Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Blue Sword was recommended to me by my friend Jennifer, who seemed shocked that I hadn't yet read it. She said firmly that I must read it. Jennifer is such a good influence. I should listen to her more, you know? Because The Blue Sword is a fabulous classic read.

Written in 1982, McKinley achieved Newbery Honors for this fantasy book (in theory, a children's book? Really? Find me the adult who wouldn't enjoy it.), which is set in the colonial era of British-styled empire called Daria and regions to the north. The primary peoples of this world are embodied in the genial if sluggish Homelander outpost of Istan, the independent Hillfolk of Damar (an autonomous border region), and the demon folk of the North. The protagonist, Harry (Angharad) Crewe, later called Hari or Harimad, is an orphan who is taken into the Istan household of Sir Charles and Lady Amelia as a courtesy to her sole surviving relative, her brother Dickie, an officer stationed in Istan. She adjusts to her new environment, a desert region, with equanimity. But she is not long for this new home. Kidnapped by a visiting Hillsman, Corlath, King of the Hillfolk, Harry begins a journey that reveals her magical heritage and her destiny to become a great warrior, wielding Gonturan, the titular Blue Sword of the legendary female warrior Aerin. Harry becomes vital to the defense of the Hillfolk and Homelanders when they are attacked by Thurra, the demon leader of the North.

While the story of a young woman coming into her power is the linchpin of many a Young Adult novel, what makes The Blue Sword stand out to me is the vivid and sophisticated backdrop, its political discussion, view of colonialism and an empire's lumbering bureaucracy, and views of autonomy and gender equality. So many wonderful themes in this book, along with its splendid character of Harry, the young woman between two worlds who finds a way to bridge them together. Given the original publication date, I wondered if this book and Harry were inspirational for Patty Briggs in her Sianim series. And in the demonic Northlanders, I can even see what might be a trace influence that yielded the white walkers in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The only possible criticism I can offer of this book is that the battle with Thurra was slightly anticlimactic to me since it was all over so quickly. I also wished that there had been more exposition about the Damarian people's magic, their kelar. (Perhaps there is in the subsequently published sequel The Hero and the Crown?) In spite of these issues, this is really a marvelous book that has held up well over time. Thirty-five years after it was published, this is still a very rewarding read.


The original Ace cover for The Blue Sword


My Classic Read for June will be The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. For July I will be reading Anna Kavan's Ice. As you can see, I'm alternating literary and sci-fi/fantasy classics. I had thought of a book for August and now I can't remember! Yikes. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: Whisper of the Tide

Whisper of the Tide Whisper of the Tide by Sarah Tolcser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about the Song of the Current series (thus far, because there will be more, right #Bloomsbury?) is that the route Caro Oresteia takes to find her destiny is not predictable and the series doesn't get mired in the usual YA tropes. Caro is a clever and spirited young woman, an adventurer striving to figure out what she wants to do with her life. When we pick up not long after where the first book in the series, Song of the Current ended, it is no surprise to find that Caro and Markus are each struggling to adjust to their new realities. Caro has been claimed by the Sea, not the River, like her wherryman Pa, and Markos, heir to the deposed Emparch, is now styled as "The Pretender" in the popular press (that would be the same press touting Caro as the "Rose of the Coast" and talking about their scandalous and declassé romance). As the wind fills the sails of the story it picks up speed- their relationship becomes a fractured muddle and Caro engages in a battle over free will with a capricious Sea. None of this goes predictably and occasionally there will be rocky shoals and the smashing of even the best-laid plans. Among the biggest surprises are enemies who become allies, and the actions of an inscrutable Goddess.

Whisper sees us back in Valonikos, with side trips to Iantiporos, Casteria, and a variety of other interesting and dangerous places. With beloved secondary characters Kenté (who deserves a book all her own!), Nereus, Tamaré along with complex villains like Diric and Araxis, Tolcser has succeeded in that rare balance of character development and fantasy worldbuilding.

This book was so enjoyable to read that I could hardly put it down. It is a breath of fresh sea air. In spite of its 400+ page length, I read it in less than a day. I'm looking forward to reading it again and would love to listen to an audiobook version like that of the first book, pleasantly narrated by Stephanie Willing. But #Bloomsbury I don't even see a pre-order for it and this book publishes in paper and eBook format next Tuesday, June 5! If you love a good adventure and love audiobooks, please join me in requesting this title in audiobook format: https://www.audible.com/mt/contactus?... or by emailing Audible at: content-requests@audible.com

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This new review is for a beautiful special edition of Sparrow Hill Road, a book that was first released in 2014, in advance of a forthcoming Ghost Roads sequel. There is new material in this edition, as mentioned below. This new edition releases on June 5, 2018.

