Book Review – Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

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Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal, Witches

Boy, do I hope that Labyrinth Lost is the first of a series, because I loved this book! I was immediately pulled in to this novel when I first read the description and realized it contained many of my favorite elements: Brujas and brujos (witchcraft); a coming-of-age Deathday celebration that takes its inspiration from Dios de los Muertes and Santeria; and a journey into an Underworld-type land called Los Lagos. And a glossary. I absolutely love when novels include glossaries!!

The main character, Alex, is a teenage bruja that lives in Brooklyn with her mother and two sisters. She does not want the magic that runs in her blood, that ties her to her family and ancestors. We meet Alex shortly before her Deathday celebration. Along the lines of a bat mitzvah, but fictional, a teen’s Deathday is a special family celebration where the ancestors give their blessing to the brujo/a, which allows their magic to grow and reach its full potential.

Alex, however, fears her power, and in a hasty decision, uses a canto to try to revoke her magic and give it back to the Deos (Gods). That plan backfires, terribly, and Alex embarks on a journey into Los Lagos to try and correct the terrible mistake that she made. She is accompanied by Nova, a young mysterious brujo, and her best friend, Rishi.

“We all get scared and want to turn away, but it isn’t always strength that makes you stay. Strength is also making the decision to change your destiny.”

Overall, the story works really well. One of my favorite things about the story was the world of Los Lagos, an ethereal world in another dimension. Córdova did an excellent job with both the plot and the world-building, and I really hope that Los Lagos makes another appearance in a future book! Alex and her companion, the brujo Nova, jump through a portal early on in the novel in an effort to save Alex’s family. The reader is literally dropped into a world filled with duendes, fairies from the Kingom of Adas, and the evil Devourer, a bruja gone bad, who has been sucking up power from the land through the Tree of Souls.

I also love the cast of characters, who are mostly Latinx. Most of the characters – with the exception of Rishi, who is Indian – are Latinx, and the magical creatures that fill the pages of Labyrinth Lost are influenced by Latin American culture and mythology. For the most part, all of the characters are well-developed, with two exceptions: Alex’s mother, and Rishi. I was surprised when I finished the novel and realized I knew almost as little about Rishi as I did at the beginning. Which to me is an oversight, since she is one of the love interests in the story. My favorite character was definitely Alex’s deceased Aunt Rosaria, and I knew she was going to play a larger role than one would imagine from a deceased relative from the opening sentence:

“The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.”

Another aspect about Labyrinth Lost that I really appreciated: respectful bisexual representation. I have to admit I began to worry when the love triangle first began to make an appearance, with the fear that we were headed down a rabbit hole, and Rishi would be turned into another token LGBT character that gets left in the dust for the “true” love interest. That was absolutely not the case! The romance was also very understated, which I appreciate. I am not a big fan of the romance genre, and fantasy books that tread to far into that department aren’t usually my cup of tea.

With all of these wonderful elements, why did I not give it 5 stars? It comes quite close, but one problematic aspect brings it down a notch in my book. It always bothers me when an author misuses mental illness terms in an ableist manner, and I caught at least two examples of ableism in Labyrinth Lost. The first is the frequent use of “crazy”, as in “Crazy Uncle Julio”. The second, is this:

“I’ve never seen a boy with such bipolar eyes, let alone a permanent wrinkle between his brows, like he spends more time frowning than anything else.”

What, exactly, are bipolar eyes? In my opinion, this is definitely not an acceptable description, and it is used multiple times do describe Nova’s eyes. Frankly, I was surprised that a book that as diverse as this one would use such harmful word choice.

Overall, I definitely recommend Labyrinth Lost to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, especially stories rich in witchcraft and mythology. The ending seemed to leave an opening for a sequel, which I would read in a hearbeat!

Rating: 4.5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2016

I’m linking in to the Top Ten Tuesday post, by The Broke and the Bookish for my Best of 2016 Wrap-Up!

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My Favorite Reads of 2016

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The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Read 17 January 2016

The series of short vignettes in The Interpreter of Maladies are simple on the surface, but breathtakingly beautiful. It is an extremely talented author that can take short vignettes about regular people and make it so authentic and beautiful.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read 22 February, 2016.

