Book Review: Poison’s Kiss

Title: Poison’s Kiss
Author: Breeana Shields
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 300
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased from B&N
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review: I was a little hesitant to read and review Breeana Shield’s debut novel because I’ve been in a #ownvoices kind of reading mood since that cold day in Nov. but since the book I really wanted was not at the store, I chose this Poison’s Kiss. The premise was intriguing and fantastical, which appealed to me because I love nothing more to get lost in a fictional world that is so unlike my own. And while I did read the book quickly and got caught up in the story, I was left with wanting more. I couldn’t figure out what it was and then it hit me…the world building of the story could have been better.

While I don’t know much about Indian folklore so I’ll leave that critique to someone smarter than me as to how well Shield’s incorporated mythology and folklore into her novel, I do know about world building and where I find the story lacking. One of the aspects of the story that continually drove me crazy was establishing a time and place for the novel. The world that Marinda lives in, Sundari, is very different than our own, but I was somewhat confused as to the time period the novel took place. It seemed to be a mix of modern society and an pre-industrial society. For example, uses some modern sayings that don’t quite fit into the world Shield’s established. I feel like Shields couldn’t decide between being inspired by ancient and modern India so she combined the two, but it ended up being confusing because modern India is such a dynamic country and quite different than a colonized idea of India of old. I’m also a bit of a geography nerd when it comes to my entertainment, so when an author establishes that a city is two days travel for two characters, but then the characters make it back in a matter of hours, I get twitchy. I feel Shields does spend an significant amount of time establishing the mythology of Sundari and the beliefs of the people, which was really well done. I could see where her inspiration from Indian folklore blended into a mythology and folklore of her own making.

In her author notes, Shields states that she wanted to explore the idea of making a child an assassin, essentially taking away their choice for what they’d like their life to be, and that theme is perfectly explored here. Marinda is kept ignorant of who she works for and why, as well as other aspects of being a visa kanya and Poison’s Kiss is all about her awakening. While the impetus for her to start searching is her becoming “friends” with Deven, I feel like her search for self was beginning before she ever met him. Marinda is unhappy and filled with guilt over killing boys and young men, but does it out of love for her brother. She knows she is being manipulated but doesn’t see a way out. Her interaction with Deven is what actually makes her take action because he is the first person, aside from her brother, to show her kindness. I feel like this theme of ignorance trapping a person is wonderful metaphor for American’s current state of affairs. When one is kept in ignorance, the powers that be, and in Marinda’s case it is her handler Gopal, can convince people of anything. It is when one decides to search for their own answers that one becomes free. And Poison’s Kiss is ultimately about a girl who actively works toward getting her freedom.

Recommendation:
Despite it’s flaws, Poison’s Kiss was an entertaining read, and I intend to read the sequel.

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Crystal’s Favorites for 2016

I read quite a few books this year so choosing just a few is difficult. There were several historical fiction books that really made an impact on me.

burnBurn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
Candlewick Press
My review

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

moonOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
My review

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Shame the StarsShame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Tu Books
My review

Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.


My favorite fantasy –

lostLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire
My review

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…


My favorite contemporary romance –

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddThe Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Delacorte Press
K. Imani’s review

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?


Favorite collection –
Moonshot SOFT Cover Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol 1. edited by Hope Nicholson
Alternate History Comics Inc.
My review II Excellent Indian Country Today Review with many images

Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!


anotherFinally, it isn’t labeled YA, but I just had to include this book because it was flat out amazing and a good portion of the book is a coming of age story. I think that many YA readers will be grabbing this one.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Amistad

Author Spotlight

Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

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Review: Three Dark Crowns

crownsTitle: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Availability: September 20th, 2016

Summary: Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. If only it was that simple… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Three Dark Crowns is a mirror into the lives of three future queens fated to kill each other for the crown. The triplet sisters belong to three groups, each with their own powers, motivations, and schemes to maneuver their queen to a bloody victory. But of course, nothing goes according to plan.

The world of Three Dark Crowns and the inner lives of sisters Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe are rich and complex. Of course, as a result, there’s a bit of a learning curve in the first few chapters. It takes a little time to figure out what’s happening, who’s who, and everything else, but once you do, it’s easy to sink into the fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking twists and turns of the story.

Three Dark Crowns is told from the perspective of the three sisters, and it’s incredibly well done. In contrast, I was a bit thrown by a side character’s motivations and actions (Joseph, what?!). Similarly, the romance at times veers toward the classic YA insta-love. But, considering the pace and epic fantasy style of the book, it almost felt fitting.

