5 unlimited stars
Riveting, heartbreaking, soul-mending, and ultimately a beacon of hope.
Black Girl Unlimited should be required reading. I wish I'd read it in school. I would have been a different person earlier, sooner. This was one of the most poignant reads I have ever read, and Echo Brown deserves every standing ovation, every "oh my gosh you have to read this book" friendly push, and every accolade. This was, simply, a showstopper debut.
Part coming-of-age novel, part fabulism, part reflection on the state of being black in America, and part story of female resilience in the heart of abuse and oppression—it's impossible to distill this novel down to a review that means something. I feel almost like a fool for trying, but I want you to read this so bear with me.
Echo lives on the East Side of Cleveland in the 1990s. It's world away from the West Side, at the rich white people school that she's allowed to attend. Her situation is a parable for many other young black women in the city, but at the same time a stunningly personal journey through her own life in and separate from those around her.
You see, Echo is a wizard.
She's not the kind of wizard with the wand and the hat. Her magic doesn't appear as a spell or incantation. This kind of wizardry is special—and allegorical. Echo, her mother, her female friends, and a memorable female mentor are all wizards. Black women are wizards. For being able to survive the pain, the circumstance, and the reality and still maintain the inner light that is their voice? That's wizardry.
Black Girl Unlimited is a story about a girl, named Echo, who's learning the steps to be a wizard. The steps are steep, she'll often fall back on herself. But she'll get there, and you'll cheer her on at every step and cry at every hurdle.
"Hard-hitting contemporary" fits in this context, but don't let that stop you. This is the story of a wizard who learns how to channel her own light in a world of darkness. It's beautiful.
Trigger Warnings: Parental drug use, overdose, violence, car accident, sexual abuse, triggering language around sexual abuse, rape, discussions of suicide.
As much as I tried to love this...I didn't. This is a fantastic series, but Lair of Dreams is my least favorite so far.
Pacing: ★ 1/2
Character development: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
This is the second book in The Diviners series, so a caution: I'm talking about this book, there might be spoilers for book one!
Following the events of The Diviners, our crew of supernaturally talented diviners are left in a world that is running with the concept of their existence, and the good guys and bad guys are paying attention. What now?
Henry DuBois the IV, the aspiring piano composer with dreams of the big stage, finds himself dreaming the same dream week after week. He's looking for his lost love, Louis, who he left in New Orleans. A dream walker, Henry thinks he can locate Louis in his dreams. But something else finds Henry instead.
Ling Chan is also a dream walker, but her dreams are more of a pay-to-play service. She helps locals in Chinatown transfer messages to dead loved ones through dreams, and she's happy with that. But one night she meets Henry, and their lives converge in unexpected ways.
And the dream world is paying attention.
Soon, Henry and Ling find themselves wrapped in a web of dreams covering up a deadly secret. Can they find out the truth before the dream consumes them?
Our original cast of characters from the first book--Evie, Sam, Mabel, Theta, Memphis, and Jericho—are all still present in this installment, but the main plot follows Ling and Henry. Considering the sheer number of POVs present, the author did a fantastic job of keeping all of their stories separate and yet connected. I loved seeing them intertwine and get closer and closer to being one cohesive unit.
So I initially gave this a 4 star rating, but after a few days have gone by, I realized that I was essentially giving it an entire star for the last 90 pages. Out of almost 600. Taking into account my feelings for almost all of this book, this was more of a 3.5 star read.
I still love these characters and this gorgeously rendered version of 1920s New York City, don't get me wrong. But I can't ignore that Lair of Dreams is the slowest paced book I've read in ages. The plot, which was a neat initial metaphor of the American Dream gone spooky bad, took forever to take off the ground. After the build-up of the first book, I was expecting this book to take off with our motley crew of characters fighting the good fight and learning more about the spooky force that is heavily foreshadowed. Nope.