Looking back, I can’t believe that this is the book I chose to read while stuck in bed recovering from surgery. This is what I had to say on GR at the time: The narration is both poetic and dreamy, a glittering facade that barely covers a harsh critique of the 1920s American upper class society.

Part of me wonders if my medications were screwing with my mind at the time! However, I remember the story with crystal clarity. I’m still surprised how much I loved this book.

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Read 31 May, 2016

Just Mercy is a profound and important book. It is one of a series of books that I have read over the last 15 months that have helped me along the pathway of truly understanding the ongoing inequalities that underlie American society, and in particular, the criminal justice system. It helps give me a better of understanding of the importance of the BLM movement. I had started to become complacent, without even realizing it. In very many ways, 2016 became the year that I woke back up. And books like Just Mercy have helped me find my way back.

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. Read 15 of June and 13 July, 2016.

It was really eerie reading a sci-fi dystopian series whose first book had multiple flashbacks to 2010 . A novel that marks 2015/2016 as the beginning of the end for America. A novel that has a dictator-like President with a catchy campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.”

Let’s all stop and think about that for a minute. It gives me chills.

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All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. Read 16 July 2016. Review here.

Megan Miranda writes amazing psychological thrillers, and this one was no exception! This was a perfect summer read.

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Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt. Read 3 August 2016.

The true story of a transgender girl and her identical twin brother, growing up in small town America. An excellent book to read if you want to learn more about the real-life struggles of transgender kids. I also really enjoyed Nicole’s Tedx Talk.

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Read 8 September 2016. Review here.

A must-read for any and every American.
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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Read 26 September 2016. Review here.

I love this book! Love this series! I am on pins and needs waiting for the third book in the series to come out!

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Read 10 December 2016. Review here.

This may be the very first book written in poetry form to have made one of my “Best of the Year” lists. Usually not my favorite genre, but it works amazingly well in this memoir.

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LaRose by Louise Erdrich. Read 19 December 2016. Review here.

Louise Erdrich never disappoints, and LaRose may just be my favorite book by her yet! A beautiful novel of love and atonement.

What are your top books of the year? Happy New Year!

 

 

Dumbledore’s Army Readathon #DAReadAThon

I am quite excited – and probably a bit overly optimistic – about the Dumbledore’s Army Readathon, hosted by Aentee @ReadatMidnight.

What: #DAReadAThon is a Harry Potter themed readathon, focusing on diverse (especially #ownvoices) books.

When: The readathon will begin Sunday 1st January and conclude Sunday 15th January, midnight to midnight – wherever in the world you’re based.

Who: Anyone can join, although it would be easier for you to write-up your reviews and sign up posts if you had a platform such as a blog or a booktube. If you have a twitter or instagram account, please join in on the #DAReadAThon hashtag! You don’t have to be familiar with Harry Potter to join, but the prompts will make more sense to you.

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and here is my TBR list for the prompts!

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I haven’t read any fiction stories featuring a trans character yet, and George has been on my shelf for months waiting to be read!

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A memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, in graphic novel form!

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At first, I was going to choose We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for this prompt. Then I realized that the books I already plan to read on our drive home from Florida after New Year’s Day would work for this one as well! Since they are relatively short, I am going to count Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5 for this category.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian also happens to be my book club’s pick for January!

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I’m hoping to read Fangirl over the next few days – although that may be wishful thinking – and planned on following it up with this one!

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So many to choose from!

Book Review – The Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This will be a relatively short review, because I am not having the greatest week. My endometriosis is flaring up a bit, and on Wednesday I had an adverse reaction to my monthly allergy shots. Which had me in bed (and almost in the hospital) for 24 hours. I was up and about yesterday, but my body still felt worn out and was recovering from the onslaught of allergies and asthma. Today is much better.

Fun times for the first day of my daughter’s winter break. The last day of 2016 can not come soon enough!! It has been one thing after another this year, for me and the world.

On to the book review!

