March 10, 2017

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost Brooklyn Brujas, Book 1
By Zoraida Córdova
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy

Zoraida Córdova's The Vicious Deep trilogy is my favorite thing to come from the mermaid mini-trend in YA. I knew I wanted to read her next YA urban fantasy novel, so I was sold on LABYRINTH LOST even before I saw the gorgeous cover.

LABYRINTH LOST did lose me a little at the beginning. Alex is a bruja with great potential, about to step into her full power at her Deathday celebration. But she doesn't want the power, because she believes her power drove her father away. (I found it obvious that this wasn't the full truth, but it is understandable that Alex can't see past the trauma of childhood abandonment.) When she meets a mysterious hot boy named Nova who promises he can help her get rid of her powers, she instantly believes him. No one but Alex is surprised when the spell he gives her goes horribly awry.

Once Alex, Nova, and her non-magical best friend Rishi travel to the liminal Los Lagos to rescue Alex's family, I was fully onboard. I loved the quest through a magical, dangerous land filled with strange people who could be enemies or allies and had their own motivations and stories. But the journey to that point was a slog, with Alex making one obvious bad decision after another.

I'm pretty sure when I reread LABYRINTH LOST I'll skip over most of the beginning. Because the rest of the novel, honestly, was exactly what I wanted. I'd even idly thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if X happened?" and the book delivered. LABYRINTH LOST even recovers from the lame, cliche bad boy setup and develops a believable romance with sparkling chemistry.

I also found the world Córdova creates fascinating. Her brujas are of her own creation, and they stand out from the usual crowd since she syncretizes various Latin American myths and folklore. Fans of Daniel José Older's SHADOWSHAPER and Bone Street Rumba novels will find much to love. 

The beginning had me worried, but I was write to trust that Córdova would deliver a book that I found enthralling. I am eagerly awaiting the second Brooklyn Brujas novel.

March 7, 2017

Cybils 2016: Graphic Novel Winners

The Cybils announced the 2016 winners on February 14th; I apologize for only posting now.

This year I had the honor of serving as a second-round judge (for the first time!) in the Elementary/Middle Grade and Young Adult Graphic Novels categories. Choosing a winner from the finalists was difficult, because graphic novels are such a broad category. How do you compare an excellent fantasy work to a moving memoir to charming adventure story? Somehow, we managed.

You can look at the finalists' lists to see the excellent works we had to read and vote on:
Elementary/Middle Grade
Young Adult

In the end, our winners were:

Lowriders to the Center of the EarthElementary/Middle Grade

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (Lowriders in Space, Book 2)
By Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raúl the Third

I wrote our blurb about why we chose Lowriders as our winner:

Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Flapjack are back in an adventure that takes them to the underworld of Mictlantecuhtli. When their beloved cat Genie goes missing from their auto shop, they go on a quest to find her—and her epic true identity, as it turns out. Their quest takes them on a tour through Latin pop culture, from el chupacabra and La Llorona to lucha libre wrestling. Bad puns delivered in two languages abound, and every panel (inked in ball point pen!) is bursting with visual detail that adds to the story. This unique art, by Raúl the Third, brings to mind diverse influences such as graffiti, tattoos, and thirties cartoons. The clean lines and busy scenes are a perfect companion to a story that twists and turns while remaining approachable for elementary readers. Unlike the Lowriders themselves, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is never bajito y suavecito (low and slow). The cultural and linguistic lessons are woven seamlessly into a fast-moving adventure that will entertain readers of all ages.

March: Book Three Young Adult

March: Book Three
By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell

You can visit the list of winners to see our blurb about this powerful work.

I thought March: Book Three was a strong conclusion to the trilogy as well as a work that can stand on its own, capped by tragedy and success. It is both informative and personal, and shows how the Freedom Summer, Selma marches, and other fights for Civil Rights are more relevant than ever. At points it feels less like history and more like a timely call to action.

March 6, 2017

Movie Monday: Logan

Logan As a superhero movie fan, I couldn't resist going out opening weekend to see the final X-Men movie featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier.

Logan is set in the future of 2029, where many mutants have died off and none are being born. Tired of his long life and poisoned from the inside, Logan is working as a chauffeur across the Mexico-Texas border to provide from himself and the aging Professor X. Age is interacting with Charles' telepathic powers in deadly ways; when he has a seizure, everyone around freezes in pain. But Logan can't abandon the man who has been like a father to him.

Of course, a wrench has to be thrown into the works. That wrench is Laura, or X-23, an eleven-year-old mutant with suspiciously familiar powers being tracked down by government goons.

Don't go into Logan expecting slick bombast. James Mangold has taken clear inspiration from westerns, most obviously the classic Shane. It's an elegiac film, albeit one that does have plenty of brutal action scenes and sprinklings of humor. Since Deadpool proved to Fox that R-rated superhero films can make buckets of money, Logan leans into its higher rating. The violence is bloody and the language is salty.

I enjoyed seeing two of my favorite characters playing off of each other, and Dafne Keen as Laura works perfectly in the mix. She's an adorable ball of rage with flowered sunglasses who spends over half the movie communicating only in grunts. When she does finally speak, she still accompanies it with a punch to help Logan get over his self-pity. (And let me say that I appreciate Logan's linguistic efforts. Characters born in Mexico speak Spanish.)