Lair of Dreams is a quieter story, and it takes its sweet time. Too much time. All the time. I know it feels like I'm harping on how slow this thing was, but I sat through hours and hundreds of pages of filler. Hundreds. Of. Pages.
But, to get away from my clear dislike of the pacing, I will say that the things that make this series a standout for readers were still present: the stellar world building, leap-off-the-page characters, and incredible spooky element remained gripping. In particular, I like the threads of Sam's past that are coming to light. Can't wait to see where that goes...
This was lightning in a bottle, a gunshot in progress. Loved it with my entire soul.
Writing: wrap me in these sentences, I'll sleep in a bed of these words
The Vibe: ★★★★★
Tigers, Not Daughters comes out on March 24, 2020!
Tigers, Not Daughters hit me from the side with a punch that I wasn't expecting. Magical realism, grief, ghosts, the unshakable reality of sisters, and use of multiple narrators all collided to bring one unforgettable (and new favorite) read.
The Torres sisters were always a set of four. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa. Their mother isn't there, and their father shouldn't be there, but life is life and that's how it goes.
Except it's not. Because Ana's dead.
Ana's death cracks the lines of this fragile family into 3 distinct shards. We have Jessica, who misses Ana so much that she consumes her, becomes her, shoving the angry versions of herself under layers of steely indifference. We have Iridian, who feels more comfortable with words than with people, as it's only ever people who hurt her over and over. We have Rosa, whose magical ways of understanding reality leave her with a different lens, but no less pain.
All three sisters have survived the impact of Ana leaving them in waves, but when a ghostly presence interrupts their fragile grief, the storm arrives again.
This was so, so good. I loved it. Mabry's realism was definitely magical, but it was also earthy and gritty in a way that was so exciting to read. These sisters were raw, they were real, and they had all kinds of aspects—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the bizarre in a way that only girls can be. The vibe of sisters was perfect.
I also loved the writing. This is a tale in the telling, and the snapshots of perspectives and the lyricism in the sentences flowed in such a way that this story was all-consuming. You lived the Torres sisters and you were them at the same time. This kind of writing is a gem to read in any situation, and I loved its deft handling of grief, darker themes, and resilience.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was so much better than I expected? Loved this, what a great starter to a series. 1920s, Manhattan speakeasies, ghosts, oh my!
Density: ★★ (needed less detail)
The Diviners has been on my radar since its release in 2013, but for multiple reasons I never picked it up.
I don't like historical fiction, I said.
I'm not a fan of the 1920s, I said.
Wow that's a big book, I said.
Now it's 2020, the 20s are upon us again, and I freaking loved this massive book.
The Diviners follows the perspectives of a cast of characters in Manhattan, New York City, in the 1920s. But unlike the 20s that you and I know, this era has more magic, more spook, and more pizazz. Essentially, something paranormal and evil is afoot, and our cast of characters is slowly twined together into a group of paranormally-tinged individuals labeled "diviners."
Meet Evie, exiled to her Uncle Will's odd museum of the occult because she read the history off of one too many objects in Ohio—Evie' brash lack of consequence has landed her in a mess, and New York isn't exactly the reform she was expecting to get. She's an incredibly unlikable character—you just want to strangle her—but her role as our eyes and ears grew on me after a while.
Meet Memphis, who once could heal the sick with the touch of his hands. Now, his healing gift has disappeared, but he still finds himself on the edges of the paranormal with his job as the runner for one of Harlem's lynchpin underground tycoons. He's running from his past, running from his future, but something about the dream he keeps having keeps him up at night.
Meet Theta and Harry, who live as platonic friends in a fancy apartment building, both of them grasping at the limelight of the stage. They've got secrets they don't want to share, and some weird abilities that they refuse to acknowledge. When Evie and Memphis bump into their bubble, things will never be the same.
Meet Mabel, the one who's never quite out of her parents' shadow. Socialist parents make great avenues for change, but not exactly the best, well, parents. Mabel's friend Evie is a hurricane that is going to blow Mabel's life to bits whether she likes it or not.