Rose Marshall is the Girl in the Green Silk Gown, the Ghost of Sparrow Hill Road, the Girl at the Diner, and a hitchhiking ghost who, when she drives herself, does so in a deep sea green Ford Crestline Sunliner named Gary. She's a ghost, an urban legend, the girl who will get you home, and she's marvelous and kind. She's been dead much longer than she was alive (d. 1952) and has accrued quite a bit of wisdom in the time since she died.

This book originated as a serial for Jennifer Brozek's online magazine The Edge of Propinquity back in 2010, and was broadened into a book in 2014. Rose's story has slowly merged into McGuire's 2018 Hugo-nominated InCryptid series (particularly the Antimony Price books) but the novel also works as a standalone, without the Price Family component. (Full disclosure, there are no Aeslin mice here.) But if you are reading the InCryptid series you really ought to read Rose's story to fully appreciate the integration of ghosts like Rose Marshall and Mary Dunlavy into the InCryptid world. This book is especially relevant to understanding how Crossroads Ghosts operate and how they can sometimes make serious, Bobby Cross level mistakes out of sheer naiveté.

This was my third reading of the book (first in this new edition) and I continue to enjoy it, perhaps even more so over time, as I gain a further appreciation for McGuire's depth of worldbuilding in the InCryptid series. As mentioned above, Rose is getting a sequel in July 2018, titled The Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

New Material Summary: Along with a new cover that is in keeping with the forthcoming sequel's cover, we also get eleven pages of the lyrics of the McGuire's filk songs that seeded the beginning of Rose Marshall's story, including Pretty Little Dead Girl (as McGuire says, the filthy libel version of Rose's story, a song with which Rose is very dissatisfied), Graveyard Rose (the whitewashed version of Rose's story), Hanging Tree, Waxen Wings and Sparrow Hill Road. If you're a Seanan fan, who also loves her filk music and poetry, this book would be worth a rebuy just for these lyrics!

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from NetGalley and DAW in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Marzie's Reads GDPR Compliant Privacy Policy

can be read in all its glory HERE. It resides on a tab next to the Review Policy, just in case you lose track of the policy and want to read it again late some night when you've read all your books, newspapers, magazines, the phone book, and all your cereal boxes and are struggling for something else to read.

The upshot is that I could, if I wanted to go looking for it, see your personal email that you used to sign up for emails via Feedburner. Also, if you liked this blog on Facebook, I can see your public profile picture and whatever information is publicly available on your Facebook profile. I could also find your Twitter information, maybe, possibly, but maybe not since many people use nicknames and usernames and I have a hard enough time figuring out who is who just for Giveaways. Likewise on Instagram, if you followed Marzie's Reads, maybe I could find you, but possibly not, ditto on the usernames and my inability to psychically match Facebook names to Instagram names. We can extend this principle to Tumblr, Bloglovin', and Goodreads. But basically, the real upshot is:

I AM SO BUSY READING THAT INVADING YOUR PRIVACY IS SOMETHING I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR.

Best,

Marzie

Little girl lost in the world of Alice
Honor C. Appleton, 1919



Review: Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas Series)

Bruja Born Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5ish Stars

Now that Alex Mortiz is home from Los Lagos with her family mostly safe and sound, her father returned by the erstwhile adversary Nova, and Nova himself sort of quietly on the lam, the Mortiz family is trying to get its life back on track. Lula Mortiz has been struggling to get past the quite visible damage that being in Los Lagos has done to her, but also the emotional damage as well. As she struggles, her boyfriend Maksim struggles along with her and ultimately picks an unfortunate moment to bail on her. A team school bus crash and a teenage bruja-broken-heart indiscretion with a forbidden canto later and the Mortiz family is once again in the midst of a real mess. It is safe to say that the comunidad mágica (magical community) of Brooklyn already kind of had the Mortiz family and their messy magical life on their radar after Alex's Los Lagos incident, and this latest, um... faux pas, is a doozy. From just wanting to save your boyfriend's life to a mess of zombie-like creatures called casimuertes (the almost dead) wandering the streets of Brooklyn and looking at that big Bridge as a path to the infinite meal plan is all too short a hop and, to top it all off, Lula is in serious trouble with Lady de la Muerte, who came to claim a bunch of dead souls and instead finds a stubborn teenage bruja refusing to give one of them up (Maks, of course) and messing up all of her claims. That scuffle is notable not just because of what happens to the Lady de la Muerte but because no bruja has seen the Lady de la Muerte in generations. (All those iconic statues of her turn out to look wrong, by the way.) It's a complex, dark mess and we see the return of Nova, his grandma Angela's odd assistance and the High Circle's fractured aid as the sisters try to put things right.

