Labyrinth Lost

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by Zoraida Córdova

3/5 stars

I’m just a girl and there is also magic in that.

Alex is the most powerful bruja in her family in generations. But that doesn’t mean she likes it. In fact, she’s been actively suppressing her power, and her family doesn’t even know her power has been manifesting itself. So when her Deathday comes, Alex works a spell to wish her magic away. She just didn’t expect said spell to transport her entire family to Los Lagos, a magical in-between land. Soon Alex is on a mission to save her family, and inadvertently come into her own.

I am slightly conflicted over this one friends. I picked this up at BEA with no prior knowledge of the title and was instantly PUMPED for this premise. I was excited for this one for many reasons  1) Witches 2) Diverse witches, brujas. And I loved the idea of a Deathday. It makes me think of Dia de los Muertos, which has always seemed a little magical to me. 3) I got wind of LGBTQ representation on the internets. 4) I really like the author on social media, and she was also a delight in person. Plus she has awesome glasses. 5) Look at that cover. Basically, I love all the things in this recipe.

What I had a harder time with was how the recipe came out. Everything felt so easy and surface level here. I adored the beginning with Alex and her family. The minute we transferred over to Los Lagos it just all felt convenient, and I didn’t feel connected to Alex or the other characters. It became more tell than show, although there were the beginnings there, and so much promise. And while I was ALL FOR the lesbian romance hinted at, it never felt developed. I wasn’t allowed to feel their chemistry. I was supposed to just assume it based on their shared history, a history I didn’t get much of a glimpse at. It just felt rushed in many places.

Based on the writing, I would probably recommend this for younger YA readers. I am a little bummed I did not absolutely love this as I was hoping to. Honestly, this would have been a 2, but I was really behind all Córdova was attempting to do here. And while it wasn’t a complete home run for me, just having such positive representation be a matter of course will mean a lot to a lot of girls, and boys. This is an important story and I want to see more of stories like this. I want more multicultural magic. I also want more from this universe, because I am intrigued by Alex’s sisters and did not get to spend enough time with them.

Litsy

I know I know, I have been bad about posting the last month. I apologize. You know where I haven’t been as bad about posting? Litsy. 

If you haven’t seen Litsy yet, it’s kind of a weird cool mix between Instagram and Goodreads. Different types of conversations happening, and it definitely doesn’t negate Goodreads. But you should check it out. And when you check it out, you should follow me to stay up to date on my reads even when I’m bad at posting here. And then I can keep up on what you’re reading too! And we can talk about it!

My Lady Jane

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by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

4/5 stars

Poor King Edward, now under the ground.
Hacked his lungs out. They’ve yet to be found.

I have been looking forward to this books since I realized it was a thing. I love Tudor history. And I love irreverent Monty Python, Princess Bride-esque humor. I was really, really looking forward to this one.

Remember that time Jane Grey was crowned queen of England for nine days following Edward’s death before Mary’s army came in and took over? And she was married to Gifford Dudley, the younger brother of Robert (Stan?) Dudley–of Elizabeth I flirtation fame? And how Gifford was a horse from dawn to dusk? Wait, what? And Edward was actually being poisoned by Dudley in order to help transfer the crown to an unknowing Gifford? And the battle in England wasn’t between religions but between those who can turn into animals and those who could not.

Utterly absurd. Utterly delightful. This switched POVs between Edward, Jane, and Gifford (you know, the horse). And it was the most charming I have ever seen a fictional Gifford. Oddly enough. The most distracting change for me was the absence of Robert Dudley, or they changed his name to Stan. I recognize this is a peculiar distraction and I will probably be alone in this.

This is being billed as a kind of YA Princess Bride. It is humorous, though I honestly never laughed out loud. Rather, it was a kind of joyous, light tone that kept the narrative moving. It was also full of Shakespeare references, and a few Monty Python just to mix it up (including my personal favorite Holy Grail quote “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”). I did occasionally feel the jokes about Jane’s loving books more than anything did grow a bit tiresome, because they felt a little forced. Though I thought it was a good reminder how smart Jane Grey was, often Elizabeth is given all the recognition to being the smart one and an absolute exception.

This was absolutely well worth the ride.

The Girls

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by Emma Cline

3.5/5 stars

All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you–the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.

