ARC Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

ARC

Written by: Zoraida Cordova
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 336, hardcover
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC!

 

Book

“Enchanting and complex. Every page is filled with magic.”-Danielle Paige, New York Times best-selling author of Dorothy Must Die

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

LetsTalk

 

I went into this book knowing very little: a bi protagonist, a magical world based on Central American culture, and a…labyrinth of some sort? I very much enjoyed what I got: unique world-building, character growth, a surprising amount of feelings, and old tropes made new through a stand-out setting.

Alex is part of a family of brujas, but is scared of her powers for a variety of reasons that are well-justified in the narrative. When she comes into her power (which turns out to be greater than anyone expected), she is advised by the resident Mysterious Attractive Boy to do a spell to get rid of them. It goes wrong, of course, and she ends up accidentally sending her family into the clutches of the resident Evil Powerful Enemy. Alex goes on a journey to save them.

What follows is an adventure story with a strong undercurrent of family and a rich, original magical world. As many times as I’ve seen the “protagonist goes from fearing powers to accepting them and kicking ass” trope, there’s something so intrinsically appealing about it. This was the case in this book; I loved Alex’s growth.

Actually, that goes for all the tropes in the book; there are a lot of story elements that I’ve seen before multiple times, but the setting and cultural aspects gave Labyrinth Lost such a breath of life that even the tropes felt very fresh. There is a love triangle, but it’s quite low-key (and one of the sides is f/f)! Labyrinth Lost will be a welcome addition to my list of favorite new urban fantasy novels.

Didn'tWork

I would have liked to see just a little more fleshing out of Rishi’s character; while she still felt like a real character, she never felt quite as developed as I would have wanted someone with a role as central as hers to be, and that kept her at a like-but-don’t-love level for me.

Is it just me, or did Alex level up on her powers really, really quickly when she got to Los Lagos, at exactly the most plot-convenient moments? This was something I noticed about three-quarters of the way into the book, and it kept bothering me.

DidWork

This is the first thing that comes up whenever anyone discusses this book, so I’ll just say it now: the worldbuilding! The author uses elements of her own Latin-American culture to build the magical dark wonderland of Los Lagos, and the result is a world completely different from anything I’ve ever seen in fantasy before, where just when you think you know what to expect, you unearth a new corner, a new twist.

Alex’s relationships with her mother and her sisters was a high point for me. Even when she was frustrated with them for pushing her into a life she didn’t want, even when she felt out of place, even when she made decisions that hurt them, it was so obvious that they all loved each other. I appreciated that the power of family was such a huge theme in this story, and would especially love to see more of Lula and Rose in future books.

And of course, the characters are wonderful. Alex has a very strong voice and a clear character arc and her thought process is written in a way where even her not-so-good choices make sense. I totally did not expect to like Nova, but my heart melted for him by the end; he has some great lines, and his backstory broke me. Rishi was just precious, and her unfailing support of Alex was the cutest thing ever. As is typical of me, the group moments between the three of them were among my favorites.

Pickup

Yes! I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for some new urban fantasy to get excited about.

Sondra

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

ARC

Written by: Kathleen Glasgow
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 416, hardcover
Series: standalone
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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

LetsTalk

This is the kind of intense dark book that, I think, some people will only be able to read in quick bursts, and others would prefer not to read at all. The main character, Charlie, has a lot of things heaped onto her–abuse, the loss of her best friend, homelessness, and self-harm are just a few. Kathleen Glasgow does not pull punches. Nothing is easy, and every bit of Charlie’s upward progress feels earned, narrative-wise. And I have to give her credit, because Charlie’s voice, her struggles, and her growth still ring so true that the book was still able to hit me hard in the emotions like it was supposed to.

Even if dark contemporaries normally not your kind of book, I recommend giving it a try. From the distinct characters to the gorgeous poetic prose to the focus on female relationships to the message of hope, Girl in Pieces is an extremely powerful novel, one that I think will help many people.

Didn'tWork

 

Pacing-wise, I feel like Girl in Pieces could have been about fifty pages shorter. The middle section, particularly the parts dealing with Charlie and Riley’s relationship, was on the slow side and I think it got just a bit too repetitive. While it should be noted that for the mast part this book did NOT feel like pain for the sake of pain, I think this section approached the closest to that kind of atmosphere.

DidWork

As I said, I’ve read a lot of books dealing with self harm, and one problem I’ve found with them is that the main characters tend to run together. I am very happy to say that Charlie stood out. I loved that she was quiet and reserved, and that this didn’t go away when the book ended, but that she found her voice nonetheless. I loved the moments of humor in her inner monologue and how hard she was willing to fight. I love how real her struggles and setbacks felt, and how much it made me cheer her on. 

The female relationships in the book were so important! From the best friend she loved and lost to the angry woman in her therapy group (who turns out to be fiercely loyal and loving) to her artist landlady with a tragic past to her recovering alcoholic supervisor at work, Charlie meets and develops bonds with a variety of women who affect her journey in so many ways. Charlie comes out of the hospital hoping for romantic love to save her, but her friendships with other women turn out to be so much more important.

(On that note, I don’t know if this was the author’s intent, but I definitely read Charlie as bisexual.)

After Charlie leaves the hospital, she meets Riley, who gives her a job at a coffee shop and has a heap of issues. From the synopsis and his intro, I kind of expected the relationship to be romanticized, but it wasn’t! The toxic aspects (the age difference, Riley’s drug use, Charlie accepting his terrible treatment of her because she doesn’t think she deserves better and Riley taken advantage of that) are all addressed in a very nuanced way. Riley’s addiction is presented sensitively, but never in a way that excuses his actions. I finished the book not really sure how I felt about Riley as a person, but very satisfied with the direction his and Charlie’s stories had gone.