Lula was my favorite sister even from the first book, so I was looking forward to this sequel. The worldbuilding in this series is fascinating, and while those with a Spanish or Latino cultural background might find aspects simple, I'm betting the wider fantasy-reading public will be intrigued by the bruja magical world that even briefly mentions vudú (voodoo). The uneven character development of secondary characters (even of Papá Mortiz) in this book was a bit disappointing, and the plot of the story sort of sags a bit in the middle. (Spoiler Warning:) Though the novel ends with a clear resolution including, happily, acceptance for Nova, the epilogue gives us a clear setup for the third novel and the fight for the life and memories of Mr. Mortiz, the girls' father. That epilogue caught me by surprise because I thought that there was a clear path setting up the third book as being about Rose Mortiz. Clearly, there are more than three books in this series because Rose deserves her own volume!

I'm enjoying the Brooklyn Brujas series and look forward to seeing where Zoraida Córdova goes from here. I'm hoping she continues to grow as a writer.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review: Failsafe: A Novel

Failsafe: A Novel Failsafe: A Novel by Anela Deen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.75ish

I am bumping this rating up to 3 because of the protagonist with a disability and the unusual relationship.

Failsafe is a book with an interesting premise. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which an artificial intelligence named the Interspace, along with her minion in terror, The Override, have become sentient and seized control by overthrowing the government. The resulting chaos has wiped out large segments of the world's population. Food shortages abound and in her small community, Soleil (Sol) has dreams in which she sees sector maps that allow her to gauge where she can find food and supplies for her community. It is on just such a run that she is saved, while being attacked by drones, by a mysterious man/augmented humanoid/android who calls himself Echo. The dynamic between Sol and Echo, who eventually depart her community together on a mission to shut down the Interspace server, is one of the best aspects of this book. Though portrayed as a dystopian sci-fi novel in its blurb, the thing that works best here is the quirky romantic angle between an unconventional pair.

One positive thing that I want to mention is that I loved the fact that Soleil is a character with a disability. She has epilepsy but is still portrayed as a character who is brave, has adventures and is successful in her goals. She's a positive example of a character with a disability and for that, Deen deserves praise.

Mildly spoilerish content below.

That said, the worldbuilding in this book is disappointing, and the writing lacks sophistication. Her descriptive/narrative writing flags significantly in comparison to her writing of dialogue and her dialogue is not always great. (Romantic resolution banter: "If you think I do not love you in return, then you're a dummy." Really?) As I worked my way through the early portions of this book, due to the lack of information, I imagined that these characters trapped in a game and that they were seeking to shut down the server and escape the boundaries. But that's my imagining. Where was Deen's? Some aspects roughly sketched out in the world Deen gives us are seriously creepy, like forced pairings (for lack of a better word) between genetically appropriate individuals in order to procreate. (How this genetic testing is accomplished in this crumbling world is undiscussed.) You can only have children with a pre-identified partner who is far enough removed from you genetically. It doesn't matter if that person is aggressive, violent or totally unsuitable. That's it. That's who you get. Sol's identified partner Mykel makes Echo look like Prince Charming. Her mother blithely informs her that after she kicks out a few offspring she can try to apply for separate housing from her prospective abuser. (Dys-Tō-Pia! Shout it with me!)

A further issue is the novel's plot, which is rather poorly defined. Sol and Echo have a goal. They go from point A to point B. There were few significant challenges and there is little character evolution other than the revelation/understanding of who Echo really is. At 200 dialogue-heavy pages, I think this novel would have been improved with better narrative writing and worldbuilding, broadening it out to a longer book. Deen has some interesting ideas for a story here but a better editor would have pushed her to develop this story more fully. Deen is not a novice author and anyone who has written more than one book obviously really wants to write. She has good ideas here that needed to be built with better craft.