Evie is 14-years-old in 1969. The social movements of the sixties are in their heyday, and most violent, though this does not seem to have touched Evie’s world. Rather, she is dealing with her parent’s divorce and the imminent move to boarding school next year. And then she meets Suzanne, an older girl who appears immensely sophisticated to lonely Evie. And Suzanne lives on a ranch in what often appears a bohemian paradise of sorts to Evie, a place that treats her feel like the adult she feels like. But the ranch is a cult, and Evie may soon be into more than she anticipated.

This is already being buzzed as one of the biggest books of the summer. Granted, a lot of this buzz is coming from the publisher itself. But it’s generating that self-fulfilling prophecy buzz in the way of The Girl on the Train and The Nest. I believe this one will continue to be buzzy. And I know this will satisfy many readers this summer; I will be recommending it I’m sure.

My biggest criticism of the book relates to the title. Obviously “girl” in titles is having a moment right now. It’s enough that the everyday reader is picking up on it. And it’s not hard considering my own recommendation trajectory for customers looking for the next read from Gone Girl went to The Girl on the Train to Luckiest Girl Alive, with some Megan Abbot also thrown in to mix things up. And while I’ve almost always recommended the Woman Upstairs too, I don’t know that anyone has actually purchased it based on my recommendation.

Tangent, regardless, this novel is called The Girls. Thus, I expected the eponoymous girls to be a central force in this novel. But they always felt distant. Evie was obsessed with Suzanne, but this obsession with Suzanne, not even the other girls, never felt frenzied. This novel hinged on building to an immediacy of obsession group-think. Evie would occasionally mention Russell bringing new people in and explaining his vision. But we were never introduced to that vision. And maybe Evie never was either. She was a 14-year-old playing at larger events than she realized. Evie was never fully submerged in the world, and she never was supposed to be. How different the world of this cult was to her everyday life was what drew her to it. Still, while I could make many of the connections myself because the pieces were there, I wanted more of the Girls, what the title of this novel promises. The cult just never feels formed. I want more of its story, but it’s outside of Evie’s purview. And I guess hat’s how we always feel about such things. We’re immensely fascinated in a grim way, but even with answers we don’t full understand.

But with the modern plot line we see how young girls are still being swept away by these charismatic men, men who may not even really have anything going for them. It’s terrifying, sad,  and slightly enthralling to watch.

I loved the prose in this. It moved along quickly and was well written. Some reviewers have felt the prose colors a little purple at times, and it does toe the line, but I enjoyed it. And it placed me in this world that was almost stiflingly still. Evie was incredibly lonely. Maybe that’s all the answer I need to my previous critique.

You can pick up your copy June 14th!

The Glittering Court

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by Richelle Mead

3/5 stars

We’re all in charge of our own lives–and we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make.

Adelaide is an aristocratic woman about to enter into an arranged marriage she knows will not satisfy her in order to save her family’s name and fortunes. And then The Glittering Court comes recruiting one of her servants, and Adelaide decides to take her place. The Glittering Court is recruiting girls to be trained in the skills of the upper classes in order to appeal as wives to men in the new world. This offers working class girls opportunities they never dreamed of and one thing they never thought they’d have: choice. It offers Adelaide this same freedom, though she comes from much different circumstances. But her world is complicated by the friends, rivals, and love interests that cross her path.

This went from a mix between Princess Academy and the Selection to a Western, more particularly Gold Rush-y (I am not usually a Western person). Everything felt based in American history. I honestly had no concept of the made-up countries and religions in this book. My head immediately transcribed them into their recognizable historical parallels. I don’t know if this was intended or not, but I would not describe this as a world that feels tangible to me on it’s own right now. Rather, in my head it is colonial America. If that was the intent, spot on.

Adelaide is pretty strong throughout, even when she’s out of her comfort zone. Though she did become slightly less interesting to me over time. I think some of this could have been the narrative losing its forward momentum. The novel is only around 400 pages, but it feels longer sometimes. Partly because a lot happens and a good amount of time is spanned. Still, Adelaide’s story is pretty well contained in this novel. Goodreads lists this as part of a series, and I hope it’s going to take a My Fair Assassins approach and follow different girls. I am very intrigued to follow the two closest friends Adelaide made in The Glittering Court. And seeds have definitely been planted for them to have their own stories.

There is obviously a romance angle in this novel. I say obviously because at least at Barnes & Noble it’s shelved in teen romance, and Richelle Mead is known for her romance plot lines in YA I think. I had no major issues with the romance. I was rooting for it. I liked the flirtations we got especially at the beginning. I did think the “jealous rival” we were introduced to was a little obvious and underdeveloped, but hey, if I lump this in with a romance novel structure it fits.

