Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: “Every Exquisite Thing” by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

I’m excited to share that I will be contributing monthly reviews to The Lesbrary book review blog, dedicated to talking about books by and about women/femmes who identify as queer.

Image from Goodreads

The first review I wrote for the blog is for “Every Exquisite Thing,” a short story part of the Ghosts of the Shadow Market collection from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments universe. Follow this link to see the review. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve also read the collection or the story!

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Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

My last read of 2018 and first review of 2019. This is the third and final installment in Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices series, another story set in the Shadowhunter world. I want to start by saying that Clare is one of my favorite authors. I adore her Shadowhunter world. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I realized that what’s called urban fantasy was my all time favorite genre.

For those who plan on reading the books and haven’t gotten this far, beware! Spoilers for book two, Lord of Shadows, ahead.

qoaad_blogIn Queen of Air and Darkness, the Blackthorns, Emma, and Shadowhunter community as a whole are reeling from the events at the end of the last book, in which Livvy Blackthorn is killed, as well as the Inquisitor Robert Lightwood, Alec’s father (he’s a major character in The Mortal Instruments series, FYI). With the grief of losing his baby sister and the impending doom that is set to happen to him and his parabatai because they’ve fallen in love, it’s too much for Julian to handle. He decides to have his emotions magically muted, which leads him to become a different person that makes cold, calculating decisions, but not in the name of family and love, instead for the sake of militaristic strategy.

Battles in fairy lead to Emma and Julian traveling through a portal to another dimension called Thule, where the Dark War from the Mortal Instruments series went terribly wrong and Sebastian lived and ruled the land. Suffice it to say, this is not the kind of book you can read casually and pick up as a stand alone. You absolutely have to read at least the two previous books, and the other Shadowhunter series’ books. While it gives just enough detail to fill in those gaps to anyone who might be new to the world, it’s definitely written for die hard fans of Clare’s world.

Taking this book into consideration with the rest of the series, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite. It started off really strong and I was hooked and tormented all the way through the adventures in Thule. The events that unfold after that didn’t quite keep my attention in the same way. It’s not to say that I didn’t like how the story unraveled, but I definitely felt much of it could have been condensed.

There were a lot of moments that were meant to be character development, which is absolutely crucial to any story, but when it comes to the stories that Clare writes, that development must also carry the story forward. I didn’t feel like every detail written for the sake of developing characters did that. As a fan of the people and the world, I loved reading these details into each individual’s personality and thoughts, but as a reader of a novel as a whole, I thought many scenes bogged down the story that wanted to keep going. There was a lot that could have been saved as more “behind the scenes” tidbits, which is something the author likes to post on her social media. In short, it felt like much of the content in Queen of Air and Darkness was dedicated too much to fanservice, which hurt the overall story.

That said, I want to reiterate that I loved learning more about the characters. Specifically, I adored seeing the development of certain relationships between different character sets. Clare has a true talent for putting into words the complexity of human emotions and how those are influenced by and affect the ties that bind. The relationship that broke my heart the most was between Ty and Kit.

After the death of his twin Livvy, Ty leans on Kit for support in his insane endeavors to bring her back from the dead. Kit knows it’s a bad idea, but wants so desperately to please and help Ty because of the love that’s grown that he goes along with the bad idea. The way things end between them left me wanting to cry, but I’m hoping that that particular dynamic has more to come, and it seems like there’s room for growth with the way Clare wrote their ending.

I’m looking forward to reading about Kit’s story in future books and seeing how his story fits in with the rest of the Shadowhunter world. Have any of you read the books in this world and/or series? What are your thoughts on the Shadowhunters? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova

There are spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading the book, proceed with caution!

bruja born blog
From my Instagram page

Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova is the followup to Labyrinth Lost, all part of the Brooklyn Brujas series. This book is told from the perspective of the older sister, Lula Mortiz, after the events of what happened in the first book. She’s still coping with the trauma and struggling to find forgiveness for her sister Alex’s actions. Meanwhile, Alex has embraced her encantrix powers, but still feels guilty , so she does everything for her sister to earn her forgiveness.