I received an ARC edition of this book from a friend of the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Review: Anger Is a Gift

Anger Is a Gift Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I told someone earlier today, this book broke my heart into a thousand pieces. It reminded me of so many bad stories I have heard from my Guardian ad Litem youths about their lives and their schools. From the photocopied (yes, pirated) textbooks, to being roughed up by school security who had no right or clear reason to put a hand on them, to friends shot, killed, beaten on the streets of their neighborhood. This is a story that feels as if it could be ripped from headlines that fill an era with school shootings and walkouts and people talking about schools as if they are like high-security prisons where the wardens should be armed. While some of the latter portions of the book feel more like dystopian fiction, most of it feels too close to reality for comfort.

Moss Jeffries, the sweet, warm-hearted protagonist of Anger is a Gift has witnessed and experienced utterly awful things in his short life and he is only a high school student. His PTSD from the death of his father and his panic attacks are shown to us from the first moments of this book. The fact that he experiences a good fraction of the horror in his own school, West Oakland High, a place where children and young adults ought to feel safe, is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of all. Moss lost his father to a police shooting in which the police shot him as he was emerging from a neighborhood grocery store with ice cream, right in front of Moss. (Wrong place, wrong time, wrong guy but hey, he was black...) Over the course of this book, he sees friends and loved ones brutalized and even murdered at the hands of several hateful police officers, while good officers try, mostly without success, to prevent or mitigate the trainwreck that is his school's contracted security program with the Oakland Police Department.

Anger is a Gift sets you down in the life of a young man who has swallowed so much bitterness and anger, yet he remains caring and kind. Who has endured great personal loss again and sadly, again. At one point, two-thirds of the way through the book, I was reminded of that quote from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh:

“A blow... falling upon a bruise... a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne.”

At this point in the book, I literally had to set it aside for a few hours, and take a break. Thankfully, when I picked the book back up hours later, Moss finds a use for his anger and loss- as fuel for his quest for justice. (I have to say, having seen youths who have suffered this kind of trauma, Moss's turnaround time was rather swift.) When he's had enough, he's had enough.

I'm not sure that some of the more dystopian elements (for example military-grade equipment installed in schools) of this book are doing it any favors but, no matter what, this book, which ranks up there with Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give," is going to be controversial. Between its openly LGBTQ friendly characters, its portrayal of police violence on minors (and adults), its take on the growing prison-like feel in schools that have metal detectors, armed resource officers, and the frightening trend of viewing students engaging in civil protests like walkouts as rioters, this book is a compelling, visceral read that is going to provoke strong emotions in its readers. I hope it gives people some insight into what children and youth face in their schools and contemplate the challenge of learning in such an environment. And then there is the whole aspect of living your life in a community in which the color of your skin is likely to get you killed for no reason. To be young, male, and of color puts one at terrible risk simply walking or driving down the street in some communities. That's a fact. Pure and simple and inexcusable.

I hope this book is on everyone's summer reading list.

I received a paper review copy of this book from Tor Teen and Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Craft Sequence Buddy Read Book Five: Four Roads Cross, Review and Discussion

Tara Abernathy and Shale by Chris McGrath

Doing a Buddy Review while traveling and working on only 4 hours of sleep doesn't always go smoothly. You got my initial draft review (now in final form below) of the book itself yesterday if you're an email subscriber. Apologies! I reverted the post to draft form right around the time the emails go out, but evidently not quite fast enough. Snafu!

So here is the final actual review...

Four Roads CrossFour Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last year, when Max Gladstone's series was nominated for the new Best Series Award (not a Hugo in 2017, but now a Hugo for 2018 on), I raced through this book, so much so that I didn't remember much about it other than... friendship. The camaraderie in this book was simply off the charts. It makes Harry, Ron, and Hermione look wan. My reread built upon that impression.

This outing of the Craft Sequence finds us returning to Alt Coulomb and the characters of Tara, Abelard, Cat, Raz, Aev, and Shale, along with the gods of Alt Coulomb, Kos and Seril. About the latter two, we have an interesting paradigm about the limits of how much we support those we love, or can watch them suffer, without weakening ourselves. The world in this book is topsy-turvy. We have Craftswomen talking to goddesses and even partnering with them. The heart of this book lies in the bonds of real friendship and faith. There is the promise of romance with Cat and Raz, but Tara and Abelard, Tara and Shale, Cat and Tara, these people are truly friends and their faith is actually in each other. This book deepened my appreciation of how good-hearted Caleb is, how kind Abelard is, and how harsh the Craft is.