I pretty much read this through in one go — and usually, I steer clear of dark fantasy, but after the first few chapters, I was ready for the long, 400-paged haul. I’m definitely grabbing the sequel when it comes out!

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Review: Sacrifice by Cindy Pon

ponTitle: Sacrifice
Author: Cindy Pon
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Publisher: Month9Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Sacrifice, the sequel to Serpentine, plunges Skybright into the terrifying underworld where demons are bred and whisks her up to the magnificent Mountain of Heavenly Peace where the gods dwell.

Stone is stripped of his immortal status and told to close hell’s breach, which mysteriously remains open, threatening mortals.

Zhen Ni, Skybright’s former mistress and friend, has been wed to the strange and brutish Master Bei, and finds herself trapped in an opulent but empty manor. When she discovers half-eaten corpses beneath the estate, she realizes that Master Bei is not all that he seems.

As Skybright works to free Zhen Ni with the aid of Kai Sen and Stone, they begin to understand that what is at risk is more far-reaching then they could ever have fathomed.

Review: After reading Serpentine earlier this year, I knew I had to get my hands on the sequel. I’m happy to report that everything I loved about the first book is here: fantastic world-building, unique characters, and memorable mythology.

Cindy Pon still excels in writing descriptive passages, whether that’s clothing, fight scenes, building layouts, or supernatural/demonic creatures. Her ability to set a scene is remarkable, and I loved her descriptions of the underworld to the Mountain of Heavenly Peace and everywhere in between. Pon made good use of Skybright’s reliance on smell and life-sensing in this book—it was a great way to show that Skybright was developing and getting used to her abilities as a serpent demon.

While Skybright was the sole narrator in Serpentine, the scope of Sacrifice was wide enough that two additional POVs were necessary: Zhen Ni and Kai Sen. Of the two of these, Zhen Ni was the strongest, and her slow discovery of what was truly going on in her new husband’s manor was terrifying in the best sorts of ways. Kai Sen had an important, though not as compelling, part of the narrative. It was great when their plots converged with Skybright’s, and I admired the (somewhat tumultuous) friendship and love between them. I enjoyed being able to get their takes on the events of the previous book and see them drive their respective plots forward in this book.

In the previous book, I didn’t like Stone all that much, which made my eventual appreciation of him in this book all the more surprising. Getting his powers stripped from him—and thus no longer able to drag Skybright around with him at his whim—definitely helped me (and Skybright) stop hating him entirely. I’m still not sure how I feel about the romance that developed between Skybright and Stone, because while it felt better paced than the one between Skybright and Kai Sen in the previous book, something Stone forced Skybright to do prior to losing his powers crossed my “actions that are acceptable for love interests” line. And once that line is crossed, I can’t completely get rid of the nagging voice that says the heroine should run the other way, even if he consistently proves he isn’t that person anymore.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you enjoyed Serpentine. It was a treat to come back to the Kingdom of Xia, and while I’m a little sad that this will be the last book to focus on Skybright, I feel like this was a good place to conclude her story. I’m looking forward to Cindy Pon’s next work, both in the Kingdom of Xia and outside of it.

Extras
Interview with Cindy Pon: On Writing, Sacrifice, and Beyond

Whoo hoo! Sacrifice Blog Tour: Guest Post by Cindy Pon

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Book Review: Ghosts

ghostsTitle: Ghosts
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Genres:  Graphic Novel/Magical Realism
Pages: 240
Publisher: Graphix
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.

Review: With Hispanic Heritage month just finishing and Dia De Los Muertos coming in a little over a week, I thought Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel would be a good fit for this week’s review. I’ve never reading anything by Telgemeier before, nor have I reviewed a graphic novel either, so I went into this book without any preconceived notions. I saw that the characters were Mexican and thought – cool! I saw the inclusion of Dia de los Muertos and got excited about an author who incorporated a culturally significant holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay that way.

At it’s heart, Ghosts is a story about family, specifically sisters. At the beginning of the story there is a bit of tension between the sister, specifically on Cat’s behalf as Maya seems none the wiser, because they are moving to a small town in Northern California due to Maya’s cystic fibrosis. We also learn that the two shared friends which gives us insight into how much Maya depends on Cat, and how often Cat is responsible for her sister. While there is love between the two, and they are close, Cat does yearn to establish herself apart from her sister. Initially this makes Cat seem like a bit of a brat, but to me, she was written as the typical teenager who is trying to adjust to life just when peer relationships are becoming important. I was actually endeared to Cat because of it as I could totally understand where she was coming from. It also made her growth more believable. Through meeting friends and Maya’s illness taking a turn for the worse, Cat is able to come to a place of acceptance and be open to her new life in Bahia de la Luna.