If The Glittering Court could fell somewhat plodding and predictable to me as a reader today, I also recognize this is the kind of book that I would have eaten up as a high schooler. I probably would have used it to ease my wait between A Great and Terrible Beauty books. I didn’t adore this book; I didn’t hate it. It was some nice escapism, but when I reached the last page I was okay with that.

The Square Root of Summer

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by Harriet Reuter Hapgod

4.5/5 stars

Because I want the chance to cry when it hurts.

Gottie is still reeling from the loss of her grandfather, a man who filled a father-like role in her life. But it’s summer, and there’s no more school, or physics class, to take her mind off things. Even if her mind hasn’t really been on things lately. But when her brother is back for the summer, so is his bandmate Jason, who also happens to be Gottie’s secret ex-boyfriend. And then her childhood best friend Thomas is suddenly back in her life. This would be complicated enough without the fact she can’t even remember exactly what happened the last day she saw Thomas. They went to make a blood pact, and everything after is blank for Gottie. So, Gottie has enough going on without the accidental time travel and wormholes. Turns out there is an application for all that theoretical physics after all.

Friends, I stumbled upon another YA time-travel book of sorts! The YA gods must truly be shining on me at this point. And this one approaches the time-travel angle with science! It should be noted that I cannot actually verify the science, but the little I know about different dimensions and the way time works and alternate realities and whatnot, it holds up as much as it needs to.

What I loved most about this is that all the concept pieces that I adored (see: time travel) were there to further the story. Did I always understand all the wormholes, the time hopping? No. But Gottie was able to make sense of it in a way that allowed her to reclaim her life. She went from a victim of losing time, to actively fighting for it. And that’s pretty awesome. This was a story about a girl rejoining the world, of getting her life back together. This includes with her family, her best friend, boys, and most importantly, herself.

I think the nearest comparison title from this year would be The Love that Split the World, though it still had more time travel, because remember, that book was much more alternate dimensions. Nothing wrong. Just a different thing. And I liked the romance this go-around more. There was a history between Gottie and Thomas that added some weight. And even so, they spent time getting to know who this new person was. And Gottie was allowed to be confused and conflicted. After all, Jason and strung her along pretty spectacularly the last summer. She was allowed to feel the residue of that rejection and disappointment. Also, female friendships for the win! And these were shown as relationships that you have to fight for too, that take as much work as a romance.

This is a perfect YA romance for summer, or any time of year. This book made me swoon. And it made me tear up. It was honest and immediate. Bittersweet, lovely, and smart. Add this one to your summer reading list.

The Crown’s Game

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by Evelyn Skye

4.5/5 stars

Vika has been training her whole life to be the next Imperial Enchanter. She never expected that there would be another enchanter to compete for the title. But there is, and it turns out the fight for the title is a fight for the death. Nikolai wasn’t expecting this fight to the death either, even if he’s used to fighting for his place in the world. He isn’t sure how this will impact his friendship with Pasha, heir to the throne, who knows nothing about Nikolai’s magic. So now Vika and Nikolai must try to outdo each other with fantastical displays of magic, even as life keeps thrusting them into each other’s paths.

This novel provides a lush, magical world combined with compelling characters. Though, take the historical Russian setting with a little grain of salt. It is more atmospheric than historically accurate.

The stakes always felt real and grounded in this novel, and I loved that he magic had rules and costs. There were limits to the character’s powers, their displays of magic weakened them. Even though they were still able to pull off huge displays. Still, we knew these were supposed to be exception showcases of their power. It was also interesting to see how Skye developed different magic–powers and focuses–for both Vika and Nikolai, power directly related to their upbringing.

I loved Nikolai and Pasha, and especially their friendship! I had a real sense of both boys, their background and how it shaped them and their decisions. Vika’s development did pale a bit in comparison next to these two for me. I am also hoping to see more of Pasha’s sister as the series progresses. And the novel seems to set this eventuality up for us.

I would also have liked to see more development in the romances. The quick infatuation is something I am willing to buy into from this historical, restrained world. But it just seemed so much less defined than other aspects of the novel. It was very close to instal-love and I would like to see this all fleshed out more over the course of the series. Still, romance didn’t seem to be the focus of the novel either. And it was more fun to watch Vika and Nikolai struggle with their choices and the repercussions of the “game”

The Crown’s Game was like a wonderful blend of Leigh Bardugo and Night Circus while maintaining a unique and active voice!