Lula is clearly undergoing the effects of PTSD, as she consistently states that she no longer feels like the same person. So much so that even the love of her life, Maks, doesn’t bring her the same joy he once did, but she’s so adamant at holding on to her old self that she clings to his presence and the relationship they once had that’s no longer there. After months of these trials and tribulations, Maks decides to call it quits, but Lula doesn’t accept that. She tries using her powers of healing to mend their broken relationship, but in that same moment Death herself comes for Lula’s school mates in a bus crash.

Lady de la Muerte comes to claim Maks in the hospital in the aftermath, but Lula won’t let go. She enlists the help of her sisters to heal Maks before Death can take him, but things go terribly wrong. He dies, and when he wakes up, he’s not himself anymore. When Lula tried to tether her life force to Maks’s, she accidentally did the same for the other victims of the bus crash, creating an army of casimuertos (almost dead). Now, the Mortiz sisters are in a race against the paranormal authorities and time to fix their mistakes, but in order to do so, Lula must learn to let go of Maks, and Lula’s sisters must let go of her.

Cordova’s characterization of Lula is adept, as readers see the Mortiz family now from her eyes. One of the things I found especially telling and heartbreaking was how Lula always had Alex glamor her scars away on her face. The scars are a remnant of what happened in Los Lagos in book one, so hiding them is a form of trying to forget the trauma she underwent. More than that though, it’s vanity.

I don’t say that to be condescending in that way sometimes teenage girls are treated for caring so much about their beauty. Lula herself recognizes that her need to cover up the scars on her face is connected to the fact that her whole life she’s been told that she’s beautiful, and she knows that beauty is power when it comes to being a woman. It’s not to say she values her other qualities less (i.e., her healing magic, her fierce loyalty, her strength), but she knows having been told her whole life how beautiful she is means the world puts value in her physical appearance, and by having a scarred face, that power has been taken away.

There’s only a few brief sentences in the beginning of the book about this power dynamic, but it’s so in line with what women in our world are constantly told. Cordova didn’t spend much time on it, but she didn’t need to. Lula said it all in those few short internal thoughts on that one page. She managed to convey a complex idea of feminism in such a small space, and that’s the mark of a great writer.

By the end of the book though, Lula has found power in her magic, her family, and her bravery and strength. In the end, she makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her family, friends, and the world, even if it means she doesn’t get to live to see it. Thankfully, Lady de la Muerte doesn’t take her life as repayment for the chaos she’s caused from her actions, but the price that’s paid isn’t cheap either. There’s clearly more to come in book three, but whatever comes their way, I’m sure the Mortiz family will overcome.

I’m also glad that Lula has found power and strength in her scars, literal and metaphorical, and that she grew into someone who is learning to live with the past, but not  necessarily holding onto it as a lifeline.

Have any of you read this book yet? What are your thoughts on the Mortiz sisters and their stories? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fiction: The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

For my workplace book club, a coworker chose The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I had my reservations about reading this book because of the accusations that recently came out about the author in light of the Me Too movement. I also knew that this was a book that’s been lauded and held in high esteem, and even challenged and banned by certain schools due to certain content.

sherman alexie blog post
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 2007

The story follows Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a member of the Wellpinit community in Washington. It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up Indian in a racist country. It’s about growing up Indian in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. It’s about growing up Indian and poor. There are so many heavy and tragic topics that take place throughout the story, but it’s all told through Junior’s eyes, meaning it’s told with a wry sense of humor to soften the blow.

I really enjoyed the main character’s voice and his sarcasm aimed not only at the white community that mistreated his people, but at his own people too. It creates this complex and layered relationship between wanting to remain loyal, but wanting more than the life allotted by circumstance and the majority in power. It’s something that many marginalized people can relate to.

Here of course is where the conflict for me as a reader occurs. I truly enjoyed this book and think it’s a good piece of work that’s worth reading. But I can’t just forget the accusations about the author from the people he hurt. In fact, I can even see some of that attitude bleed through in the main character Junior. Sure, he’s a straight teenage boy, so he’s bound to talk about masturbation and look at girls with desire. At least, that’s what’s expected, because after all, boys will be boys. The danger in that expectation is that those boys grow up to be “men who’ll be men,” who in turn continue objectifying women and seeing them as things. This leads to men who “misbehave” and end up hurting women.