Meet Jericho, the boy hiding behind a bland face and boring smile. His story might be the most otherworldly of them all...
I really, really enjoyed this. But, come on—did it need to be this long? This book is a whopping 578 pages and it feels like it. I loved the plot, I loved the concept, and I loved the characters (except for Evie, tbh), but they're chained down to way too much description, scene set-up, and waiting around for things to happen. Here's to hoping the pacing—and editing—improves in the later books.
Buffy the Vampire Slayers + The Babysitters Club + 2019 humor. This was cute and funny, but I wasn't the right audience.
Plot: ★★ 1/2
Age range: the young end of YA
The Babysitters Coven is a FUN read. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and makes the comparison to its own roots as the 2019 lovechild of Buffy and The Babysitters Club.
Esme Pearl is a high school student with a passion for quirky fashion and a love of babysitting. She started a babysitting hotline with her best friend, Janis, and while they mainly use it as an excuse to hang out every day, they do get frequent babysitting requests.
However, things are changing in Esme's world. When she gets mad, things move. As things continue to happen around her, Esme realizes that maybe she's not going crazy like her mom did.
Enter Cassandra Heaven, the new girl in school. She seems weirdly focused on Esme, and she's definitely noticed the telekinesis. Oh, and she's obsessed with joining the babysitting club.
What's going on with the babysitters, and why does Esme feel like things are following a pre-destined path? A few spells, demons, and trainings later, and things start to make sense...
The Babysitters Coven made no bones about being filled with tropes, but it was still a rollicking good time. It's nice to see a YA novel cater to the 13-15 year olds, but due to its younger humor and use of tropes it was not a personal favorite. Unlike many of the YA novels coming out, this one is actually for its young audiences and not the many adults (like me!) who read the genre anyway.
Thank you to Delcorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Dark, diverse, feminist, eerie, memorable, and twisted—welcome to the new generation of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a lot of fun in here.
In His Hideous Heart, editor Dahlia Adler has compiled a truly impressive shortlist of some of Poe’s most famous tales, reimagined for a 2019 audience. I couldn’t believe how nuanced and imaginative these retellings were, and how eerily similar they felt to their original inspirations. Having the original Poe tales in the back of the collection was such a good call—I actually read each tale in tandem, from new reimagining to old inspiration to compare and contrast each entry.
To keep this review shorter than its original anthology, here are my quick thoughts and ratings on each of the 13 tales:
She Rode a Horse of Fire (Metzengerstein) by Kendare Blake
The perfect opener to this anthology, this historically-minded tale about a manor house experiencing the entrancement and death of its lord was the PERFECT amount of spooky.
It’s Carnival! (The Cask of Amontillado) by Tiffany D. Jackson
A tale twisted to a diverse feminist revenge story, this entry watches the narrator as she exacts a clinical end to the man who mocked her and her family for not being Jamacian enough with deadly results in modern-day New Orleans.
Night-Tide (Annabelle Lee) by Tessa Gratton
Tied as my favorite, this prose retelling of the poem follows the summer seaside hypnotic reality of the narrator as she questions whether her illicit love for Annabelle Lee was the cause of Annabelle’s death in this historic New England tale perfect for fans of f/f star-crossed lovers.
The Glittering Death (The Pit and the Pendulum) by Caleb Roehrig
A modern tale of a serial killer who targets women, and the girl who finds herself a live captive in need of escape—extremely gritty, and another parable on modern-day feminism.
A Drop of Stolen Ink (The Purloined Letter) by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Edgar Allan Poe meets the future in a world where information is coded in biometric tattoos and one girl is sent to uncover a CEO’s treachery in the high-stakes world of the tattoo-data black market.
Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart) by Stephanie Kuehn
A high-achieving diverse female student always comes in second to the mediocrity of her white male competitor at their private school--so she decides to balance the scales of justice and eliminate him in this gruesome tale of cold revenge.