 Logan is a moving film about the regrets of the past and the hopes of the future. It also happens to feature Wolverine vs. Wolverine action, for the best of both worlds. I don't think fans of these characters will be disappointed.

January 21, 2017

Guest Post: 12 Ideas to Help Harness the Power and Magic of Hugs

Laura Duksta, author of I'LL HUG YOU MORE, has a special message to share for National Hug Day.

Where are My Huggers At? 12 Ideas to Help Harness the Power and Magic of HUGS 


1. HUGS... wondering what you can do to foster healthy self-esteem in your children, HUG THEM, it creates a sense of connection and belonging which they’ll take with them into the classroom and out into the world.

2. HUGS allow us to love and to be loved, and to feel connected, some say these are the reasons for our existence.

3. HUGS can shift our energy. An upset child can often be comforted by taking a few deep breaths, meeting them at their height and offering a hug until their upset subsides. This works the other way too, a child often senses when you’re upset, let them come in and give you a hug. Hugs can remind us what’s important and help us regain perspective.

I'll Hug You More 4. HUGS can express empathy, by saying “I’m with you,” “I understand what you’re going through,” “We’re in this together,” “You matter,” “I’m here for you.”

5. HUGS heal. Researchers have only scratched the surface in studying the heart’s electromagnetic waves. When we connect in a heart to heart hug there’s a chance were harnessing the most powerful ‘medicine’ of all.

6. HUGS can help put a smile on our face as well as our heart. As a friend shared, “Hugs make me smile on the inside and out.”

7. HUGS help generate oxytocin which reduces stress producing hormones. Hugs also release dopamine which give us a feel good feeling and helps to motivate us.

8. HUGS ... a healthy dose, says family therapist Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth.”


9. HUGS are a one powerful way to experience the healing and nurturing power of touch, but there are others, consider a mani/pedi or a massage. Not quite ready for human touch, test out the power and magic found in hugging a tree!

10. HUGS are perfect by design. We live in a universe of duality where we have support and challenge, happiness and sadness, health and sickness, winning and losing, though experiencing these things at different times often knocks us off balance. A HUG is the perfect gift where we share the power of giving and receiving simultaneously.

11. HUGS connect us soul to soul. They’re a universal language we all can understand.

12. HUGS can say “Hello” and “Good-Bye,” “I’ll Miss You,” “Thank You,” “I’m Sorry,” and more, and underneath it all every hug says “I love you.”

13. HUGS BONUS .... your biggest benefits will come from 20 second HUGS, so extend your heart and your arms, take your time and make it count!

January 11, 2017

Review: Fudge and Jury

Fudge and Jury The fifth Bakeshop Mystery
By Ellie Alexander
Available now from St. Martin's
Review copy

Ashland, Oregon is a small town that's built up a Shakespearean tourist industry, as well as an annual chocolate festival. As the co-owner of Torte, Ashland's resident bakeshop, Jules is cooking on all burners. She's considering expanding the business, and using the festival as a chance to renovate her current storefront. She's also got a couple of guys vying for her attention, but she's not ready to move on from her estranged husband.

When Evan Rowe, the infamously mean owner of Confections Couture, dies of an allergic reaction during the festival, everyone suspects foul play. The desserts he was served were supposedly nut free. Jules would be interested in the case just to clear her own name, but her friend Lance pushes her to become even more involved in probing for answers. As is the case in many mysteries where the victim is a real jerk, there's a plurality of suspects.

I haven't read the previous four Bakeshop Mysteries, but I was able to dive right into this tale. There is some exposition at the beginning about Jules' business and husband which helped me understand the basics of the setting, although it made me think Jules' husband would actually show up in the story. The series has a fairly standard cozy mystery set up, which made stepping into the series in the middle still feel familiar.

What I found stood out about FUDGE & JURY is the importance of Jules' career. Her professional development often overtook the murder mystery as the most important part of the book. I don't think that's a bad thing, since there's a new murder per book but investment in Jules is what will keep readers coming back. I know I'm thinking about checking out the previous four books from the library. I find that most cozy mysteries are centered around hobbies, or people starting new careers, so it was unusual to read one about a woman who is excelling in her field and finding increasing success.

I thought the cast was likeable. The array of romantic options seemed like a bit much, although Ellie Alexander sold the scene where Jules turns one of her suitors down. I felt for the guy and appreciated how maturely Jules handled the situation, by making her feelings clear but being compassionate. That's always a rough situation.

The details of the various confections are lush and mouth-watering. I know I wanted some chocolate pasta of my own! (And I greatly enjoyed Jules' defense of cocoa-powder based brownies. This Smitten Kitchen recipe proves they don't have to be grainy.) The solution to the mystery surprised me, and will certainly make me more careful about serving one of my favorite sauces to guests. The denouement happened quickly, since FUDGE & JURY does focus on so much more than the mystery, but I found the clever solution satisfying.

I have one copy to give away. US only, 13 and up.



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