Four Roads Cross had an extremely complex narrative structure with many characters and multiple locations. It is a further and marvelous merging of the worlds that Gladstone has built in the prior four books. A tour de force effort and a thought-provoking entry on the boundaries of love and faith.

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Here is Part One of our discussion. Part Two, as usual, will be over on Alex's blog. Remember, spoilers abound!


Alex, Jenni and Marzie's Buddy Read Discussion of Four Roads Cross

Alex: Jenni, I am dying to hear your first impressions of Four Roads Cross.

Jenni: Well, I don’t have a take quite as hot and fresh as last month, when I finished reading the story literally minutes before. ;-) I actually finished this one about two weeks ago.

Alex: We’ll accept some slightly stale takes. ;)

Marzie: They have aged like fine wine, right? So what are your thoughts after mulling things over a bit? And, um, I'll stop the references to beverages now. But seriously, exactly how did you sit on this so long without ‘fessing up you'd finished? Hmm?

Jenni: :-D Well, first, unlike the last one, since I wasn’t steaming mad when I finished it, it was easier to be quiet.

 Marzie: So emotions were not running as high in this one for you?

Jenni: This book was such a pleasure to read! It was like coming back to visit an old friend after long and interesting travels!

Alex: I do love that the series kind of starts and ends with Tara as the MC. (If you read it in publication  order of course.)

Marzie: Well, there is Book 6 yet...

Jenni: I felt like books 2-4 were filling in the vital backstory, and they were great reads (great and/or infuriating?), but now I felt like we were settling down to business and we're going start delving into the future that all these characters are going to start building.

Alex: Book 6 is (not a spoiler) kind of a new act.

Marzie Since I haven’t read it yet (*shockwaves reverberate*) I guess I didn’t know it was part of a distinct Act 2.

Jenni: WHAAAAA? I’ve already started it…

Marzie:  I was saving it because I wanted to keep a few good books for after my kitty Pushkin passed. It released around the time he got sick. I wanted to have something to look forward to, to get me by.
  
Alex: Books 1-5 are a neat little unit and then Book 6, Ruin of Angels, picks up with other threads. I am hoping it will be another five book arc, but I haven’t heard news of additional books after Ruin of Angels.

Marzie:  Hmm. Yes, since Empress of Forever is not part of The Craft Sequence. This is a question for Max, though he may not be allowed to answer it yet.

Alex: We can ask, though.

Marzie:  So this book seemed to me to be the most complex yet since it was weaving together so many of the pieces from the other books. I missed Elayne, of course, but Tara holds down the fort so impressively.

Jenni: I think Elayne’s absence was inevitable. She belongs to, is inextricably tied to the old order, to the destruction of Gods. This book was about finding a third path that threads a needle between the God-dominated way before the Wars, and the rigid godlessness of the regime instituted by the Craftsmen and Craftswomen.

Alex: I agree that it is one of the more complex storylines, but it was nice seeing Tara stand without Elayne’s support. Especially as Jenni said, they’re navigating a new compromise between All The Gods and No Gods.

Marzie:  I definitely agree with the third path concept. And I think that the ability that Tara has to recognize that, and truly partner with Seril is a powerful resolution. Didn't you feel that she had taken a step beyond what Elayne did at the end of the Skitterskill Uprising by actually really sitting down and talking to a god-entities?

Alex: I think Elayne laid the groundwork, but Tara had more fertile ground to work with. In Dresediel Lex the Gods were the enemy and the Craft Environment was really hostile to them. In Alt Colomb, they had Kos and lived with him just fine, so it wasn’t too much of a leap for them to accept Seril back.

Marzie:  That’s probably true. Tara was already vital in stabilizing Kos and Seril’s situation and had laid good groundwork for being, if not always sympathetic to the gods, more open to their role.

Jenni: I don’t think I’d say that it was no big deal for Alt Colomb to welcome Seril back. There seemed to be some pretty hard feelings about her. She was viewed as more of an enemy/traitor to the city than the Craftspeople ever were, it seemed to me.

Marzie:  Well, I think there was a lot to be ambivalent about. Justice had not been a very good Seril fragment for Alt Coulomb. There had been a lot of injustice in the name of a rigid Justice.

Jenni: Indeed.

Alex: But the thin line between hate and love is just that: thin. Dresediel Lex didn’t even really have a boundary line because the King in Red burned it to the ground. At least there was a line in AC.