While the book is an excellent read and covers important topics with a genuinely funny voice, it’s hard not to notice the moments where adult Alexie and fictional Junior crossover into one another. It becomes a question of separating the art from the artist, which is something I’ve always struggled with. To what extent can we do so, and at what point do we stop separating the two? Because it’s obvious that no one is perfect and no art is perfect, but we have to make a stand somewhere.

Alexie’s new reputation is a blow to marginalized communities because he was such a strong voice for his own. Then again, maybe if more publishers championed more marginalized voices, it wouldn’t be such a detrimental hit to those communities in the first place.

Did anybody else read this book after what came to light about the author? Did anyone read it before? What are your thoughts on liking a book but not liking an author? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fiction: Wrecked by Maria Padian

This is a post I made for my cousin’s blog. Click the link below to see the full review.

This one is a bit of a backlist, as it was published in 2016. However, its contents and story are still relevant, as they have always been, and as I fear they may always be. I wish I had more optimism for the future of gender equality, but stories like this one are all too […]

via Wrecked by Maria Padian: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

I finished reading the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Labyrinth Lost, a few days ago. I decided to sit on my experience for a bit before writing about it. I want to talk about how I discovered the book in the first place.

Thanks to various Goodreads book giveaways, the novel was put on my radar and I entered all the different times I could. The cover alone intrigued me as I immediately recognized its Day of the Dead decoration, which meant this had to be a Latinx protagonist (I hadn’t noticed the series title at that point yet). Then I saw the series title and I saw the author’s name, so I clicked on her profile. I found out she was Ecuadorian raised in New York, so naturally, yes, I had to read this book. I have Ecuadorian roots myself so that made me inclined to read this story. I’m so glad I did.

labyrinth lost

I’ve read plenty of fantasy books between Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, and Cinda Williams Chima. While I love those books and series, the mythology is heavily based in Anglo-Saxon culture and history. Even in fantastical, fictionalized worlds, Euro-centric stories prevail. I’m a fan of those authors and the stories and characters they’ve created, but even so, I never felt like I saw myself in any of those worlds or people.

Enter Zoraida Cordova with Brooklyn Brujas, and for the first time ever, in all the books about magic and myth and folklore that I’ve read, I saw someone like me. Alejandra Mortiz (the main character) talks about her Ecuadorian family who came to NY by way of Puerto Rico (shout out to my mom’s people). When I told my dad about this seemingly small, throwaway detail, he said, “Oh yeah a lot of us do that. That’s really accurate.”

My family has never practiced brujeria or anything like that, but I am familiar with the background of magic. Likewise, while we’ve never believed in or practiced witchcraft, the underlying concept of the power of ancestry and how the dead are never truly gone is something that resonated with me because in my family, we do believe that our loved ones are always with us, even when they pass. We believe in the other side, and that the veil that divides our worlds is rather thin.

There’s even a moment in the book where Alex is describing the superstition of how dropping utensils indicates visitors will be coming soon, and depending on which utensil was dropped, that would state if it was a man or a woman. I couldn’t help but laugh, because my mom yells, “Visita!” every time one of us drops a utensil in our house. Again, we’re not witches, but it seems certain superstitions just run through our culture. To see my own family beliefs represented in this fantastical world of magic just felt so validating.

The other thing I appreciated about this book was the depiction of Alex’s bisexuality. The fact that she was bisexual had no influence on the outcome of events or the narrative of the story whatsoever. Sure, as most YA novels are wont to do, there was a bit of a love triangle, but it never played into a drama of having to choose one over the other, of being either or. It was accepted and no one batted a lash at the fact that Alex was in love with Rishi. It was just as natural as her growing feelings for Nova.

While romance played a small role and was weaved throughout the plot, it never drove the story. If anything, the love for her family was the driving force behind the story. The fact that her family never questioned or made a deal out of Alex having a crush on Rishi was just such a relief to see in a YA novel. Instead, it was mainly about magic and family and the power a girl can have.

Overall, if you’re interested in a different culture’s take on magic and fantasy, I highly recommend this book. Labyrinth Lost was just such a fun adventure and kept me turning the pages. I read it in eight days, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that fast with my busy schedule.

Have any of you read the book? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!