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Book: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: Middle Grade, Neurodiversity

Book Blurb: 

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

There aren’t too many books out there about girls with Asperger’s. Much of mainstream society’s understanding of Asperger’s (when they are even aware of what it is), is based on the profile of boy’s and men who are Aspies. In my life, I do know a few people with Asperger’s, all who identify as male. Is Asperger’s truly more prevalent amongst the male population, or is it woefully under-identified in the female populace? I would hazard a guess that it is a bit of both. Current research is beginning to show that the current diagnostic methods used for the autism spectrum overlook how it can manifest differently in girls.

On that note, enter Caitlin. An 11-year-old girl going through a very rough time in her life. She recently lost her brother in a school shooting, her mom died of cancer a few years previously, and her dad is struggling to come to terms with grief himself. Caitlin is struggling with her own grief and emotions, as well as fitting in at school and working on making new friends.

Looking at reviews written by people with Asperger’s, Kathryn Erskine has done a commendable job portraying what it is like for a young girl with Asperger’s. She tackles a difficult subject: how people deal with the loss of a loved one differently, and how our lives would be different – and better – if we work harder at understanding each other.

I loved the first person narration, seeing the world through Caitlin’s eyes. To experience how a typical school day feels for her .

“I hate recess even though Devon says it’s supposed to be my favorite subject and there is no recess once you get to middle school so enjoy it now. But I can’t enjoy it because I’m surrounded by sharp screaming and it’s too bright adn people’s elbows are all pointy and dangerous and it’s hard to breathe and my stomach always feels really really sick.”

There are quite a few times in the story where the other kids are really anger-inducing. As an adult looking in on the story, I wanted to scream out to the teachers, “Your school really needs some grade-wide lessons on anti-bullying, tolerance, and diversity!!!” The way that some of the other girls mocked Caitlin was frustrating, and I was happy to see this semi-addressed later on in the story.

I loved the tie-in with To Kill A Mockingbird. I won’t go into detail, but it really highlighted the sweet relationship between Caitlin and her brother. It was also completely cry-inducing. There were so many parts of this book that pulled on my heartstrings!

“When Dad drives me home from school I look at the sign in front of the church we used to go to. It says, OUR HEARTS are still with the families of Julianne, Devon and Roberta. Except OUR HEARTS couldn’t do anything to save Devon’s Heart. Maybe that’s why Dad drives past.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Diversity Bingo 2017 Reading Challenge

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#DiversityBingo2017 starts on January 1, 2017, and this is definitely the challenge I am looking forward to the most in the new year!

The goal of the challenge is to cover all of the squares during 2017. Although I don’t have books chosen for all of the categories yet – and some of my book selections might change categories – I do have a few in mind already.

My Progress

MC of Color in SFF – Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Review here.

Black MC (Own Voices) – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Review here.

Indigenous MC (Own Voices) – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Review here.

PoC on the Cover – Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5 by G. Willow Wilson. Review here.

Practicing Jewish MC – Dawn by Elie Wiesel. Review here.

Bisexual MC (Own Voices) – Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. Review here.

Book by Author of Color – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Review here.

D/dEAF/Hard of Hearing MC – El Deafo by Cece Bell. Review here.

Own Voices (Transgender) – George by Alex Gino. Review here.

MC W/an Under-represented Body  – Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Review here.

Free Choice: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

Diverse Reading Suggestions

MC of Color in SFFAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

West Asian Setting – The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Non-Binary MC (Own Voices) – Every Day by David Levithan

Neuro-Diverse MC – Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Own Voices Latinx MC – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Diverse Non-fictionBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah

LGBTQIA+ MC of ColorCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Non-western real world setting – The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

Book by Author of Color – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Immigrants and Refugee MC The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

MC W/Chronic PainSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Contemporary World Arranged MarriageWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Hijabi MC (Own Voices) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Bookish Gifts for 8 Crazy Nights

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the theme was Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree. Since we don’t have a tree, or get visits from Santa, I thought I’d change it slightly to reflect our Chanukah celebrations!

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10 Bookish Gifts for 8 Crazy Nights of Chanukah!

Folio Society Books!

I love these beautiful publications, and would love to receive a few more! These are three that I have been ogling for a while:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Emma by Jane Austen

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Hamilton: The Revolution

By Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. Because I love all things Hamilton!

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Game of Thrones Collection

By George R.R. Martin. I desperately want this cloth-bound boxed set that includes the first five books of the Games of Thrones series!