Marzie: Frankly, I was very taken aback by the King in Red’s assistance at the end of the book, with Keeper. That was unexpected and kind of weird.



You can read Part Two of our Discussion, including about the potential romantic relationships between Tara and Shale, and Cat and Raz, over on Alex's blog, here.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

The first book in the Brooklyn Brujas series presents some interesting concepts of Latin American witchcraft, and that fantasy mainstay, a girl coming into her powers with serious reservations about them. Alejandra Mortiz (Alex), the youngest in her family, who is coming into her powers, is shocked to find she is the most powerful bruja in her family in generations, like her grandmother, Mama Juanita. Alex wants to reject this power on her deathday, a day when her power will be sealed and grounded by her family, but in the process banishes her entire family (living and dead) to a demonic netherworld called Los Lagos. She relies on a teenage brujo, Nova, and the surprise help of her girlfriend Rishi to try to rescue them from the demon bruja, The Devourer, who is wreaking havoc in Los Lagos by endlessly absorbing the power of magical entities stranded there. Along the way Alex gains the support of the avianas (harpy-like creatures) and an exiled band of fairies.

Córdova blends elements of Spanish fantasy, giving us duendes (spirits), hadas (fairies) and Deos (gods). Elements of the story are interesting but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by The Devourer, who is just not scary. She's all talk and no terror, and for a person who has reportedly absorbed such immense power, she seems to control so little of her environment. Come for the view into the Latin mythos, not the scary villain. I'd also have to say that the relationship between Alex and Rishi is so underplayed that to call it a romance feels rather a stretch for a YA book.

I'll be reviewing book two in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Bruja Born which features Alex's snarky sister Lula before it releases on June 5, 2018.



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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother

All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother by Danielle Teller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be perfectly honest, it's been a long month of book commitments and this fairy tale retelling business is hard to keep fresh. Perhaps I am swayed by weariness but this book seems like it was turned into a fairy tale retelling when it could have been a perfectly good historical fiction novel emphasizing the difficult situation of second wives, stepchildren, what women have to put up with, and people who marry up but continue to be treated as if they were beneath respect. In this book, we are treated to the backstory of Cinderella's "cruel" stepmother, who just like Elphaba in Wicked, has been misunderstood and libeled. She is tired of everyone talking about her stepdaughter, and given that young woman's behavior, I don't blame her. The parts of this book that I enjoyed had nothing to do with fantasy or Cinderella. Frankly, Ella was an annoyance, which I guess is half the point.

In any case, if you're looking for something that is less fantasy and more historical fiction, this is might be it!

I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: The Plastic Magician

The Plastic Magician The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

While I've read other works by Charlie Holmberg, I've somehow managed to miss reading The Paper Magician trilogy, so this book was an introduction into Holmberg's charming magical world, set largely in an alternate Edwardian era England, around 1906. Alvie Brechenmacher is a magician who wants to focus on plastics, a newer branch of magic in this world in which magicians work materials such as paper, metal, fire, among others. She is fortunate to be matched for her apprenticeship with British Magician Marion Praff, a polymaking magician with a generous nature and natural inclination for teaching. Alvie leaves her modest home in Columbus, Ohio and her German family, including her father Gunter, who worked with Thomas Edison on the light bulb, and makes her way to London and the Praff estate at Briar Hall. Alvie is a frizzy-haired, near-sighted early 20th Century nerd. And something of a tomboy, since she eschews skirts for more practical and comfortable trousers whenever possible.

This novel has a light but sweet romance element between Alvie and a paper magician's apprentice suitor named Bennet (shout out to Jane Austen?), and a mystery element with a competitor polymer magician who seems more willing to steal from Magician Praff than work on developing his own ideas. Covering approximately the first year of Alvie's apprenticeship, this novel shows promise for development into a spinoff series, with the next book finding the characters presenting at the Discovery Convention in New York in 1907. And we can hope that Alvie will be presenting about a special technique she's investigating at the end of this book. It would certainly make sense given that name, Brechenmacher, that she'd be breaking, or at least bending, some of the well-known rules of this magical world.

All in all, this was a historical steampunkish fantasy novel that I could enjoy, in spite of a basic foundation that might be too formulaic in a less skilled writer's hands. I would definitely pick up a second book about Alvie and plan to read The Paper Magician trilogy when I finish my Hugo reading this summer.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from 47North and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars uprated to 5 stars because if ever there was a time for this topic to thoroughly permeate the consciousness of young adult readers that time is now.