The Raven (Remix) by Amanda Lovelace
The poem The Raven, blacked out to create a new narrative, remained cool in concept by struggled to shine in between such impressive prose entries.
Changeling (Hop-Frog) by Marieke Nijkamp
Set in 1832, this tale of the Fae is reimagined as a vigilante group of former disabled and neglected abused children who receive a glorious second chance at a happy life or a vengeful one in a dark tale of one girl questing to retrieve those who deserve more than what the mortal world can give them by transporting them to the kingdom of the Fae and punishing their perpetrators.
The Oval Filter (The Oval Portrait) by Lamar Giles
A college football star’s dead girlfriend shows up in his Instagram feed trapped in an oval filter that appears to be suffocating her behind the screen—can Tariq solve the mystery behind her appearance before it drives him mad?
Red (The Masque of the Red Death) by Hillary Monahan
My least favorite in the collection, this tale should be read for the aesthetic and not for the narrative as it is essentially a color-coded picture show with a dark conclusion.
Lygia (Ligeia) by Dahlia Adler
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
A f/f tale of loss and mourning gone too far, the narrator mourns her dead girlfriend, Lygia, and tries to remake her presence in her new girlfriend with dark results.
The Fall of the Bank of Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) by Fran Wilde
Tied as my favorite, this masterful blend of futuristic nanotech with old-school English manor joins the heist trope in this tale of (potentially) gender-fluid twins who take the job of hacking the unhackable Bank of Usher in an old manor house guarded by semi-sentient computerized mold. (I hear you saying “wtf”—just read it. It’s amazing.)
The Murders in Rue Apartelle, Boracay (The Murders in the Rue Morgue) by Rin Chupeco
Confusing and at times overly complicated given its length, this tale was a modern blend of magical realism in the Philippines told by the female narrator as she recounts the tale of her mysterious rich boyfriend who may or may not be too knowledgeable about a murder case.
Original notes: Ahhhh! So thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for His Hideous Heart. Stay tuned for my review on September 5! This is one of my most anticipated releases for 2019 so I am HYPED.
Thank you so much to Flatiron Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
These Witches Don't Burn? More like these witches don't bore! (Couldn't resist.)
I absolutely loved reading These Witches Don't Burn. Fun, filled with memorable characters, extreme relationship drama, and so well paced it's basically ready for its movie adaptation, this book is a great LGBT+ contemporary read.
Everyone knows the history of Salem, Massachusetts. People went mad and claimed girls were witches, and they killed them. As many other novels have explored—what if the witches were real? These Witches Don't Burn covers the same ground relating to Salem, but it does it with a surprising sense of diversity, humor, and heart.
Hannah is an Elemental witch in her junior year of high school. She's training to be a full witch in her coven, she's attempting to balance her home life with school, and she's dealing with her persistent ex. Adding some fire to the flames, Hannah's ex is one of the witches in Hannah's coven, and she's everywhere Hannah is. Awkward.
The main drama for These Witches Don't Burn lies in the relationship dynamics between Hannah, her ex Veronica, Hannah's friend Gemma, and the new girl in town, Morgan. There is an action-based pseudo-mystery plot going on in the background as the witches discover that a Witch Hunter is in town—attempting to murder them in the style of the 1600s Salem witch trials—and Hannah finds herself in the middle of the drama, but for me the main narrative lay in the relationships.
To be honest, that's why I enjoyed it so much.
These Witches Don't Burn is feminist, fun, and filled with the kind of relationship drama that everyone can relate to. I loved it. My only caveat to the story was that it fell into some of the anti-men tropes that these novels often have. The men in this novel were either suspicious, problematic, dead, or part of the mystery in a nefarious way. I can't get into the spoilers, but once you've reached the finale you'll see what I mean. I wish there had been a few positive male characters in the story not because we need positive male roles in every story, but because it seemed like an intentional oversight and felt like an over correction in the name of female empowerment.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.