One last thing I’d like to address is the writing, which is lyrical and emotional and sends chills down my spine. There are subtle shifts in both writing style and chapter length that match with Charlie’s mental state at the moment, something I appreciated.

Pickup

I would definitely recommend this if you’re in the mood for a nuanced, unique, moving dark contemporary with an amazing voice. 

Sondra

BLOG TOUR and GIVEAWAY: As I Descended by Robin Talley

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Written by: Robin Talley
Release Date: September 6th 2016
Pages: 384, hardcover
Series: standalone
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LINKS: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks | The Book Depository

 

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Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

 

LetsTalk

I don’t think I’ve referenced this on here yet, but like almost any theater kid, I love Shakespeare, and Macbeth is my favorite of his plays. It’s a wonderful story that, one would assume, would be difficult to adapt. But setting it in an old Southern boarding school, replacing the witches with some of the creepiest spirits you have ever seen, and making Macbeth and Lady Macbeth an f/f couple are all pretty amazing ways to do so.

I’ve been a fan of Robin Talley’s since I read Lies We Tell Ourselves, but this is my favorite of her books so far. It’s scary and beautifully written, with characters who are sympathetic even as they make bad decisions. It does a good job preserving the themes of the original play, and all the deviations are exactly what the story needs to keep it flowing and have it make sense in modern times. Even with the changes, the story never loses its high stakes, and I appreciated that.

I should also note that the four main characters are all not straight–a (Mexican) bi girl, a (disabled) lesbian, and two gay guys (one of whom is fat and has anxiety; the other one is Mexican).

Even though it comes out about two months earlier, As I Descended is a perfect Halloween read that will make you want to crawl under the covers in fear and then make you cry.

Didn'tWork

Certain developments with Maria and Lily towards the middle of the book, while they felt natural with where the characters were going in general, also appeared a little abrupt. The change made sense, but it could have occurred more smoothly. Lily’s character arc in particular felt somewhat incomplete as a result.

A minor quibble is the police-are-incompetent-for-plot-convenience trope. The police in the story made some decisions that I did not find believable at all.

DidWork

I wasn’t expecting to love the supernatural aspect of this book so much–I was more focused on the “f/f Macbeth” thing–but it ended up being a high point for me. Every scene where the ghosts appear or speak feels appropriately horror-movie-ish in the best way possible. A certain scene in Lily’s bedroom made me want to never sleep again. Robin Talley uses Mexican mythology to develop the ghosts, which makes sense with Maria’s character and gives the story another layer.

As I Descended features multiple POVs, and all the narrators are fleshed out. The motivations are very believable, which can be tricky with a story as…well…murder-y as this one. I particularly loved Lily’s voice–her rational and ruthless thought process, how her disability and sexuality motivated her actions, her fierce love for Maria even as she disagrees with some of her decisions. Lily is the ideal modern adaptation of Lady Macbeth. And I loved Maria, whose conflict always felt believable and whose decisions I completely understood. Without giving away too much, her ending is a small deviation from the original end of the play, but perfect for this story.

There are small nods to the original play throughout this book that were a lot of fun for me. For example, a game exists where the player has to put items that were mentioned in the witches’ scene into a cauldron. I thought that was a pretty cool addition.

I heard someone say that reading this book felt like watching the original play, and I agree. Robin Talley nails the atmosphere perfectly, and her writing is top-notch. As I Descended was just the right mix of new and old material, and I can’t wait for all of you to get the chance to read it.

Pickup

Definitely! Complicated messy teens + ghosts + good representation = a fantastic book.

Sondra

ABOUT ROBIN TALLEY:

I live in Washington, D.C., with my wife, our baby daughter, an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. Whenever the baby’s sleeping, I’m probably busy writing young adult fiction about queer characters, reading books, and having in-depth conversations with friends and family about things like whether Jasmine’s character motivation was sufficiently established in Aladdin.

My website is at http://www.robintalley.com, and I’m on Twitter and Tumblr.
LINKS: Website | Twitter Facebook | Tumblr

Tour Schedule:

Week 1:
 
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Giveaway:

3 Finished Copies of AS I DESCENDED (US Only)

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Mini Review: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

MiniReviews

Written by: Matt Phelan
Release Date: September 13th 2016
Pages: 216, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Mini

 

I’m not completely sure where this review is going to go. Snow White was an amazing idea, it was an amazing concept with taking this classic story to the 1920’s. There were so many amazing ways to update the story into something that easily worked, in fact the ideas were so effortless that it made perfect sense. So in reality I should be gushing about this story, and in a way I am gushing about the way that the story worked, about the ideas that Phelan used to turn this story on it’s head. I loved the idea of the mirror being ticker tape, I loved the way the seven dwarves were brought into the story. I loved so many amazing plot ideas of this graphic novel that it’s insane.

So what was the problem? Well, often times I was confused. I couldn’t figure out on the art alone what was going on. I had a few pages sometimes where I gave up on the story and just moved along until I was able to see exactly what was going on again. I got the gist of the story, I understood what was going on, but I don’t feel like I got the full story that Phelan wanted to present.

Here’s where things get really interesting though, because I read an ARC the images were in low resolution, and they weren’t in color. Does that mean that when the finished copy comes out I’ll be able to follow each panel of the story? I’m not sure. I do know for sure that I’ll be picking up a finished copy to look at it. Because if this story does become much clearer then I am completely absolutely sold on this concept and idea.

Sondra