"Maybe I'm a girl whose favorite person in the world did something unforgivable."

Girl Made of Stars is a look at what happens when your friend accuses your twin brother of rape and you have to deal with your growing realization that you don't know what to think other than you know your friend doesn't lie and your gut tells you something is very off with your twin. It is a story about something that happens within your community and how your community (mis)handles it. It's about consent, prior and withdrawn. About trust and violation of trust. About "he said" and "she said," and how much harm is considered legally provable harm and about all that harm that you can't see but that lingers for years and maybe forever.

"I think about all the things we've talked about... Articles we've read about girls who were thrown away by boys like they meant nothing. All the times a girl's voice seemed to mean less than a boy's..."

Girl Made of Stars was hard for me, because of the personally highly trigger-y topic. But I really wanted to read this book, which seemed so timely. In the beginning, the novel seemed quaint, like Mara's privileged life and relationships and friendships were the stuff of a breezy upper-middle-class teenage life that some teens might find unrelatable. I was almost yawning for the first few chapters. And then, slowly, Blake draws you in and before you know it, at the end of this book, you are crying about all that has been lost. Because so much has been lost and it totally transcends class and privilege. If anything, it marks class and privilege as illusory protections for girls.

I can say that from the outset that I didn't like Mara's self-centered teenage twin brother Owen. Of course, we already know from the synopsis of this book that he will be accused of raping Mara's friend Hannah. But Owen has a number of problems and they don't just begin and end with the entitlement issue. His undiscussed substance abuse and anger management problems are part of the teenage landscape and their impact on issues of rape and consent is a good book club topic for young adults reading this book. But the real topic of this book is how we view girls and women, how we value their words and their wishes and their bodies and their rights. This is a valuable book to have young women, and most of all young men, read. In a very personal author's note at the end, Blake says that we are worth the telling, worth the fight and worth a good life and love after. Hopefully, young people reading this book will internalize that and let it inform their lives.

"Changed doesn't mean broken."


I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Teen and NetGalley.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: How to Walk Away

How to Walk Away How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

"You only get one life, and it only goes forward."

Okay, first things first. Let's get it out of the way. This is a feel-good book. It's a feel-good book that is so well written that even my husband, who despises anything feel-good, and who had the misfortune to have snatched this ARC out of my pile, read it over a weekend, and pronounced it "really a good @#%@%@$ book." He has nagged me as I worked my way through my ARC commitments, asking me when I was getting to it and when I was photographing it for social media. He even looked at my photo for social media. He also said I better not tell people he was reading feel-good stuff. (You can see how that's panned out for him.)

Second thing to get out of the way? If this book isn't already optioned for adaptation as a film I'll be stunned. (My husband, who doesn't read feel-good things, promise, thinks Jennifer Lawrence is a shoo-in to play Maggie. I can see that.)

So let the review begin!

Maggie Jacobsen hates flying. Her boyfriend Chip decides that his big marriage proposal should include a serving of what she hates most, as he shows off his almost-licensed piloting skills to give her his grandmother's ring. (Gee, can you tell I dislike this guy?) And if you can't see looming disaster you need to stop lying to yourself about needing glasses. Maggie goes up in his Cessna. Maggie's life is never the same.

This is the story of Maggie's resilience in the face of losing almost everything, her hopes for her future and even some of her ideas about her family's past. If disaster can bring about anything positive, Maggie's disaster at the hands of the feckless Chip turns out, in some ways, to be the best of misfortunes. She doesn't lose her sense of humor, and she finds reserves of courage with the help of her sister Kit, her parents, and her dour and laconic physical therapist, Ian. There are no simple solutions to her problems and she occasionally wallows in her grief and misery but always finds the courage to move forward.

Center has done a great job of giving us characters who are believable and flawed, who evolve and find ways to move beyond the adversity of their situation. Maggie's journey is poignant but never grim. I think my favorite part of the book was her relationship with her older sister Kitty, which was, after it resumed, playful and a pleasure to read. This book is filled with an abundance of quotable quotes ("When you don't know what to do for yourself, do something for someone else." "You have to live the life you have.") and characters who affirm that there are all kinds of happy endings.

If you are looking for a book that will leave you feeling truly upbeat, look no further. Katherine Center will show you how to walk away.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Net Galley, as well as a paper review copy.

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