slowly creeps upon the land and any who dares enter unwillingly surrenders their sanity. Beyond the Arz is the Barensea, which is home to ferocious creatures waiting to devour wayward travelers. But it is the Sharr that completely captivated me as a reader. The island was once a prison, but has been cut off from the land of the living since the disappearance of magic. Monsters await in the shadows and the very island itself craves bloodshed.

We Hunt the Flame‘s characters are just as captivating as its setting. Zafira has made herself into a hunter, the very thing her people rely on in order to survive. She’s been plagued by her father’s death, one she feels responsible for. Being the Hunter has become her only purpose and she isn’t sure who she would be without it. Nasir is known throughout Arawiya as the Prince of Death, a lethal weapon Sultan Ghameq wields across the lands. But in truth Nasir has been molded by the cruelty of his father, forced to become a monster in order to survive. But still, there is a flicker of humanity in Nasir that refuses to snuffed out, not matter how much he wants it to. Altair is a renown general, but it is his humor that really leaps off the page. His contentious relationship with Nasir is equal parts enjoyable and insightful when it comes to both characters.

Kifah and Benyamin are the final characters introduced in the novel. The former a female warrior, independent and deadly, and I can’t wait to learn more about her in the next novel. Benyamin is very much a mystery, his knowledge far exceeds any of the others and there are times when you’re not quite sure what his true motivates are. I do wish we had gotten a chance to spend more time with these two characters and felt that certain dynamics would have felt more rewarding if we had been introduced to them earlier. There were also times where it felt like certain relationships went from contentious to something else a little too rapidly. It almost felt like the novel left out key interactions which would have made the evolution of these relationships feel more consistent.

Hafsah Faizal’s debut is a little slow getting started, but once it sank its claws into me, I could not stop reading. If you like fantasy books full of dark foes and equally dark characters, We Hunt the Flame needs to be on your TBR.

★ ★ ★ ★


Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Signal to Noise
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Solaris
Release Date: February 10th 2015

      “A literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City.
    Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends — Sebastian and Daniela — and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…
    Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise combines music, nostalgia, and magic in a novel that takes readers on a decades long journey of heartbreak and healing. Signal to Noise alternates between the late 1980s and 2009 Mexico City. In 1988 Meche and her friends Sebastian and Daniela are outcasts. Too weird to be accepted into the popular crowd, the three friends find solace in one another. When Meche discovers her records are able to weave magic, she enlists the help of her friends to change their luck. Fast forward to 2009 and Meche is returning home for her father’s funeral. She hasn’t seen Sebastian and Daniela for decades, but the sting of their betrayal still bites. As Meche deals with her father’s passing and the resentment she still carries, she unexpectedly runs into Sebastian. Meche has spent the last two decades trying to forget what happened the year she and her friends discovered magic, but realizes no matter how far you run from home or for how long, your personal ghosts will always find you.

Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel is at its core an ode to music. If you are any kind of music lover, there is plenty to enjoy in this one. Meche is a bit of a music snob, but her love for music is contagious. Music brought her closer to her father and is what led her to Sebastian. Even when these relationships imploded, music was always there to soothe her. I love that Moreno-Garcia chooses music as the mode for magic. Music can instantly transport you to another time and Moreno-Garcia shifts between two different timelines with such ease using music as a constant in both timelines.

This isn’t a novel where characters make the best decisions, but their choices feel human. As teens, Meche and her friends are bewitched by the idea of magic. Not-so-secret crushes and far-off dreams no longer seem impossible. But as Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela begin to discover just how much power they have, it becomes difficult to draw a line between righting wrongs and exacting revenge because you like the power. Their friendship, once the strongest relationship in each of their lives, begins to crack. As readers slowly learn what caused Meche to leave Mexico City and what ultimately broke apart this friend group, she returns as an adult who hasn’t much changed. She’s still moody and abrasive, unable to let go of all the hurt in her past. As she sorts through her father’s belongings, she is forced to confront her feelings about him, the kind of father he was versus the kind of father she needed him to be.

I really enjoyed Meche and Sebastian’s scenes together, as kids and adults. They never quite understood their feelings for one another, but the tension Moreno-Garcia incorporates in their interactions as adults makes for some compelling interactions. As a reader you could feel the weight of the past pushing down on both of them. Sebastian is waiting for Meche to remember what they used to have while Meche is fighting to regain her equilibrium. She’s survived all these years without him by forgetting. There’s something to be said about how Meche views the past as it feels very much like she’s seeing things from a convoluted viewpoint. She doesn’t want to remember, but still hangs on, tooth and nail, to all the resentment.

Signal to Noise‘s timelines build upon each other, creating a story of love and loss and second chances. With engaging characters and a moving storyline, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut is as enchanting as the magic found within its pages.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

Title: My So-Called Bollywood Life
Author: Nisha Sharma
Series: N/A
Pages: 296
Publisher: Crown BFYR
Release Date: May 15th 2018

      “Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.
      Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart, charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.”

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“As much as I love Bollywood damsels in distress, I don’t need saving. I’m my own hero.”

  • Winnie – It was hard not to admire Winnie’s passion for film and in particular her love for Bollywood films. She’s ambitious and driven. I love reading about characters who know who they are, even when their interests aren’t always mainstream.
  • Bollywood – I’m not all that familiar with Bollywood films, but this book has spark my curiosity. Sharma infuses just enough drama into this novel to make this one fun and I loved that she wasn’t afraid to make Winnie a bit of a drama queen. Also appreciated the pithy Bollywood reviews before each chapter from Winnie’s film blog.
  • Dev – Winnie’s love interest is passionate about film making. Though he isn’t into Bollywood films like Winnie, he sees the importance of them to her. He and Winnie have enough in common that their interactions feel so natural, but are different enough to make things interesting. I loved that Dev was willing to go outside his comfort zone in order to make Winnie smile.
  • Family – I always appreciate contemporaries that keep family involved in the protagonist’s life. Winnie’s family was always there for her and although she often wished they didn’t take such a keen interest in her love life, I found it incredibly sweet and moving.

  • No big complaints for me.

  • If you’re looking for a fun and diverse contemporary, look no further than Nisha Sharma’s My So-Called Bollywood Life which charms with just the right degree of teenage drama.

★ ★ ★ ★