I love magical realism and Ghosts is swimming with it because, well it is essentially a ghost story. Cat is really afraid of ghosts as they make her think about death, especially in terms of Maya’s illness, so much of Cat’s growth comes with accepting that she lives in a town that is filled with harmless ghosts. At the beginning Cat runs away from the ghosts because she believes they harmed Maya, while Maya just wants to get to know the ghosts. Eventually, in a lovely heart to heart, Cat decides to go to the midnight Dia de los Metros party the town has for the ghosts on behalf of Maya. This is also where the book falters. In incorporating Dia de los Muertos at this point of the story, Telgemeier changes the meaning of the holiday to fit the narrative. The celebration of Dia de los Muertos doesn’t come out of no where as Telgemeier does a good job of explaining the ofrendas, and having the girls make an alter for their grandmother, but the main crux of the holiday for Telgemeier is the big party at the end. Though, I will say this reminded me of the ending of The Book of Life (if I’m remembering it correctly) so I am a bit conflicted with Telgemeier’s use of a festival like atmosphere to the day instead of the close family atmosphere. I do know that Dia de los Muertos festivals are growing as more and more people come to celebrate the holiday, for example, my school incorporates Dia de los Muertos into our Halloween activities as we create a communal alter to celebrate deceased family members, so while her use of the holiday in such a manner is troublesome, it does reflect how the holiday is currently changing.

What I did love, besides the story of sisterly love, is how diverse this novel is. Bahia de la Luna is a small town but actually reflects the population of California as I know it. The friends that Cat meets are of all different backgrounds and in crowd scenes, the variety of the human palette is reflected. Telgemeier also has a character state that the ghosts prefer to speak in Spanish because many of the ghost there are from Mexico (which CA originally was) and she doesn’t translate the Spanish. All the interactions with the ghosts are in Spanish therefore the reader must figure out what the ghosts are saying if they don’t understand Spanish. To me, this inclusion is important because I feel like when Spanish, or any language really, is translated on the page, it’s made for the comfort of the reader and may not actually fit the story. The fact that her publishers allowed her to not translate the story made me respect them so much, and added to my enjoyment.

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the book for it’s sweet story despite it’s troublesome elements. I think before this is shared with kids, an adult reads it for themselves and makes their own decision. Or even, read it with a group of students and use it as a learning tool for Dia de los Muertos.

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Review: When the Moon Was Ours

moonTitle: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Magical Realism, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Romance
Pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Review Copy: Received electronic ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Review: Last October I read The Weight of Feathers on a plane ride, so it seemed fitting for me to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours while on my trip last weekend. If you loved Feathers, you’ll most likely love Moon as the curses, family problems, and magical realism are all still present. The prose itself is excellent, with many beautiful, sometimes haunting, frequently memorable lines and passages. Moon is a fascinating world filled with women who can cure lovesickness, girls made of water, roses that grow from people’s wrists, boys who paint and hang the dozens of moons, and sisters who can get whatever and whoever they want.

Miel and Sam are the heart of the story, and they are engaging narrators. I loved their perspectives on each other, their relationship, and their trials throughout the book. I always appreciate a romance more when the characters have conflict with each other in addition to conflict from outside sources—it makes the relationship seem more real and makes any eventual triumph all the sweeter. Their romance felt like a natural progression from their friendship, which is no small feat considering their history together isn’t told linearly.

Aracely and Yasmin were also great characters, and the relationships they had with Miel and Sam were both interesting and backed by a great deal of love. I’ve been craving stories with good parents(/parental figures), and Aracely and Yasmin helped satisfy that itch. The Bonner sisters were particularly interesting antagonists, and the way they were alternately chilling and sympathetic made me crave more of their stories. I think McLemore handled their one-entity-in-four-bodies portrayal (and its slow subversion) well.

There were a few points in the book where I felt the story dragged a little (if your tolerance for long descriptive passages is low, it may drag a lot), and I occasionally wished we had a wider view of the world than the one we got. While there are a few plot points I would have adjusted, the story and the characters kept my attention so much so that I was a little sad when I finished.

Recommendation: Buy it now. When the Moon Was Ours is a wonderful successor to McLemore’s debut novel, The Weight of Feathers. Moon would be a great introduction to magical realism for teens and treats romance, sex, and (gender) identity thoughtfully.

Extras
Excerpt from When the Moon Was Ours

“Where Our Magic Lives: An Introduction to Magical Realism”

The Love That Lives Here: On Queer Girls, Transboys, and Sex on the Page

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