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March, Books 1 -3

By John Lewis. John Lewis is one of my idols, and a true American hero. He is the only speaker from the 1963 March on Washington that is still alive. I consider the world lucky that John Lewis chose to document his time during the Civil Rights movement in the way he did, in a series of graphic novel memoirs. I will definitely be reading these in 2017, and would love to own them!

Leigh Bardugo Boxed Sets

I would love these two boxed sets, of the Grisha Trilogy and the Six of Crows Duology.

Harry Potter!

I have read HP multiple times, but the more I see the illustrated editions, the more I would like to own them!

What books are on your wish list lately? Happy Holidays!

Book Review – LaRose by Louise Erdrich

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Book: LaRose
Author: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Literary Fiction, Ojibwe, Contemporary, Own Voices

LaRose easily jumps to the top of the list of my favorite books of 2016. It is a beautiful novel of love and atonement. The story takes place in the same geographic region as Plague of Doves and Round House: the small, fictional town of Pluto, North Dakota, and the Ojibwe reservation next to it.

LaRose begins with heartbreak. While hunting a deer that Landreaux Iron has been tracking all season, he accidentally shoots his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. This is not a spoiler, it happens on page two. To make amends, Landreaux and his wife Emmaline follow a tradition of their ancestors, and give their own young son LaRose to the Ravich family in atonement, as an “old form of justice”. Young LaRose steps up to the role, helping to heal the hearts of both families.

The roots of the story go back to the Ojibwe culture that Erdrich herself hails from, and is the story of families and tragedies that span generations.

“Bad luck rarely stops with one occurrence. All Indians know that. To stop it quickly takes great effort, which is why LaRose was sent.”

As we come to find out, the accidental shooting was not the first tragedy, and LaRose is descended from a long line of healers, back to the original LaRose. Tragedies follow the LaRose lineage, from the selling of the first LaRose in the 1800s to a trader, through boarding schools, sexual abuse, tuberculosis, and the desecration of remains. LaRose is a name that has been passed through five generations, and in each generation, the name is given to one who has a connection to the spirit world.

But this is not a story about grief and tragedy. It is a story of love and redemption, about the way people live,  and how they rebuild their lives back together. Louise Erdrich’s story acknowledges that, to many American Indians, the pain and pleasures of the past are not forgotten, but become the foundation on which the present is built. In the novel, this is portrayed through the very home of the Iron family.

“Landreaux and Emmaline’s house contained the original cabin from 1846, built in desperation as snow fell on their ancestors. It satisfied them both to know that if the layers of drywall and plaster were torn away from the walls, they would find the interior pole and mud walls. The entire first family-babies, mothers, uncles, children, aunts, grandparents-had passed around tuberculosis, diptheria, sorrow, endless tea, hilarious and sacred, dirty, magical stories. They had lived and died in what was now the living room, and there had always been a LaRose.”

Erdrich provides a rich backstory spanning generations, in which the reader gets a better idea of how the parallel stories form and influence the present.

One theme present in the story of the earlier generations of LaRose, is the difference between the Ojibwe values and the American culture under which the Ojibwe had to live. This is specifically highlighted in the boarding school experiences. One of the boarding schools mentioned in the novel, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, existed only a few miles away from where I grew up. As an adult, I was shocked to first become aware of its existence when visiting the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, I was astonished that the Carlisle School never made an appearance in the history books of my high school. A slightly older, wiser me now knows better. I now actively work to bring the stories and histories that are often unheard by white Americans to the forefront, at least with my own daughter.

“At the school, everything was taken from her. Losing her mother’s drum was like losing Mink all over again. At night, she asked the drum to fly back to her. But it never did. She soon learned how to fall asleep. Or let the part of myself they call hateful fall asleep, she thought. But it never did. Her whole being was Anishinaabe. She was Illusion. She was Mirage. Ombanitemagad. Or what they call her now – Indian. As in, Do not speak Indian, when she had been speaking her own language.”

LaRose is a powerful exploration of justice and reparation. A novel incredibly difficult to review but easy to love. I highly, highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of Erdrich’s earlier work.

Rating: 5/5 stars